The Capitals (49-13-5, 103 points) finish their three-game California road trip tonight against the San Jose Sharks (37-24-6, 80 points) at SAP Center (10:30, CSN+). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
‘Garbage’ tank?: This will mark the Caps’ first visit to SAP Center this season. They have won their last two games at the Shark Tank, but don’t expect smooth sledding tonight. The ice at the 23-year-old arena was described as “garbage” by Sharks forward Logan Couture.
The Sharks are an NHL best 25-9-3 on the road this season but 12-15-3 at home.
“You can’t make excuses, both teams are playing on the same ice,” Couture said. “But if you ask opposing players, you’ll probably get the same answer that the ice is pretty garbage.”
Couture said the bad ice is most noticeable on teams’ power plays.
“You try and make a pass, and you can’t because it’s skipping everywhere,” he said. “Obviously our power play is one of the better ones in the league, and I think it’s affected our power play. You hate to make excuses, but the ice just isn’t good.”
Remember me? Joel Ward will be facing his old team for the second time this season. Ward signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract with the Sharks over the summer and has played in 65 of 67 games this season, netting 17 goals (four on the power play) and 19 assists. He’s averaging 17:12 in ice time and is a minus-8.
There may be some good-natured ribbing between Ward and good friend Jason Chimera, who has 17 goals (four on the power play) and 16 assists and is a plus-2 while averaging 13:56 of ice time.
Old friends: Sharks coach Peter DeBoer coached Mike Richards when both were with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. He once told me that in his opinion it was never a matter of whether Richards would win a Stanley Cup in his career, but how many. (He’s going for his third).
Slow starts: The Caps have scored the first goal in 31 of their 67 games this season and are 29-2-0 when doing so. But they have allowed the first goal 36 times this season and are 20-11-5 when doing so. The Caps have been outscored 53-48 in first periods this season.
Strong finishes: The Caps have outscored their opponents 73-46 in second periods and 87-51 in third periods. The Sharks have outscored their opponents in all three periods this season (56-51 in the first, 62-52 in the second and 72-68 in the third).
Special teams: The Caps rank second in the NHL on the power play (23.7) and fourth on the penalty kill (84.5). San Jose is seventh on the power play (21.9) and 22nd on the kill (79.6).
One for the road: The Capitals are 23-7-3 on the road this season (only the Sharks are better). They can tie their franchise record for road wins with a victory tonight. The 2009-10 Caps won 24 times on the road.
Holt-beast: Braden Holtby is one win shy of setting a franchise record for wins by a goalie. He is now tied with himself and Olie Kolzig with 41 wins. Holtby is two wins ahead of the pace set by Marty Brodeur in 2006-07 when he won an NHL record 48 games.
Best Western: The Caps are 14-4-3 against Western Conference teams this season, outscoring their opponents 69-52 in those games.
Kuzy: Evgeny Kuznetsov picked up another assist Wednesday night against the Kings and now has 31 points in his last 26 games (7 goals, 24 assists). Kuznetsov is the first Capitals player since Alex Ovechkin in 2010-11 (32 goals, 53 assists) to record at least 20 goals and 45 assists in a season. Kuznetsov leads the NHL in primary assists (36), plus/minus (plus-30) and assists per 60 minutes (2.45).
Heating up: Andre Burakovsky has 23 points in his last 26 games (10 goals, 13 assists).