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Preview: Washington Capitals vs. San Jose Sharks

The Washington Capitals have a daunting slew of away games on the horizon, but they must first play a home game against the exceptionally strong San Jose Sharks. They’ve been dominating the highly competitive Pacific Division, second only to the league-leading Anaheim Ducks. The Sharks also have a long history of beating the Caps, who on Sunday afternoon disappointingly gave up two points to the league-worst Buffalo Sabres.

For those who like foreshadowing, the Capitals’ last win in San Jose was Oct. 30, 1993. #LastTimeCapsWonInSanJose

— Ted Starkey (@TedStarkey) January 14, 2014

San Jose’s most recent loss came against another strong team, the Boston Bruins. Despite possessing a powerful offense in players like Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Patrick Marleau, the Sharks were held scoreless, thanks to the Bruins’ tough defense and a stellar performance by netminder Tuukka Rask.

On one hand, coming off a road loss could put the Sharks in a funk and help pave the way for a much-needed Capitals win. However, that’s an unlikely outcome–though it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Caps, a team sorely lacking in mental focus, get into that mindset while playing.

The game will be a difficult one for Washington to win. There’s a reason the Sharks are one of the NHL’s top five teams. They maintain consistency by playing a full 60 minutes of hockey night in and night out. In both categories, their special teams rankings nearly crack the top ten.

The Sharks are a daunting opponent, but the Caps may have caught a bit of a bittersweet break: center Logan Couture won’t be in the lineup due to an upper-body injury. Couture, an Olympic snub at the hands of Team Canada, is one of the Sharks’ most formidable offensive talents. Yet, despite his absence on the ice, Washington can’t let its guard down.

Per usual, the Caps’ primary focus should be on defense. Limiting giveaways, covering players carefully, and generally taking the heat off whomever is in net are just a few objectives the team should have in mind.

On the flip side, the Capitals should look to score at every given opportunity. Despite peppering Ryan Miller with 29 shots, they came up with only one goal. Presumed starting goalie Antti Niemi isn’t a tendy of Miller’s caliber, so the Caps will hopefully be rewarded if they get the scoring chances they need to light the lamp. When playing a powerhouse like the Sharks, the Caps can’t be too picky about the types of goals they score. Strength at 5-on-5 and on the power play would be ideal, but it’s important that they put the puck in the Sharks’ net.

It’s hard to feel optimistic about taking on the mighty Sharks–especially after the Caps’ lackluster showing against the Sabres–but there’s no sense in going to the game with a defeated mindset, or even adopting one in the face of adversity. After all, we’ve seen plenty of it this season.

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