- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Washington Capitals are 8-2-1, winners of six-straight and among the top teams in all of the NHL.

But of the Capitals‘ eight wins, none have come against a team with a winning record. 

That means tonight’s opponent, the San Jose Sharks, the reigning Western Conference champions, could provide Washington, finally, with an opportunity to really measure themselves against a top NHL opponent.

San Jose’s personality is that of a team that knows how to use its advantages in depth and size. In the NHL’s West, teams take pride in strong center depth, but the depth of the Sharks extends all the way down to their fourth line.

“They just got a lot of depth,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “They have a lot of players that can change the game and they’re just tough to play. I mean, they’re going to be on you all the time. All four lines are tough to play. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Last season, Washington dropped both of their games to San Jose. The Sharks were just one of the two teams the Capitals failed to beat last season (the Dallas Stars were the other).

San Jose enters Washington on a three-game losing streak. They are also embarking on a six-game road trip and would like to kick it off on the right track. That means Washington may get their very best.

“The team that beat us 5-0 and 5-2 [last year] is the same team that’s coming in here today,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They’re going to be desperate. They lost three in a row and they’re starting a six-game road trip with us staring them in the front windshield. They’re going to bring their best game.”

The Sharks are fueled with two bonafide super stars in defenseman Brent Burns and center Joe Thornton. Burns is among one of the most versatile players in the NHL. He has the ability to play both as a forward and as a defenseman, and the 31-year-old finished with 27 goals and 48 assists, the second-highest point total amongst all NHL defensemen last season.

Burns is also known as one of the more eccentric players in hockey. He sports a combination of long hair and a bushy beard, collects rare snakes and takes a blender with him in his bag for every away game. His wife also wouldn’t let him get a pet tiger.

“[Burns] is one of the most talented players in the National Hockey League, bar none,” Trotz said. “He is interesting, he’s fun, he’s talented, exceptional person. I got to spend some time with him [during the World Cup of Hockey with Canada]. He’s dynamic. You talk about a guy who can make something out of nothing happen, he’s one of those guys. He’s able to get in the rush. He’s not predictable, which makes him hard to contain.”

Thornton has maintained an amazing scoring pace at the age of 37. Last season, Thornton managed to score 82 points in 82 games. Trotz also spent a great deal of time with Thornton as a member of Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey.

“He’s a pro,” Trotz said of Thornton. “The best example I can give you is Joe gets a lot of respect from what he’s done and how he’s done it. We’re going through the grind of the World Cup and we had an optional day. Just three or four guys came out. He’s the oldest guy on that team and he was out there, and he was working.”

But while the Sharks feed off of their strength in physicality and depth, the Capitals can match it. According to James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail, the Capitals are the fifth-tallest team in the NHL and the eighth-heaviest.

Still, the Capitals aren’t necessarily known as a bruising team. Instead, they tend to rely on a unique blend of finesse and size. According to Johansson, that will help them in this matchup.

“I think we are going to have to do both,” Johansson said of utilizing the Capitals‘ size and speed. “They’re a big team, and I think if we use both our size and speed, that’s an advantage for us. But I mean, it’s tough. They’re a really good hockey team, they’re good with the puck and they keep the puck away from you a lot. It’s going to be a tough game, but we have to play our best and use our size and speed. Everything we’ve got to take them down.”

The Capitals play on election night before they take on a three-game road trip. Trotz realizes the fans may be looking at a couple of different screens at the game tonight, but he has just one request from the fans that are taking in the game on this historical night.

“Just remember that there’s a game going on,” Trotz said jokingly. “We do need [the fans’] help. We need their energy. So, please pay attention to the game.”


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