Over the past eight days, the Capitals have played some of their best hockey under Coach Dale Hunter. They’ve strung four wins together, pushed themselves into eighth place in the Eastern Conference and appear to be turning the proverbial corner.
All of that is why this two-game trip to California is more important than a simple January jaunt to visit out-of-conference foes. Washington has struggled away from Verizon Center this season and is 7-10-1 on the road. The Capitals will need to overcome their own homesickness as well as San Jose and Los Angeles teams that are performing well as of late.
First up are the Sharks, who are 3-0-1 in their past four outings not to mention they’re 13-7-2 at home. The Capitals haven’t visited the Shark Tank often in the past 18 years because of the NHL’s schedule structure, and they haven’t won here since Oct. 30, 1993. (Which I wrote about last year as well, prior to the Capitals’ 3-2 loss to the Sharks on Feb. 17, 2011.)
More important than capturing a win in a particular venue is that the Capitals find a way to overcome their present road woes to extend their winning streak.
“Quick starts I think are the key for us. We don’t want to kind of wade into the game we want to come out right away,” Mike Knuble said. “They’re a strong team at home there’s no doubting that. Teams from the East, they catch them in a little bit of vacation mode. That’s not what we’re going to do, it’s not what our trip out there is about. We’ll make sure we play well right out of the gate or they’ll get on you early.”
Hunter stressed the same sentiment that in order to not fall in the Sharks’ trap by giving them a lead and allowing the typically raucous HP Pavilion crowd to get into the game, the Capitals must focus on their start. Washington is 9-1-1 this season when leading after the first period.
“It’s a tough building to play in, we all know it, just like ours is,” Hunter said. “We’re going to have to come out and have a real good start. To play a team like that you can’t just have a bad start and think you’re going to come back in that building. So we’re going to have to have a real good start.”
The Capitals will take the ice for practice at HP Pavilion at 11:30 a.m. PST.