Sharks-Caps: What to watch for

Sharks-Caps: What to watch for
February 13, 2012, 6:42 pm
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Programming Note: Catch NHL Live at 4 p.m. followed by the Sharks vs. Washington Capitals at 4:30 p.m., tonight on NBC Sports Network!

WASHINGTON, DC The Sharks road trip began with a thud on Sunday night in St. Louis with a 3-0 loss to the Blues. They play game two of the nine-game trip right away, tonight in Washington.In direct contrast to previous seasons, San Jose has struggled away from HP Pavilion this year, losing as many as it has won (12-8-4). The Capitals have been downright miserable on the road, including a 3-2 loss in New York on Sunday, but are 19-7-2 in one of the louder buildings in the NHL the Verizon Center.
Thomas Greiss, who figures to get more playing time as the Sharks have three back-to-backs on this road trip alone, will start in net opposing Washingtons Michal Neuvirth.The Sharks are 4-2-1 in the second half of back-to-backs this season.RELATED: Sharks scheduleresults
Inconsistency since the break: The Sharks looked like they might be hitting their stride immediately following the All-Star break, with convincing wins over Columbus and Dallas. Since then, theyve dropped three of four in regulation and their lead in the Pacific Division is down to a single point over Los Angeles (albeit with four games in hand).The Sharks would love to put Sundays loss in St. Louis behind them immediately, and tonights game against the Caps gives them that opportunity. One aspect of their game that was absent against the Blues was the power play, which was 10-for-22 in the previous eight games, scoring at least once in seven of those.The Capitals own the 22nd ranked penalty kill in the league at 81.0 percent, but its 12th in the NHL at home (85.2 percent).One positive that the Sharks can take from the loss to the Blues is that they were strong defensively five-on-five. St. Louis scored a pair of goals with a two-man advantage and an empty net marker late.More on the goalies: Greiss has never faced the Capitals in his career, as it was Antti Niemi in net on Jan. 7 when the Sharks claimed a 5-2 win over Washington at HP Pavilion. His number this season are outstanding with a 7-4-1 record, 1.98 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.Neuvirth, who took the loss at Madison Square Garden yesterday, will make his second straight start as Tomas Vokoun is recovering from the flu. The young netminder is not having a very good year, with a GAA of 3.07 and SP of .894.Against the Sharks, hes even worse, with 0-3-0 record, 3.37 GAA and .897 SP.Caps on the outside: Washington, a preseason favorite once again to compete for the Stanley Cup, sits in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Thats one point out of a playoff spot, and four points behind the Southwest Division-leading Florida Panthers.Injuries to key players like Mike Green (sports hernia) and Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) have not helped, and neither is ready to return to the lineup yet. Alex Ovechkin leads the Capitals in scoring but is having another decidedly average season, by his standards. In fact, Ovechkin and Logan Couture have the same exact stat line with 23 goals and 21 assists each. Couture is a 8, while Ovechkin is a -6.Odds and ends: Alex Semin has three goals and three assists in his last five games. Joe Thornton has two goals and five assists in the last five games Logan Couture, who had an eight-game scoring streak snapped last night, has five goals and seven assists in his last nine games.