ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals are about to embark on what could be a season-defining stretch.
To close the January portion of its schedule the Capitals will play 10 games in 18 days, a daunting run that includes eight of nine on the road following their game against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday at Verizon Center.
"It just goes to show you that it's never over," coach Adam Oates said. "You win two in a row, you get a point against [the Buffalo Sabres in a 2-1 shootout loss Sunday] and before you know it you look and it's like, 'Oh wow, we have a tough schedule.'"
During their two-and-a-half-week grind the Capitals will face three back-to-back sets, the first of which begins Tuesday and continues against the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
Perhaps most importantly, five of Washington's upcoming road games are against Metropolitan Division opponents. The Capitals' grasp on second place in the division is tenuous; they enter Tuesday in that spot by virtue of having played two fewer games than the New York Rangers, and they are only eight points ahead of the last-place New York Islanders.
As for the task at hand, the Capitals are aware of how dangerous of a team the Sharks are despite having not played them in nearly two years. It will be imperative that Washington starts strong Tuesday; San Jose is the best first-period team in the NHL, with a League-high 51 goals and a League-low 22 goals-against.
"You always want to play with a lead," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. "It sort of makes the other team come out of their game plan. Certainly for the Sharks, who never really give up much, that's kind of been their identity the last couple years. If you can make them come out of that defensive shell it's going to play into our hands."
Philipp Grubauer will start in goal for the Capitals, his 12th start in the team's past 17 games. With the busy upcoming schedule, Oates said there is a chance that Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth will both see action "in the next little bit."
Here are the projected lineups for the Sharks and Capitals:
Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Tommy Wingels - Patrick Marleau - Matt Nieto
Bracken Kearns - Andrew Desjardins - Tyler Kennedy
Eriah Hayes - John McCarthy - Mike Brown
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Brad Stuart - Justin Braun
Scott Hannan - Jason Demers
Scratched: James Sheppard, Matt Tennyson
Injured: Tomas Hertl (knee surgery), Logan Couture (hand surgery), Adam Burish (back surgery), Raffi Torres (knee surgery), Martin Havlat (lower body), Matt Irwin (upper body)
Eric Fehr - Mikhail Grabovski - Alex Ovechkin
Brooks Laich - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Mike Green
John Erskine - Connor Carrick
Scratched: Martin Erat, Steve Oleksy, Michal Neuvirth
Injured: Jack Hillen (fractured tibial plateau)