April 13 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 1500AM WFED
Tampa Bay Lightning (17-21-2)
Washington Capitals (22-17-2)
Washington hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night in the middle match of a three-game homestand. The game is the final Southeast Division match-up ever between the two teams, and the Capitals will be seeking to run their winning streak to seven straight games.
The Caps enter Saturday’s slate of NHL action with a slim two-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets for the top spot in the Southeast Division standings. The Jets are idle until Tuesday, so the Caps’ tilt against Tampa Bay serves as the game in hand Washington has had on the Jets. As the saying goes, games in hand mean nothing unless you win them, Saturday’s tilt against the Bolts is a big one for the Capitals.
Thursday night’s 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes was Washington’s sixth win in succession, its longest winning run since it opened the 2011-12 campaign with seven straight triumphs.
After yielding the net to Michal Neuvirth for Neuvirth’s first pair of consecutive victories in over a year, Braden Holtby returned to the crease on Thursday against Carolina and earned his 18th win of the season with a stellar 43-save performance. Holtby shook off some early rustiness and was brilliant over the final 50 minutes or so. He set a single-game career high in saves in that contest.
Since Washington opened the season with a 2-8-1 mark in its first 11 games, Holtby has started 25 of the Caps’ 30 games since. He is 17-7-1 with a 2.26 GAA and a .929 save pct. during that stretch.
Washington acquired left wing Martin Erat from the Nashville Predators at the April 3 trade deadline, but Erat suffered a lower body injury early in his second game on the ice with the Capitals. After missing a week of action, Erat has progressed to the point where he should be ready to return to the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Lightning.
“He’s a guy with speed,” notes Ribeiro of Erat. “That’s going to help me and Brouwie getting up the ice there. He’s a guy who can make plays and shoot the puck, too. He’s been well coached; since he’s been in Nashville it’s been the same coach and the same kind of defensive system, so he knows how to play the game properly. I think that’s going to be good for me and Brouwie.”
The Capitals are still expected to be without injured forwards Brooks Laich and Joel Ward on Saturday. Laich has not skated in the last week plus after aggravating a previous groin injury in Washington’s April 4 game against the New York Islanders. Laich saw a groin specialist earlier this week, but he is still in the process of having the injury evaluated.
Ward blocked a Sami Salo slapshot in the third period of Washington’s 4-2 win over the Lightning last Sunday at Verizon Center.
Although the Caps’ top line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin did not score in Washington’s 3-1 win over the Canes on Thursday, that line continued to generate many strong scoring chances, and it has been carrying most of the offensive mail for Washington as of late.
As we noted in an early season (January) edition of The Capitals Report, the trio is at its best when Johansson carries the puck into the zone. His speed, Backstrom’s precision playmaking skills and Ovechkin’s sniping and shooting abilities and physical presence are the elements that make that trio so successful.
“The big thing with Marcus is speed,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green. “He’s one of those guys that when he is skating he is making everybody else – not only on his line, but the other lines – pick up their pace. He’s very effective. Not many guys can skate as fast as he can and handle the puck and make plays at that speed. He definitely has that in his repertoire.”
For Tampa Bay, Saturday’s game is the start of a four-game road journey. The Bolts will be in Buffalo on Sunday, Winnipeg on Tuesday and Montreal on Thursday before returning home where they’ll play three of their final four games this season.
Saturday’s game features four of the league’s top offensive talents. Veteran Tampa Bay winger Martin St. Louis is tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the league lead with 41 assists. Backstrom is third with 37 helpers. Lightning center Steven Stamkos is tied with Ovechkin for the league lead with 26 goals.
Stamkos is second in the league in scoring with 51 points; St. Louis is third with 50. Ovechkin ranks sixth with 44 points and Backstrom is tied for seventh with 43.
The Lightning brought in goaltender Ben Bishop in a deal with the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline, and Bishop has started all five games since joining the Lightning. Bishop is 2-3 with a shutout, a 2.82 GAA and a .923 save pct. since coming to the Bolts in exchange for rookie forward Cory Conacher.
Beginning with its 1-for-2 outing in last Sunday’s game in Washington, the Lightning’s power play is 6-for-13 (46.2%) in its last three games. The Lightning had six power play goals in their previous 19 games prior to the team’s current three-game run.
On the other side of the special teams coin, the Bolts have killed off only 13 of 19 (68.4%) shorthanded situations in their six April games.
Since roaring out of the gates with a 6-1-0 record in their first seven games this season, the Lightning is just 11-20-2 over its last 33 games. Tampa Bay’s tragic number has been reduced to eight; any combination of points gained by the eighth-place club in the Eastern Conference and those not gained by the Lightning that adds up to eight will result in Tampa Bay’s mathematical elimination from the Stanley Cup playoff picture.
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