Both Washington and San Jose are coming in hot. The Caps have won three straight, have points in four straight (3-0-1), and have earned at least a point in 24 of 28 games on the season. The Sharks have won five of six and 11 of their last 13.
The Shark Tank was formerly a house of horrors for the Capitals, who went more than two decades without a win in San Jose at one point. But since that streak of futility was snapped with a 3-2 shootout win here on March 22, 2014, the Caps have won four of their last six games here.
Although the Sharks' personnel has obviously changed over the years, they've typically had a high octane attack, as have the Caps. In eight of the last 10 meetings between Washington and San Jose, one or both teams have scored four or more goals.
"They're really playing their best hockey right now," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of the Sharks. "They had a little bit of a slow start, so they're really rolling right now, 11-2 in their last 13.
Video: Todd Reirden | December 3
"We talked about it as a group. They are a heavy shot volume team, especially from the blueline. They've got some amazing top-end guys back there on the blueline between [Erik] Karlsson and [Brent] Burns, and [Marc-Edouard] Vlasic as well, with the things that he does.
"You can talk for a while about their defense, but they've got a bunch of young, skilled forwards as well that have the ability. And then you always have someone dangerous like Joe Thornton in the mix as well."
Gonna Move - One more player from Washington's 2017-18 Stanley Cup championship team has departed the fold. Late Monday night, the Caps announced they've traded forward Chandler Stephenson to the Vegas Golden Knights for a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
With Carl Hagelin's impending return to the active roster ahead of Tuesday's game against the Sharks in San Jose, the Caps had to do some roster gymnastics to accommodate the move and Hagelin's $2.75 million salary cap hit going back on the books.
"Obviously, it's tough," says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin of the trade. "All players have a very good relationship together, a friendship, and it's part of the business. We might have to make a decision, and unfortunately it's hard. But he was a close friend, a very good friend of mine as well, and it's sad. That's business."
Video: Alex Ovechkin | December 3
Stephenson was a key cog in the Caps' bottom six during their Stanley Cup championship season of 2017-18, totaling six goals and 18 points while skating in a career high 67 games. He skated in all 24 playoff games that spring, adding two goals and seven points.
After taking a step backwards last season with five goals and 11 points in 64 games, Stephenson had a strong training camp and preseason, and he played well for Washington over the first third of the season (three goals and four points in 24 games). Throughout the first two months of the season, the Caps have had at least one forward out because of injury or suspension, but with Hagelin returning tonight against the Sharks and Nicklas Backstrom also nearing a return to action, Washington's day of roster reckoning came due.
Stephenson's departure leaves Travis Boyd as the Caps' ostensible 13th forward when all players are healthy. Boyd has gone up and down between the Caps and AHL Hershey a couple of times this season, but he has also posted better than half a point per game in limited duty this season. Like Stephenson, Boyd has the ability to play center and wing, and can also move up and down the lineup. He doesn't have Stephenson's speed, but Boyd is right-handed and is capable of filling in on the power play. Not insignificantly, his salary cap hit of $800,000 is also lower than Stephenson's $1.05 million figure.
"It's a difficult situation," says Caps center Lars Eller. "I think everybody wants to keep Stevie here, but with the cap situation, somebody just had to go. He was a big part of our Cup run, and I think he raised his game a little bit this year compared to last year. So it's hard to see him go, because he is a valuable player for us.
"We're going to miss him, but at the same time we have to move on and look forward."
Video: Rinkside Update | Lars Eller
Stephenson was originally the Capitals' third-round choice (78th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 15, 2015 against Chicago and had 14 goals and 33 points in 168 career games with the Caps.
The 25-year-old native of Saskatoon is in his fifth NHL season. Golden Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee is familiar with his team's new acquisition. He was Washington's GM when the Caps drafted Stephenson in 2012, and he was the Knights' first GM as well; he was in that post when Stephenson and the Caps faced Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final series some 18 months ago.
Stephenson goes directly from being in the midst of a West Coast trip with an Eastern Conference team to being on an East Coast trip with a Western Conference team, joining the Golden Knights on Tuesday in New Jersey.
Of the 20 players who suited up for the Cup-clinching Game 5 win over the Golden Knights in Vegas on June 7, 2018, Stephenson is the eighth to depart the Washington organization. Jay Beagle is with Vancouver, Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer are with Colorado, Matt Niskanen is with Philadelphia, Brett Connolly is with Florida, Devante Smith-Pelly is playing in the KHL, Brooks Orpik has retired, and Stephenson is with Vegas.
Back In The Saddle Again - Hagelin returns to live action tonight after missing nearly a month with an upper body injury. He last played on Nov. 7 against the Panthers in Florida, and has missed the last 11 games.
"Every injury is different," says Hagelin, "but I feel good to go. I'm excited to be back with the boys, that's for sure. Eleven games feels like a long time. It's tough to be out, but I'm happy to be back."
Hagelin played in each of Washington's first 17 games before the injury, and he leads the team's forwards with an average of 2:54 per game in shorthanded ice time. No player wants to sit out for any reason, but there can be some value in seeing things from a bird's eye view for a game or two.
Video: Carl Hagelin | December 2
"I think it's a good opportunity for you to just watch games from up top, I guess," says Hagelin. "It's fun to see your team win obviously, and I was still able to sit in on all of the meetings we had at home at least, and to stay sharp throughout the whole process. Getting to work out with [Mark] Nemish every day and getting in extra bag skates, that puts you in a good situation to come back."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby is back in net for the Capitals on Tuesday night against San Jose. The game starts Washington's second straight set of back-to-back games, and Holtby is making his second straight start on the front side. He defeated Tampa Bay in Washington on Friday, a 4-3 overtime win, in his last assignment.
Holtby was 8-1-1 with a 2.24 GAA and a .928 save pct. in his 10 November starts. He is tied for the NHL lead with 13 victories this season, and ranks ninth among all active goaltenders with 270 career victories.
Lifetime against the Sharks, Holtby is 3-4-1 with a 3.79 GAA and an .878 save pct. in nine career appearances.
Martin Jones will be in net for San Jose on Tuesday. Jones was named the league's third star for the week ending Sunday, going 3-0-0 in four games with a 1.98 GAA and a .935 save pct. Jones is 10-1-0 in his last 11 starts.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Jones is 5-3-0 with a couple of shutouts, a 2.40 GAA and a .917 save pct.
All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Lightning to look on Friday afternoon when they get together for the first time this season in the finale of Washington's three-game homestand:
Video: Two-Man Advantage | December 3
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 72-Boyd, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
19-Backstrom (upper body)
9-Kane, 39-Couture, 23-Goodrow
28-Meier, 48-Hertl, 12-Marleau
20-Sorensen, 19-Thornton, 62-Labanc
73-Gregor, 7-Gambrell, 68-M. Karlsson
44-Vlasic, 65-E. Karlsson
5-Prout (upper body)