SAN JOSE -– After playing eight straight games against non-playoff opponents and going 5-3-0 in the process, the Sharks will face a Washington team on Saturday that has been the NHL’s best club by an ample margin. At 49-13-5 and 103 points, the closest teams to the Capitals in the Eastern Conference headed into Saturday were New York and Boston, each with 84 points.
After some overt suggestions from coach Pete DeBoer that his club was road-weary in its 3-0 loss to the Devils on Thursday, the Sharks should be better prepared energy-wise for Saturday’s game.
They’d better be, or it could get ugly.
“I think any time you play with a little bit of fear in your belly, it’s a good thing,” DeBoer said. “We know our attention to detail has to be right on tonight, or this is a team that can embarrass you. I think that always heightens the awareness and the attention a little bit.”
[KURZ: Morning Skate: Sharks host NHL's best in Capitals]
Justin Braun said: “It’s a big test for us tonight. It’s an easy one to get up for.”
The forward lines, again, appear altered headed into Saturday. Logan Couture was flanked by Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi on the second line, while the third line featured Patrick Marleau between Matt Nieto and Joel Ward. Nick Spaling was bumped to the fourth line.
Karlsson was one of the few Sharks that had some jump in his legs against the Devils, perhaps aided by sitting two games earlier in the month due to injury. The Sharks’ 2014-15 rookie of the year has eight goals and 14 points in 50 games this season.
“Donskoi is really good and hunting [pucks] to make plays too, and holding the puck,” Karlsson said. “I think it will be a real good combination.”
Couture left the morning skate early looking to be in some pain, but DeBoer said he should be fine to play against Washington.
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Ward spent four solid seasons in Washington before agreeing to a three-year, $9.825 million contract with San Jose in the offseason.
Although the 35-year-old has put up a respectable 17 goals and 36 points in 65 games this season, he’s had trouble finding the scoresheet lately. Ward is scoreless in his last eight games, and hasn’t managed to record a shot on goal in any of the last three.
“Guys go in ebbs and flows, I think where he’s sitting numbers-wise is probably exactly where I thought he would be or hoped he would be,” DeBoer said. "He’s a streaky-type guy, I think he always has been. … I’m not worried about his game, he brings so many intangibles to the rink for us that help us win, that I know he’s going to be there at the end of the day.”
Ward tends to concentrate more on the little things that help the team, rather than goals and assists.
“A little bit of a dip, but I think for me, I’ve never really been a stats, points guy. If I just continue to play the right way, I’ll get opportunities,” said the six-foot-one, 225-pounder. “I may not be on the scoresheet sometimes, but if you get out there and maybe get a puck out or block a shot or something like that, you’re helping to contribute in some way.”
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The Sharks will likely have to deal with bad ice again on Saturday, another wet day in the Bay Area. It’s thought that the humidity that the damp weather brings is the main culprit to the ice being choppy, like it was on Thursday against New Jersey.
It will be approximately two weeks before the club brings in dehumidifiers to try and fix what has become a major problem at SAP Center.
“Last game it was really mushy. We’ll see how it is tonight,” Karlsson said. “Hard to make plays when it’s like that. I think more and more shots maybe instead of trying to make plays. More shots, and crash the net.”
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It’s evident that DeBoer and Washington’s Mike Richards have a special relationship. The Sharks reportedly expressed interest in Richards, who dealt with some legal issues last summer and was subsequently let go by the Kings, before he landed on a one-year deal with Washington on Jan. 6. DeBoer coached him in juniors at Kitchener.
The former Flyers captain and two-time Stanley Cup winner with Los Angeles has one goal and one assist in 24 games with the Caps, primarily as their fourth line center.
“Really, really happy for him,” DeBoer said. “I talked to before he got back in the league, I told him he belongs in the league. He knows that, he felt that. For me, he’s back where he belongs. He belongs in the NHL. He’s an NHL player.
“When you’re around this kid, you realize hockey is his life. He was born to play hockey and play in the NHL and win championships. He’s back knocking on the door again where he should be.”