Jan. 22 vs. San Jose Sharks at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Washington Capitals 27-16-5
San Jose Sharks 28-16-7
For the first time in more than four years, the Caps are lugging a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) into their next game. On the heels of an ugly and sloppy 8-5 defeat at the hands of the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday, the Caps are home for one game to host the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.
The Caps held a brief meeting in the aftermath of Sunday's loss in the Windy City, and they held a longer one before Monday's practice session at MedStar Iceplex, their final tune-up ahead of a set of back-to-backs that ushers them into a welcomed break.
Video: Caps 365 | January 21
"Obviously there are a few things that feel like a mess right now," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "Giving up eight is not a good feeling. So we had a little chat [Sunday] night and we had a little bit bigger chat [Monday] morning, trying to get crystal clear on a few things that need to improve. We'll try to keep a good attitude and an honest attitude about where we're at and where we want to get to, and keep working towards it."
Tuesday's tilt starts a set of back-to-back games for the Capitals, who will depart for Toronto immediately after the game. The Caps will face the Maple Leafs on Wednesday in their final game before they get a week away from the rigors of the rink for their All-Star break/bye week respite.
At this time last month, Washington was in the midst of its best stretch of the season, a six-week run in which it compiled a 16-3-0 mark over a 19-game span from Nov. 16-Dec. 29. But the Caps have won only three of 11 games (3-6-2) since, and they've tumbled from first to third place in the Metropolitan Division standings. Before the Caps can take that weeklong break, they must face a pair of teams with better records than they have, the Sharks and the Leafs, though both opponents are dealing with recent struggles of their own.
Video: Caps Locker Room | January 21
"We can't really be thinking about the break," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "We've got two big games here. And when the break comes, we'll use it for whatever we need. But we've got to take care of business here. We've got to start playing the right way. Each point is so important these days."
As they try to work and play their way out of their first extended slump of the season, the Caps can refer back to previous experience. Although they never lost as many as five straight at any point in 2017-18 en route to their first ever Stanley Cup championship, the Capitals did endure an extended midseason lull in which they were plagued by a variety of malaises, but a lull from which they eventually emerged.
Washington won just nine of 22 games (9-9-4) early in the second half of last season, and it permitted an unsightly average of 3.31 goals per game during that stretch.
"The main thing is we've got to remember to be honest with ourselves," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "Over the last two years or so, things haven't come easy. I think that's something that can be lost in the fact of winning. Things weren't easy last year. We had to grind our way through to get where we were and that's going to be what we're going to have to do this year. And we are in one of those little lulls where we've got to make sure that we come to work with the right mindset of putting it out there and getting better and improving. And I think it's the time of year where we still have plenty of time left to do the things necessary that we need to do to win."
Video: Todd Reirden | January 21
For San Jose, Tuesday's game completes a set of back-to-back games. The Sharks dropped a 6-2 road decision to the Panthers in Florida on Monday night, their third straight loss on a four-game journey that ends in D.C on Tuesday.
The Sharks and Cats were all even 2-2 going into the third, but the complexion of the contest changed drastically when San Jose's Evander Kane committed what proved to be a costly double-minor for hi-sticking Nick Bjugstad early in the third. Florida collected on both ends of the man-advantage, scoring twice in nine seconds to open up a multi-goal lead.
The Panthers scored four goals in the third, three of them in just 48 seconds of power play time in the final frame.
When the Sharks departed the west coast for a four-game road trip last week, they carried with them a seven-game winning streak. But they've lost all three on the trip, surrendering exactly six goals in each game. Before falling to the Panthers, the Sharks lost in Arizona and Tampa Bay, respectively.
Tuesday marks the Sharks' last opportunity to collect points between now and Feb. 2, when they return to action after their break. San Jose is in second place in the Pacific Division, a point ahead of third-place Vegas.