Posted January 06, 2012 on AP on Fox
Since the start of 2008-09, the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks have more points than any other teams in the NHL, so they're used to coming away with two more often than not. For more than a decade, the Capitals have rarely come away with any against the Sharks. Winners of 14 of 15 against Washington, surging San Jose could have its hands full Saturday night at HP Pavilion against a Capitals team looking for a fifth consecutive victory. Two of the league's regular-season powers in recent years haven't exactly been lighting up the NHL thus far, but each club might be playing its best hockey of the season. San Jose has gone 7-1-2 in its last 10 games after an inconsistent start, and pulled into first place in the Pacific Division after wins over Anaheim and Columbus on consecutive nights earlier this week. The Sharks (22-11-4) have allowed a total of 15 goals in their last eight games after Thursday's 2-1 win over Columbus. "Maybe we didn't play our best, but we still had (39) shots," said captain Joe Thornton, who scored the winning goal in his 500th game with San Jose. "That's still a good night. We had a lot of good chances. ... For coming off back-to-back nights, it's pretty impressive." Washington (21-15-2) has also surrendered just 15 goals in its last eight, but it's been even stingier during a four-game winning streak. The Capitals have given up five in that stretch, and are back in second place in the Southeast - four points behind Florida - after Tuesday's 3-1 win over Calgary. After finishing with the most points in the East the past two seasons, though, Washington is fighting to merely get back into playoff position as the season nears its midpoint. It's currently ninth. "This is too good (of a) group to be in the middle, middle of nowhere,'' said Alex Ovechkin, who has five goals and three assists during the winning streak. "We just want to be in the playoffs.'' With every point potentially critical for the Capitals, they can't be too happy to see the Sharks on the schedule twice - San Jose visits the Verizon Center Feb. 13 - for the third consecutive season. Only the Sharks have more points (383) than Washington (380) since 2008-09, but that order might be reversed had the Caps been able to solve San Jose. Washington is 1-13-1 against the Sharks since 1999-2000 and hasn't won in San Jose since Oct. 30, 1993, going 0-10-0 with a tie since. In four post-lockouts visits, they've been outscored 19-7. Ovechkin has four goals and two assists in seven career meetings with San Jose, and both he and teammate Nicklas Backstrom scored in the Caps' latest visit to Northern California - a 3-2 loss Feb. 17. Backstrom appears as if he'll be good to go Saturday, just four days after taking a vicious elbow to the head from Calgary's Rene Bourque - a hit that earned the Flames winger a five-game suspension. Backstrom, who has a team-high 42 points, underwent tests to determine if he suffered a concussion, then returned to practice Friday after missing the previous two days. Though it appears he won't miss any games, his history of migraines could convince the Capitals to proceed cautiously. Washington, which has surrendered 2.25 goals per game since Dale Hunter took over - more than a goal less than it was allowing under Bruce Boudreau - will want to keep a close eye on Ryane Clowe. The Sharks winger, who scored his first goal in eight games Thursday, has four in his last three home games against the Caps.
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