Capitals at Sharks Preview: Capitalizing on a home ice advantage

The team is hoping to bounce back after arguably their worst game of the season.

As their road trip ends, the San Jose Sharks will now begin a three-game homestand, and their first opponent will be the Washington Capitals. San Jose is 2-3-0 through their last five games, and 4-5-1 through their last ten, hoping to get back on the right track.

Coming into tonight, the Sharks hold an 8-7-1 record on the season, currently ranked sixth in the Pacific Division. They most recently fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. The Sharks simply were not up to par in that game, displaying their worst defensive performance of the season.

The season has been much more pleasant for the Capitals. Despite losing T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha, and being without Nicklas Backstrom all season up to this point, they haven’t fallen off the map at any point, holding a 10-2-5 record, third overall in the NHL. They’re coming off of a 2-0 victory over the Sharks’ division rivals, the Los Angeles Kings.

Alexander Ovechkin leads the team in both points and goals, with 12 goals and 26 points through 17 games, while averaging 21:35 minutes on ice. Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov has also stepped up for the team in Backstrom’s absence, with 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists) through 17 games.

The Sharks are still without depth forward Lane Pederson, who was injured last week. They will also be without Kevin Labanc, who was suspended one game for slew-footing Blues’ forward Tyler Bozak yesterday afternoon. Forwards Nick Merkley and Jeffrey Viel were re-assigned to the San Jose Barracuda yesterday, so it appears as though Noah Gregor will make his season debut.

Adin Hill was the first goaltender off the ice at practice this morning and will start in net. He has shown flashes of starter-level performance, and other times has performed at a negative impact. We’ll see which version we get tonight. For line combinations, Logan Couture remains with Jonathan Dahlen and Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl with Alexander Barabanov and Noah Gregor, Nick Bonino with Andrew Cogliano and Rudolfs Balcers, and Jasper Weatherby with Jonah Gadjovich and Matthew Nieto.

On the blue line, there was some fear that Brent Burns would not be available, as he missed practice this morning, however, confirmation shows that he’ll be ready. The only change is Santeri Hatakka coming out for Radim Simek, which is expected after his poor performance in St. Louis.

It’s not clear who the Sharks will see in net from Washington. Vitek Vanecek holds a 4-2-4 record, .911 save percentage (SV%) and -1.41 goals saved above expected (GSAx), while Ilya Samsonov has a 5-0-1 record paired with a .914 SV% and 1.16 GSAx.

Can the Sharks contain Ovechkin?

This is way easier said than done, as the legend has performed and produced as a top-five player this season, ranking second in goals league-wide and third in points.

The scariest thing is that the team’s power play hasn’t even been elite this season, ranking 21st with just 17 percent efficiency, but are still fifth in the league in goals per game with 3.41. Imagine if the power play improved? Washington would be unstoppable. Let's hope that the recently ill-disciplined Sharks don’t give them too many chances to get hot, because when they’re hot, so is Ovechkin.

Can the Sharks get some penalty luck?

The Sharks haven’t been getting power play opportunities, going without a single man-advantage last game. When they do get the opportunities, they’ve struggled to convert, scoring just two power play goals during their five-game road trip.

Luckily for the Sharks, however, they will be playing the second-most penalized team in the NHL in the Capitals. With lots of gritty, over the edge type of players, San Jose should get a fairly decent amount of chances to showcase their special teams, and hopefully, it’ll result in an extra goal or two.

Can the defense hold up their share?

The defense has not been good this season. Last game, they allowed 48 shots to the Blues and numerous odd-man rushes. They’ve been weak on the boards, in the slot and in front of the net.

The pairing of Brent Burns and Mario Ferraro plays a ton of minutes, mainly because the team doesn’t really have a third-pairing to rely on. I still believe the team had the perfect duo with Jaycob Megna and Ryan Merkley, but it looks like the coaching staff doesn’t agree. They don’t really trust young defender Santeri Hatakka, and obviously weren’t content with Radim Simek either. It seems like the only reason Marc-Edouard Vlasic is even in the line up is because of his massive contract.

Maybe the team goes fishing for a reliable third-pairing right-handed defenseman? I’m not quite sure at the moment, but all I know is that they need to find consistency in the bottom-pairing because it’s creating a negative effect on the first-pairing.