Pregame #59: Washington Capitals vs. San Jose Sharks

Washington Capitals (30-18-10) at San Jose Sharks (31-21-6)
HP Pavilion
Time:  10:30 PM EST
Television:  Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!)
Radio: XM, 1500AM, 820AM
Previous Games:
Feb 8, 2011, SJ@WSH, 0-2 Loss
Games Remaining: (none)
Former Sharks:
Matt Bradley (1998-2007)
Scott Hannan (2000-2003)
The Enemy:
Our Bloguin Partner: Couch Tarts
Fear The Fin

The Capitals come into the middle game of a 5-game road trip after a wild and woolly affair last night in Anaheim that the Caps won, 7-6.  Meanwhile, the Sharks are returning home from a 7-game road trip with a 5-2 record, including a win over the Caps last week. The Sharks are fighting for a playoff position within the crowded Pacific Division and will be ready to play a tough game against the Caps.  The Caps can’t afford to look forward to the weekend when they play two big rivals in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, they need two points tonight to keep pace with their opponents in the East.  Some of the Caps are quite possibly playing for their jobs as the trade deadline approaches.

Injury Report:  Capitals D Tom Poti (groin) did not make the trip. RW Eric Fehr (shoulder) and D Mike Green (inner ear) are questionable.  Sharks backup goalie Antero Niittymaki is still suffering from a nagging lower body injury and is unlikely to dress.

Miami Sharks
This story doesn’t end with a Sharks championship!

What to watch for:

Tired Caps: The Capitals are playing the 2nd of back-to-back games tonight and their 3rd game in 4 nights in 3 cities in 2 time zones, 3,000 miles from home.  The Capitals will need a strong start to the game against San Jose and likely a powerplay goal or two to win tonight.  The Caps’ legs will get very heavy by the end of the second period, meaning a third-period comeback like last night isn’t likely if the Caps fall behind.  If the Caps can play with the lead, they are capable of playing a more conservative style in the later portions of the game that conserves their energy.

Courtesy NHL.com

Big Boys:  The San Jose Sharks boast a large lineup of forwards who like to throw their weight around.  The Capitals defense will need to move the puck quickly against the Sharks forecheck and clear the crease quickly of rebounds and opponents.  The Sharks forwards will take advantage of any opportunities to use their size, so the tired Caps defenders can ill afford to give the Sharks any body-positioning advantages anywhere near the goal.  The Caps defense will have their work cut out for them in ensuring their goaltender has clear sight lines to make saves.

Courtesy NHl.com

Antti-Bellum:  The Caps will be eager for a rematch against Sharks netminder Antti Niemi, who shut them out last week.  Whether the Caps will be able to avenge that loss depends on how much traffic they can get in front of the Sharks goalie.  Niemi was successful last year in the Stanley Cup Final against the crease-crashing Philadelphia Flyers and beat the large-bodied Sharks in the Conference Final.  Little things are not going to bother him.  The Caps will have to park large bodies in front of the cage and take the game out of Niemi’s hands by making it impossible for him to do his job. 

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