Sharks and Capitals, forever linked, could not be more different this season


Sharks and Capitals, forever linked, could not be more different this season

When we look back on this era, the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals will always be linked.

They’ve never played each other in the postseason, of course, and that’s part of the reason why: The two franchises are kindred spirits, labelled as perennial disappointments for their perceived perennial postseason failures.

The Capitals are “Sharks East,” never having made it past the second round of the postseason in the Alex Ovechkin era. The Sharks have, and even made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, but they’ve never won it, so they’re “Capitals West.”

Now, though, the two franchises find themselves on divergent paths. Yes, both teams find themselves in playoff position entering Monday night’s matchup, and only about $1.5 million separates them in salary cap space this offseason.

But if you look beneath the surface, the differences are clear, as the Sharks and Capitals are utilizing different blueprints to address their own failures.

The Sharks can’t score, but their opponents haven’t scored much, either. Their plus-eight goal differential is tied for the fourth-best mark in the conference, and their possession numbers (top-five in both major metrics, per Puck On Net) bode well for future success.

The Capitals can score, but they can’t stop anyone from scoring. They’re one of two playoff teams in the East with a negative goal differential (minus-three), and find themselves in the bottom-10 of both corsi-for and fenwick-for percentage.

That’s an unusual place for Washington, long one of the league’s best possession teams, but it’s been by design. The Capitals went all in last year, and they’re paying the price this season.

Facing a salary capocalypse, Washington let Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams, and Daniel Winnik walk in free agency, lost Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft, and traded Marcus Johansson to New Jersey for salary cap relief.

They still re-signed Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie, but they’re facing what Chicago has so often. They just don’t have the trophy to show for it.

Look no further than their salary cap situation. They currently have just over $800,000 in space, and assuming the cap remains flat, have just over $16 million to sign 11 players next summer.

By contrast, the Sharks currently have a little over $6 million, and will have just over $17.5 million to sign five players next summer.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson hasn’t gone all in the same way his Capitals counterpart, Brian Maclellan, has. San Jose’s kept their window ajar by kicking the can down the road, structuring their contracts in a way where decisions on major players are spread out.

Their roster is not as deep as the Capitals’ last season, but the Sharks have enough cap flexibility to get there without going all in. Yet, no matter the differences in their respective approach, San Jose will continue to be linked to Washington as long as they also don’t succeed.

Paul Martin rewarding Peter DeBoer's faith in NHL return


Paul Martin rewarding Peter DeBoer's faith in NHL return

When Sharks defenseman Paul Martin confirmed reports in January that he was willing to go elsewhere for more playing time, his head coach was insistent that the team would need the veteran blueliner. 

"I really believe we need eight NHL defenseman here," DeBoer told reporters in January (via The Mercury News). "If it happens that he isn't here, then that'll be disappointing for us. I'm not hoping that's where this goes. I'm hoping this goes to a place where he can maybe go down, play some games and keep himself ready, because I know we're going to need eight defensemen."

That's pretty much exactly what's happened.

After clearing waivers in January and playing with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda, Martin was called up ahead of the Sharks' four-game road trip at the end of February. He did not play until last Saturday in Vancouver, when an upper-body injury to rookie defenseman Joakim Ryan, whose play pushed Martin down the depth chart in the first place, created an opening alongside Brent Burns. 

Martin's now played three straight games with Burns, his defensive partner for the vast majority of the previous two seasons. It's the first time Martin's played in three consecutive NHL games all season, and although he hasn't played much (11:53 in average time-on-ice), he's acquitted himself nicely in a sheltered role.

His five-on-five possession numbers (52.78 percent corsi-for; 53.33 percent fenwick-for) are the second-best marks among Sharks defensemen over the last three games. Burns, too, has posted better possession numbers with Martin (47.62 percent corsi-for; 50 percent fenwick-for) during the last three contests than without his longtime partner (43.40 percent corsi-for; 41.67 percent fenwick-for). 

The Sharks have also outscored (3-0) and outchanced (17-16) opponents with Martin on the ice, neither of which was the case in Martin's first three appearances earlier this season. The former is owed to a decent amount of puck luck, as the Sharks have converted on 17.65 percent of their shots with him on the ice, but the latter is an extension of his solid underlying numbers. 

Martin's played the least amount of total minutes among Sharks defensemen since coming back, even as Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed time in two of the last three games, and has barely been used in special teams. His days of averaging 20-or-more minutes a night are likely behind him, but the 37-year-old has played well in a limited role. 

Considering Martin's NHL days appeared to be behind him as recently as last month, his play has been a pleasant surprise. With the exception of his head coach, that is. 

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights


SAN JOSE -- Seconds after almost costing the San Jose Sharks a game with a turnover, Logan Couture ended it with his backhand.

Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime after getting bailed out by goalie Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks won their season-high sixth straight game, 2-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

"I was able to make a move on their guy," Couture said. "(Marc-Edouard Vlasic) did a good job of driving their backchecker back and I was able to go far side."

Couture's goal came at the end of an opening shift of the overtime that started with him losing the puck in his own zone, giving Jonathan Marchessault a chance alone in front. Jones got enough of the shot to stop it, and then Vlasic sent the puck ahead to Couture for the winning goal that moved San Jose within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Brent Burns also scored and Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks open a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us to get a win tonight was important," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Plus, just plant that seed. If we stay hot, you never know, we might be able to catch them and get home ice. We took care of business tonight and we'll try to keep playing well."

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn't enough for Vegas to come up with the win, although he helped earn a point that gave the expansion team 100 this season.

"It's impressive," forward James Neal said. "It's a great season for our guys. Guys came together real quick. A great job so far but we're not done yet."

The Golden Knights struck first on a pretty passing play early in the first period that ended when Marchessault found Tatar cutting through the slot ahead of Justin Braun. Tatar skated past Jones and backhanded the puck into the open net.

Vegas has been dominant when getting off to a lead, posting an NHL-best 31-5-1 record when scoring first heading into this game. But the Sharks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Golden Knights 18-4 and getting the equalizer on a blast by Burns from the point after another strong shift by San Jose's fourth line.

"We want to be playing really good hockey this time of year and heading into the playoffs. I think that's the goal," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether we would have won tonight or lost, I like how we played for most of the game, so that's what I'm concentrating on."

Vegas managed to keep it tied despite the lopsided shot totals, killing off a four-minute penalty to Colin Miller and another late power play that started late in the second.

That penalty carried over until the third period and the Sharks got 25 seconds of a two-man advantage after Brayden McNabb was called for throwing his stick but still couldn't get anything past Subban.

The Golden Knights squandered a power-play chance later in the period when Miller was called for cross checking with the man advantage. That nearly led to a power-play goal for San Jose but Subban appeared to get a piece of a shot from in close to Joe Pavelski to keep the game tied at 1.

"He's the main reason we got the point," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked comfortable."

NOTES: Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make the trip to San Jose with an undisclosed injury but is expected to join the team for Saturday's game in Colorado. ... Burns became the 15th player to play 500 career games with the Sharks.

Golden Knights: Visit Colorado on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Calgary on Saturday.