"It's a different type of game, and always a 12:30 [p.m.] game provides a little different element to it, in terms of making sure that you're up, prepared, and into the game," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "So that'll be the challenge for us. It's important how we put our pregame presentation together; it is not so much video [Sunday], more [Saturday] than [Sunday] so they can be focused to start the game. We're playing a lot of games, we points and we need to continue to grow and get better. There were some decent things [Friday] night that we did against Carolina. But there's still room to grow and continue to get better."
After a dismal 2-9-2 December, the Sharks have won their first two games of the New Year, taking one-goal decisions in Pittsburgh and Columbus, respectively. The Sharks are on a five-game road trip that concludes on Tuesday in St. Louis, a trip that began with a 2-0 loss to the lowly Red Wings in Detroit on New Year's Eve.
San Jose has made the playoffs in 19 of the past 21 seasons, reaching the Western Conference Final five times and the Stanley Cup Final once during that span. But the Sharks are now a team at a fork in the road - they have seven players with 689 or more career games on their roster, and they have seven with fewer than 100 games.
But with the likes of Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson on their blueline and noted Caps killer Evander Kane (17 goals in 33 career games against Washington), San Jose can be a dangerous foe on any given afternoon or evening.
"Having two defensemen like Karlsson and Burns presents an interesting matchup situation in just the style that they play," says Reirden, "and then obviously [Marc-Edouard] Vlasic and other guys that can defend. And then obviously high powered forwards that have scored goals for years in this league.
Video: Reirden Pregame | January 5
"You see what happened last year with St Louis, a team that makes a huge surge in the second half of the year and, [the Sharks] had a big win the other night against [Pittsburgh] and [another on Satuday] against Columbus. They're going to be thinking this is a really good end to their road trip, to come in and surprise us [Sunday] at 12:30 so we've got to be ready from the drop of the puck."
Don't Let Us Get Sick - Since they came out of the NHL's holiday break just over a week ago, the Caps have had some sort of illness/bug coursing through their locker room. Michal Kempny missed a couple of games after being laid low with illness, and several other players have missed practices and had their energy levels diminished by the bug.
Today's candidate is center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has scored in each of the last three games and has four goals and six points in his last four games. Kuznetsov missed Saturday's practice with the illness; the Caps had him stay home so as not to infect any of his teammates.
On Sunday morning, Reirden termed Kuznetsov as a game-time decision for today. He is expected to take the warmup to see how he feels, and a decision as to whether or not he plays today will be made at that time.
If Kuznetsov plays against San Jose, expect to see the Caps lineup as listed below. If he does not suit up, look for Lars Eller to move up to the middle of the second line between Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie while Travis Boyd would man the middle of the third line between Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik.
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net for the Caps on Sunday, and he will be seeking to halt a personal three-game losing streak. It's his longest regulation losing run in the regular season in nearly 23 months, since he lost four straight decisions in regulation from Feb. 17-26, 2018, less than four months before he and the Caps hoisted the Stanley Cup in Vegas.
Ilya Samsonov made 38 saves on Friday night in Carolina to earn his sixth straight win and his eighth straight without a loss on the road.
With four games this week, both of Washington's goaltenders are certain to see action. The Caps have a set of back-to-backs with travel looming on Tuesday-Wednesday, just beyond Sunday's date with the Sharks.
"We've got a busy schedule [this] week too, and he hasn't played since before the New Year," says Reirden of the decision to go with Holtby against the Sharks. "I thought it was a pretty emotional game [on Friday] and I think it's the right thing to get him back in there. I thought Sammy had a strong game, and let's get Braden back in there."
Holtby has allowed two or fewer goals in 12 of his 29 starts this season, and the Caps are 11-0-1 in those dozen games. Overall, he has a 17-7-4 record on the season. Lifetime against San Jose, Holtby is 4-4-1 with a 3.60 GAA and an .881 save pct. in 10 career contests.
After Aaron Dell started and won each of San Jose's last two games, Martin Jones is expected to be in net for the Sharks on Sunday afternoon. Jones has won only one of his last eight starts, and just finished off a difficult month of December in which he posted a 1-7-0 redord with a 3.45 GAA and an .882 save pct. in eight appearances.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Jones is 5-4-0 with a couple of shutouts, a 2.79 GAA and a .904 save pct. Jones blanked the Capitals in two of his first three career starts against them, but Washington has largely had his number since. The Caps have reached Jones for four or more goals in four of his last five starts against them, including a 5-2 win in San Jose last month when they chased him to the bench with five goals on 23 shots in 40 minutes of work.
All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Sharks to look on Sunday afternoon in the District when the Caps open up their first multi-game homestand in 24 days:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
29-Djoos (upper body)
48-Hertl, 39-Couture, 12-Marleau
9-Kane, 23-Goodrow, 28-Meier
20-Sorensen, 19-Thornton, 62-Labanc
68-M. Karlsson, 46-Kellman, 14-Noesen
44-Vlasic, 65-E. Karlsson
5-Prout (upper body)