Capitals aim to end California skid at Sharks
The Washington Capitals' annual visits to California have ended in futility in recent years. The San Jose Sharks have been unkind hosts for much longer.
The Sharks continue a lengthy homestand on Saturday night against the Capitals, who have one last chance this season to snap a long losing streak in the Golden State and notch a rare win in Silicon Valley.
Both teams are jockeying for playoff positioning in the season's final weeks. Washington (37-23-7) is one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Metropolitan Division lead with a game in hand. San Jose (36-22-9) is second in the Pacific Division and battling the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames.
But the Capitals head into the Shark Tank on a seven-game losing streak on the Left Coast in which they been outscored 29-12 since defeating the Ducks in a shootout on March 9, 2016.
After collecting five goals in an outdoor game last Saturday, the Capitals managed a total of one in losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles. Jakub Vrana lit the lamp for Washington in a 3-1 loss to the Kings on Thursday.
"We've got to figure out a way to get two points and to raise our game," center Lars Eller said. "We have another gear or two that we need to find (Saturday)."
That may be easier said than done. The Sharks are 11-0-2 in their last 13 home meetings versus the Capitals going back to 1998.
"Right now, it's a little bit dry for us and it's hard to beat teams 1-0. We're going to have to put some pucks in the back of the net," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Friday.
One player who may be gripping the stick a little tighter than normal is Alex Ovechkin, who's approaching yet another milestone. The three-time Hart Trophy winner leads the league with 40 goals and needs two more to become 20th player with 600 for his career.
Ovechkin has two goals and four assists over nine career games in San Jose, where he has not scored since Feb. 17, 2011.
Washington also needs to keep pucks out of the net. Braden Holtby (29-15-4, 3.03 goals-against average) was lifted after stopping six of nine shots versus Anaheim this week. He's surrendered 31 goals over his last eight starts, going 1-5-2.
Philipp Grubauer (8-8-3, 2.35 GAA, one shutout) finished up against the Ducks and started versus the Kings, stopping 34 of 36 shots.
The Sharks improved to 3-1-0 on their six-game homestand with a 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. Martin Jones made 16 saves for his fourth shutout this season, and Mikkel Boedker and Tomas Hertl scored third-period goals.
"It's been a good little homestand here, so we need to continue to get better here," said Jones (22-17-6, 2.49 GAA). "The games are just going to keep getting tougher and tougher down the stretch."
Defenseman Brent Burns has four goals and four assists in his last five home games against Washington, but San Jose has gotten recent contributions from fellow blueliner Dylan DeMelo (five assists in a three-game streak) and Boedker (one goal, four assists in a four-game run).
For Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, it doesn't matter who's scoring.
"Everyone's fighting for a playoff spot. We know how important the points are," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said.
Washington defeated San Jose, 4-1, on Nov. 17 in a chippy game that featured a combined 61 penalty minutes.
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