December 7 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum
Time: 7:030 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (18-5-6)
Tampa Bay Lightning (11-9-8)
The Capitals put their five-game winning streak on the line Monday night in Tampa Bay when they face the Lightning for the first time this season. Since the two clubs were joined in the same division at the start of the 1998-99 season, this is the latest the Caps and Bolts have ever hooked up for the first time in a season. Washington met Tampa Bay for the first time in game No. 15 for the Caps in 2000-01. This season, it’s game No. 30.
The Caps will welcome left wing Alex Ovechkin back to the lineup after the superstar served his two-game NHL suspension. The Caps scored 14 goals in those two games, and have averaged 4.5 goals per game in the eight games the Great Eight has missed this season. Washington went 6-2 in those eight games, with both losses coming against the Devils in New Jersey.
Washington is currently riding an 11-game winning streak over the Lightning, a run that began nearly two years ago on Dec. 15, 2007. The Caps have not lost to the Bolts since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the Washington bench, and they’ve won six straight games in Tampa Bay.
On Saturday night in Philadelphia, the Caps schooled the Flyers by an 8-2 score. Four of their goals in that game came on the power play. Washington leads the NHL with an average of 3.62 goals per game, scoring more than a third of a goal per game more than every other team in the league. The Caps’ 24.6% power play success rate is also tops in the circuit. Washington is 7-for-18 (38.9%) with the extra man in its last two games.
While the Caps are doing well on the power play, their penalty-killing unit is not being excessively taxed. In its last 14 games, Washington has had to kill more than four penalties in a game only twice.
Washington’s offense has been clicking on all cylinders of late, but the Caps’ defense has quietly been very effective as well. The Caps are 16-1-4 when they score three or more goals this season, and Washington has allowed more than three goals only once in its last nine games. In that one instance, the opposition’s fourth goal was scored in overtime in a 4-3 loss to the Senators in Ottawa on Nov. 23.
“We’re good defensively, I believe,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “When you score four or five goals a game and you’re up, it is really difficult to keep that pressure on. You’re so up for the game that it’s human nature to relax a little bit.”
The Caps have allowed 2.76 goals per game, which ranks 15th in the NHL.
Washington comes into Monday’ night’s meeting with Tampa Bay with a perfect 6-0 record in its division this season. It is the best start the Capitals have ever had against Southeast Division opponents at the start of a campaign.
Saturday’s win in Philly pushes the Caps’ road record to an impressive 9-3-3 on the season. Washington has earned at least a point in each of its last six road games (4-0-2) and is 24-9-6 in its last 39 road contests, dating back to last December.
The Lightning has been solid on home ice this season with a 7-2-4 record. Tampa Bay’s two regulation losses at home are tied with Washington, Colorado and San Jose for the fewest in the league.
Tampa Bay occupies third place in the Southeast Division standings and is eighth overall in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs each of the last two seasons and has not won a playoff series since it claimed the Cup in 2004.
Sophomore center Steven Stamkos is pacing the Lightning attack this season. He leads the team with 17 goals and is tied with Martin St. Louis for the team scoring lead at 30 points. Stamkos is tied for sixth in the league in goals and he and St. Louis are tied for 14th in the NHL scoring race.
Coming off Saturday night’s 4-0 home ice whitewashing of the New York Islanders, the Lightning will be looking to put together their first pair of consecutive wins in almost a month when they face the Capitals. The Bolts won two in a row from Nov. 7-12, but they are 4-5-3 since. Tampa Bay has not put together as many as three straight wins since Jan. 19-27.
Incumbent Mike Smith and newcomer Antero Niittymaki have split the Lightning’s goaltending chores virtually down the middle thus far this season. With a 2.24 GAA and a .927 save pct., Niittymaki has been the more effective of the two. But Smith authored Saturday’s shutout over the Fishermen, his first since Dec. 23, 2008.
The Bolts are averaging 2.61 goals per game this season. They rank 22nd in the league in that department. Tampa Bay has allowed 2.75 goals per game to rank 14th in the circuit.
Notes: Caps right wing Matt Bradley, who left Saturday’s game after being sucker-punched by Flyers irritant Daniel Carcillo, is fine and is expected to be in the lineup for Monday’s game. Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn may also be ready to return to the lineup, but that determination will be made after Monday’s morning skate. Morrisonn has been sidelined with an upper body injury suffered in a Nov. 17 game against the Rangers in New York.