Dec. 3 vs. San Jose Sharks at SAP Center
Time: 10:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 19-4-5
San Jose Sharks 15-12-1
The Caps' four-game road trip continues on Tuesday in San Jose when they take on the Sharks in San Jose. The game is also the front end of a set of back-to-back games; the Caps will be back in action on Wednesday night in Southern California, going up against the Kings in Los Angeles.
Washington started the journey off on a strong note, taking a 5-2 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Saturday night. That victory is the Caps' third in a row, achieved in a span of four nights. After a couple of days between games, the Caps are set to start another stretch of three games in four nights with Tuesday's tilt against the Sharks.
"It makes the five-hour plane ride a little better when you get a win," said Caps right wing Tom Wilson in the wake of Saturday night's win over the Wings. "And obviously the next couple of days [we're in] California. It's one of those trips every year that's a lot of fun with the guys, and it's nice to start it off on the right foot."
After taking Sunday off, the Caps conducted a full practice on Monday morning in San Jose. Carl Hagelin is set to return to the lineup on Tuesday against the Sharks, and Nicklas Backstrom participated fully for the first time since being sidelined with an upper body injury on Nov. 18 against Anaheim, though his status is still undetermined for Tuesday's game.
Monday marks his first practice since being cleared for contact.
"He was [cleared], so that was good news this morning," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "He continues to improve every day here, and we'll see how he does for the rest of [Monday]. But it was good to see him in the full contact, and it's always nice to have No. 19 out there."
"I feel better, so that's a step in the right direction," says Backstrom.
Video: Nicklas Backstrom | December 2
Whether Backstrom plays Tuesday - or, possibly Wednesday in Los Angeles - is yet to be determined.
"Possible, yet we'll see how things go again [Tuesday] morning," says Reirden, "and continue to progress day-by-day here. We're heading in the right direction and whether that's [Tuesday] or L.A., we'll play it day-by-day."
"We'll see what happens," says Backstrom. "We're taking it a little slow here. But I feel better, at least."
Backstrom averages 19:40 per night, and the Caps have had to spread those minutes between the rest of their middle men in his absence. Lars Eller moved up to the top six, and Chandler Stephenson has been centering Washington's third line with Richard Panik and Travis Boyd of late. But Stephenson did not take the ice at Monday's practice, because he is apparently going to be part of a pending transaction to get the Capitals in compliance with the salary cap with the return of Carl Hagelin, and the impending return of Backstrom.
"Because of Hagelin coming back, Chandler is involved in the transaction," says Reirden, "and we'll know a little bit more about that later [Monday], what decision we're going to make."
Stephenson's impending departure marks the first dent to the Caps' depth this season, but something had to give with Hagelin's return and his annual $2.75 million salary cap hit going back on the books. Washington has juggled its roster/lineup/salary cap situation almost continuously since the beginning of the season in October, and the Caps returned defenseman Christian Djoos and forward Beck Malenstyn to AHL Hershey on Sunday. Both players scored for the Bears against Hartford later that day.
Hagelin will return to active duty for the Caps on Tuesday, playing for the first time since he went down with an upper body injury in a Nov. 7 game at Florida. He skated mostly with Panik and Boyd on Monday, with the latter as the middle man in Stephenson's absence.
Video: Todd Reirden | December 2
Stephenson ranks ninth among all Washington forwards with an average of 11:50 per game this season, and he ranked sixth among forwards with 1:28 in shorthanded time per night. Hagelin leads all Caps forwards with 2:54 per game in shorthanded ice time this season.
With a 9-2-3 record in October, the Caps established an all-time franchise best for that month. They finished November with a 10-2-2 record, matching the all-time franchise best for that month, established in 2010-11. Now they embark upon a 13-game December slate that will take them into the next decade, and to the exact midpoint of the 2019-20 campaign.
The Sharks have been a streaky outfit through the first third of the season. San Jose started the season with a four-game losing streak (0-4-0), getting outscored by a combined 17-5 in the process. A three-game winning streak followed, but then the Sharks dropped seven of eight (1-6-1). And since that slide left them with a lowly 4-10-1 mark early in November, the Sharks have been among the hottest teams in the league with a 10-2-0 mark in their last dozen games.
Most recently, the Sharks earned a 4-2 win over the Coyotes in Arizona on Saturday night in a one-off road trip. Down 2-0 before the game with three minutes old, San Jose rallied with four unanswered goals to win.
San Jose's home game against the Caps is another one-off; the Sharks head out on a four-game road trip against a trio of East Coast clubs starting on Thursday in Carolina, and making a final stop in Nashville on the way back home.
San Jose boasts the league's top penalty killing unit with a lusty 91 percent kill rate. That rate climbs to 93.8 percent on home ice, where the Sharks have killed 45 of 48 shorthanded situations in 15 games at SAP Center. San Jose has yielded only nine power-play goals in 28 games on the season, and the Sharks total of four shorthanded goals is tied for fourth in the league.