Apparently writing off the San Jose Sharks after the first month of the season wasn’t the right idea.
The Sharks head into Tuesday’s home clash with the Washington Capitals having won 11 of 13 games. It’s a huge rebound for the club that appeared to be on the downslide after kicking off the season with just four victories in its first 15 contests.
“We’re getting there,” captain Logan Couture recently told reporters. “To dig out of that early hole we put ourselves in takes a lot. We’re playing some good hockey, and that was the goal.”
Their last game, a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes in Arizona on Saturday, is a microcosm of the Sharks’ season. The Coyotes scored on their first two shots, taking a two-goal lead little more than two minutes into the affair, only to see the Sharks come back for a statement victory. As the adage goes, your best players must be your best players and the Sharks were led by Couture’s two goals and three points — which gives him 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in a 10-game stretch.
“The way we started, it could have been 4-0, 5-0, but I thought we settled down and got to our game,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters of the first 10 minutes of the game. “I think the next 50 minutes were probably some of the best hockey we’ve played this year.”
Helping their fortunes has been San Jose’s penalty kill, which is tops in the league (91.0 percent) — an interesting quirk since their team goals-against per game is near the bottom at 24th.
“We’ve kind of worked into finding our game,” DeBoer said. “The penalty kill has been great all year. It really grabs momentum for us and saps it from the other team.”
The Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals arrive in Northern California riding a three-game winning streak, and kicked off a road trip with a 5-2 win over Detroit on Saturday. As one-sided as the final score sounds, coach Todd Reirden wasn’t all that excited about a win over a Red Wings team that’s at the bottom of the league standings and has lost 10 straight.
“A little bit of a slow start, and I don’t think we were playing a fast enough game,” Reirden said. “I thought that when we started to play with some more pace, then we were able to start to get some momentum and have some success obviously, and convert when we got our opportunities.”
Speaking of top players in fine form, Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin has been a force of late. Thanks to a three-goal, one-assist game in Detroit, Ovechkin has five goals and six points in a three-game stretch. His performance against the Red Wings put him at the 20-goal mark for the 15th consecutive season, becoming only the fifth player in league history to reach that feat.
His three-goal game was the 24th hat trick of his career — which moved him past Jari Kurri for most by a European-born player — and put his career goal total to 678, currently ranked 12th in NHL history.
Ovechkin is on pace this season to become the eighth player in league history to score 700 goals. The fact that two of his goals in Detroit were into an empty net is meaningless.
“A hat trick is a hat trick,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter how you get them.”
The Caps may also receive a boost with Carl Hagelin ready to return and Nicklas Backstrom also on the verge of a return, both from upper-body injuries.
The Capitals traded fifth-year center Chandler Stephenson to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday for a fifth-round draft pick in 2021. Stephenson, 25, had three goals and one assist in 24 games for the Capitals this season. The Washington Post reported that the Capitals needed to free salary space for the impending return of forward Carl Hagelin, who carries a reported $2.75 million salary-cap figure.
–Field Level Media