SAN JOSE, Calif. – Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin got off to a slow start this season, but he'll take the ice Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks on a seven-game scoring streak with seven goals and four assists during that span.
While going up against Ovechkin will be a challenge, veteran Sharks defensemen Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle said they can't wait for the puck to drop.
"He's fun to play against," Murray said after the Sharks' morning skate. "He plays the game the right way. You always want to play against the top players. He's a physical player, and I enjoy that. It's like with a few other players around the League – big, physical forwards that I go up against.
"I wouldn't say there's hatred or anything like that. It's more of a, 'I got to shut him down and he's got to score a goal.' It's more fun than anything."
Added Boyle: "It's fun. I think I enjoy playing against the top guys. I've said that before. He sees matchups every night, so it's nothing new for him. He's playing real well right now. Hopefully we'll get the job done defensively."
San Jose coach Todd McLellan said that Ovechkin demands plenty of attention, but that the Sharks can't forget about the rest of the Caps.
"They have a number of superstars, and you can't zero in on one individual -- although he's the kingpin there. He's the guy that pulls the trigger and makes things happen," McLellan said.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom, their leading scorer, will miss Saturday night's game after getting elbowed in the head on Tuesday by Calgary's Rene Bourque.
The Capitals have won four straight games, and Ovechkin said getting off to a fast start will be a key for Washington to continue that streak against San Jose, especially at the Shark Tank, where the Capitals haven't won since Oct. 30, 1993.
"It's always nice to have a winning streak and you always want to continue what you're doing, but, again, it's a hard building for us to play," Ovechkin said. "We didn't win here for I don't know how many years. We just have to not think about it and play better than we've played."
Mitchell's back: Sharks winger Torrey Mitchell was a healthy scratch for the first time this season Thursday night against Columbus, but he'll be back on the third line against Washington.
"I talked to Torrey, and he gave me all the answers that I needed," McLellan said. "He told me what he thought his strengths were as a player and what his assets were, that he thought he needed to bring to the table on a nightly basis. It was a pretty simple conversation. I didn't even need to say anything. So you have to give him credit for a very good self evaluation. Sometimes players don't see it like that. Torrey saw it like that. He knew. He could feel it coming.
"His speed, his energy, his tenacity, the ability to turn over pucks. Every team has a couple of those players that are really quick, and they have to have an impact on the game. Torrey will have that and we know he'll be very good moving forward."
Mitchell has just 7 points – 4 goals and 3 assists – in 33 games this season.
Based on the line rushes during the Sharks' morning skate, fourth-line wing Andrew Murray will be out of the lineup, and Tommy Wingels will get a second straight start since being recalled from Worcester of the AHL.
Sheppard feeling good: James Sheppard said he has made "big gains" recently in his recovery from a knee injury that cost him the entire 2010-11 season and that he has set a March 1 target date for his return to action.
"It's hard to have set times and stuff like that, but it's time for me to set a goal and work hard to get that goal," Sheppard said. "There's no excuses anymore. We just kind of picked March 1st out. I'd say that's the latest. I want to be back as soon as I can, and I just know that I'll be there by then."
Sheppard, acquired by the Sharks from Minnesota on Aug. 7 for a third-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, skated with the full team for a second straight day Saturday.
"I felt good out there. When you have good days, you feel good to go on the ice the day after. Mike Potenza and I have been working hard, working really smart," he said of the Sharks' strength and conditioning coordinator. "We're doing things the right way, and we're making big gains. We're happy about that. To be on the ice and not have to think about my knee pain is huge. It's everything."