By Adam Vingan
Dale Hunter was serving his 21-game suspension for his late hit on Pierre Turgeon. Mike Knuble was a junior at the University of Michigan. Thirteen members of the current Washington Capitals roster were less than 10 years old. Dmitry Orlov was not even two years old yet.
That was the state of the current Caps on October 30, 1993, the last time they defeated the San Jose Sharks on the road. This weekend, Washington begins a two-game California road trip, starting Saturday against the aforementioned Sharks.
Since that win almost two decades ago, the Caps are 0-10-1 at HP Pavilion, also known as the “Shark Tank.” While that might an affectionate nickname for the arena, the atmosphere inside is anything but for opposing teams. It’s called the “Shark Tank” for a reason.
“Getting over their building real quick” was Troy Brouwer’s key to winning in San Jose.
“It’s a tough building to play in,” he said. “It’s very intimidating.”
The Sharks have won 25 or more games at HP Pavilion in each of the last three seasons, including a league-high 32 in 2008-09. Their fans, like actual sharks, are ruthless; during a game against the Anaheim Ducks in December, a fan aptly threw a dead duck onto the ice.
“It’s a tough building to play in,” Hunter said. “We all know it. Just like ours is, it’s loud. Theirs is loud. We’re going to have to come out and have a real good start. You just can’t have a bad start and think you’re going to come back in that building, so we’re going to have to have a real good start.”
Meanwhile, about 350 miles south, the Caps will face the Los Angeles Kings Monday, a team they haven’t defeated on the road since December 14, 2005, and in general since February 8, 2007. The bright lights of Tinseltown have not been kind to the Caps and the Kings won’t be, either.
“I think that they all work pretty hard,” Karl Alzner said of the Kings. “They’re a team that’s similar to New Jersey’s style, where they come and they can really pressure you and make you turn the puck over. They’ve got really good players on that team. We’ve been struggling against them and they play us hard. We don’t seem them too often, especially when we play them in their building. I think we are one of the teams that they want to beat.”
When asked about what makes Los Angeles’ Staple Center a tough place to play, Alzner said he gets a bit starstruck.
“Playing in L.A., I don’t know if it’s the city, but it takes a little bit out of you,” he said. “You’re not focused enough if that’s the right way to put it. When you’re in cities like New York, same kind of thing. Your mind’s wandering a little bit more than it should be.”
The Caps, however, cannot afford to let the California scenery get to them. While Washington may be taking a four-game winning streak with them across the country, it’s also taking plenty of baggage in the form of two lengthy losing streaks against San Jose and Los Angeles as well as a mediocre 7-10-1 road record. To return home with a six-game winning streak in tow, the Caps will have to find some California love.
“That’s more like ‘looks good in print,'” Knuble said of the Sharks’ recent string of success against the Caps. “For the guys that have been here, new faces this year, new faces last year, those guys don’t really care. When you go once every other year, how long are you gonna drag it out for really? Players here, I think we’ve been there one time as a group.”
“I’m sure they catch teams from the East in a little bit of a ‘vacation mode’ and that’s not what we’re going to do,” Knuble continued. “It’s not what this is about, what our trip out there is about.”