March 4 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage Pre-Game show at 6:30 p.m., both on www.washingtoncaps.com
Tampa Bay Lightning (26-25-11)
Washington Capitals (42-13-8)
Some 24 days after their last home game, the Capitals return to Verizon Center to host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. The game marks the start of a five-game homestand for the Capitals, a run that opens and closes with visits from the Bolts.
The Caps come home after downing the Sabres in Buffalo by a 3-1 count on Wednesday night. Jose Theodore stopped 23 of the 24 shots he faced to outduel Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and run his record to 21-7-6 on the season. He is 11-0-2 in his last 13 appearances.
“If they have two chances in the third period and that’s it and he makes the saves,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of Theodore. “That’s what wins you the big games. That’s what Miller does for them and we got it from Jose.”
The Caps were a bit rusty early on, but Theodore kept the Sabres in check, making 11 of his saves in the first period. Jason Chimera, Mike Green and Boyd Gordon (an empty-netter) scored to support Theodore.
“It was a good test for us but it was one of those kind of games where you’ve got to find a way to win and that’s what we did tonight,” said Gordon afterwards.
After having allowed 26 goals in their last six games prior to the Olympic break, the Caps limited Buffalo to 24 shots on goal and just one tally. It was the fewest shots Washington has allowed in its last 22 games, since it held Los Angeles to 19 shots in a 2-1 Kings win over the Caps on Jan. 2.
In half a dozen long and strenuous practices to prepare for the season’s final 20 games, Boudreau emphasized defense and strong play in the neutral zone. That philosophy paid dividends on Wednesday.
“Six good practices I thought and we got back to basics,” says the Caps bench boss. “[Buffalo] turned the puck over so many times in the neutral zone I think from our pressure that if we could have scored on [the resulting] 2-on-1s, we would have had an easier game.”
Hours prior to the team’s 19th road victory of the season, Washington general manager George McPhee engineered a series of four trades in a span of a couple hours leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline.
Three of the players obtained in Wednesday’s swap meet are likely to make their Capitals’ debut in front of the Verizon Center crowd on Thursday. Forwards Scott Walker and Eric Belanger and defenseman Joe Corvo are all expected join the Capitals for Thursday’s game with Tampa Bay. The fourth is defenseman Milan Jurcina who returns for his second term as a Capital. Jurcina is currently sidelined with a sports hernia injury.
“I think George is putting us in position to do everything we can to win,” says Boudreau. “You don’t get that every year. Who knows how the moves are going to be? I’ve coached three of them and the other one [Walker], every time he plays against us he is a pain in the butt. He is a gritty, speedy, guy. Hopefully, they’ll all work in and we’ll have one happy team.”
Boudreau and his new Caps will be seeking to extend the team’s franchise record 11-game winning streak on home ice against Tampa Bay. The Capitals’ last home ice loss of any kind was on Dec. 28 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Lightning hits town after suffering a 7-2 home ice loss to the Flyers in its first game back after the break. Tampa Bay was 0-for-7 on the power play in that game and it surrendered three power play goals to Philly.
The turmoil-ridden Bolts have new ownership for the second time in less than two years, and they have a new assistant coach, former Capitals’ defenseman Jim Johnson. Johnson replaced the departed Wes Walz, who was dismissed during the break against the wishes of head coach Rick Tocchet, another ex-Cap.
Tampa Bay is 11th in the Eastern Conference standings but is only two points out of the playoff picture. The Lightning dealt former Capitals center Jeff Halpern to Los Angeles on Wednesday in exchange for forward Teddy Purcell and a third-round draft choice.
Owners of one of the league’s top records at home this season, the Bolts will need to improve on a dismal 9-17-5 road record as they bid for a playoff berth over the season’s final quarter.
The Bolts have lost four straight games in regulation, their longest losing stretch of the season. They’ve been outscored by a combined 22-12 in those four games, and they’ve allowed at least five goals in each of that quartet of contests.
Prior to the Lightning’s current losing streak, the Bolts posted an impressive 15-7-2 mark in the team’s previous 24 games.
The trio of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie has accounted for the lion’s share of Tampa Bay’s recent offense. Either Stamkos or St. Louis has scored in each of the Bolts’ last 13 games, and the aforementioned trio has accounted for 26 of the team’s 34 goals (77%) during that span and 13 of the team’s 15 goals (87%) in its last five games.
Stamkos leads the NHL with 15 power play goals and is currently riding a franchise-record 14-game scoring streak (12 goals, 13 assists).