Streaking Sharks seek season sweep of Capitals

Field Level Media

The San Jose Sharks might be the hottest team in the NHL right now, and that could be bad news for the up-and-down Washington Capitals.

The two teams meet on Thursday night, in the second stop of Washington's six-game road trip, while the Sharks come back to town after winning four games in Western Canada. San Jose (34-16-7) has now won six in a row, moving into the top spot in the Pacific Division and tying Winnipeg for first place in points in the Western Conference (75).

San Jose scored a 7-6 overtime victory over the Capitals when the two teams met in D.C. on Jan. 22, which began the current win streak.

The best news for the Sharks is that Erik Karlsson, sidelined for the past eight games due to a lower-body injury, was a full participant in Wednesday's practice. He has yet to be ruled out for the Capitals' game.

Coach Peter DeBoer told the media on Monday that the defenseman (a two-time Norris Trophy winner) was very close to returning to the lineup. Karlsson told The Mercury News on Wednesday his return is not a done deal yet, but it is drawing near.

"It's getting better every day, and it's nice to finally practice with the guys," Karlsson said. "It's been a long couple of weeks, and at the same time, the team was doing so well that it's made it a little bit easier for me."

In fact, Elias Sports and the Sharks said that San Jose's four-game sweep in Western Canada (Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver) was just the sixth time in NHL history a team pulled off that feat.

The most recent game was a 7-2 victory over Vancouver on Monday. In that contest, Joe Thornton earned career assist No. 1,050, which moved him into ninth place all-time in the NHL, passing Gordie Howe.

Thornton also tied Teemu Selanne for 15th on the league's all-time points list with 1,457.

The Capitals had been playing better on offense until their last game, a 3-0 loss in Columbus on Tuesday. Washington generated little on the attack, getting just seven shots overall in the first two periods as the Blue Jackets dominated. The final might have been worse if goalie Braden Holtby (29 saves on 31 shots) wasn't stellar in net.

Since the All-Star break, Washington is 4-2-1 but still having problems with minor penalties.

The Capitals now rank second in the NHL with 204 minor penalties -- Tampa Bay leads with 205 -- and had to kill off four more power plays in the Columbus loss. Washington coach Todd Reirden has harped on the issue often of late, but the penalties haven't waned.

The Capitals also looked worn down at times while playing their second game in two nights. They had beaten the Kings in Washington on Monday night.

"The early penalties in the first kind of took us out of our flow and our rhythm, and forced us to overuse guys," Todd Reirden said after the loss in Columbus. "And when you're in a back-to-back situation, then you need to play all four lines and get a little bit of a rhythm going. We just weren't able to establish that."

--Field Level Media

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