March 20 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete’s Times Forum
Time: 7:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM, 106.7 FM and XM
Washington Capitals (47-14-10)
Tampa Bay Lightning (28-30-12)
The Caps conclude a four-game, eight-day road trip with a Saturday night visit with the Lightning in Tampa Bay. The game also concludes the season’s series between the two teams.
Washington is 2-0-1 on the trip to date. Most recently, the Caps lost a 4-3 overtime decision to the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Thursday. Washington nursed a 2-1 lead into the third period in that game, but a pair of late goals turned the score in Carolina’s favor. The Caps needed a goal in the waning seconds or regulation from Eric Fehr – his 20th of the season – to send to game to overtime and salvage a point. The Hurricanes’ Ray Whitney sent the Caps home with a single point when he beat Washington netminder Semyon Varlamov in the extra session.
Left wing Alex Ovechkin will be back in the Washington lineup against the Lightning after serving a two-game NHL suspension in the middle two games of the trip, in Florida and Carolina. Despite missing 10 games this season, Ovechkin still holds a two-point lead over Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin in the league’s scoring race. Ovechkin trails Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby by a single goal in the chase for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
Third-year center Nicklas Backstrom has not gone more than a game without scoring a point in two and a half months. He has piled up 14 goals and 41 points in his last 29 games, moving up to 87 points (29 goals, 58 assists) on the season. That ties him with Crosby for third place in the race of the Art Ross Trophy, nine points behind Ovechkin.
For the second straight season, the Caps have four skaters with 70 or more points. Besides Ovechkin and Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green are squarely at the 70-point mark. Each of Washington’s “Young Guns” ranks among the top 15 on the NHL’s scoring ledger.
Fehr becomes the seventh Capital forward to reach the 20-goal level this season. The last time Washington had more skaters with 20 or more goals in the same season was in 1992-93 when nine Capitals players (including an NHL record three defensemen) tallied 20 or more times.
At the other end of the ice, the Caps also have one of the league’s hottest netminders. Veteran goaltender Jose Theodore is 15-0-2 in his last 17 appearances, posting a 2.45 GAA and a .924 save pct. in the process.
Theodore’s streak of 17 straight appearances without suffering a regulation loss is the longest in franchise history and the second-longest in the league in the last 10 seasons. Only Dallas’ Marty Turco has had a longer streak during that span. Turco went 19 straight games without suffering a regulation loss from Dec. 29, 2002 to March 26, 2003. He posted a 12-0-4 mark during that run.
Washington’s power play has struck at least once in each of the last seven games, going 10-for-27 (37%) during that spell. The Caps had a nine-game streak with at least one power play goal earlier this season.
For the Lightning, Saturday’s visit from the Capitals closes out a four-game homestand. At 10-19-6, the Bolts have not been among the league’s top road teams this season, so the current homestand was seen as crucial to the Lightning’s playoff push.
Tampa Bay took a 3-2 decision from the Capitals in the District on March 12, but that victory is one of the few recent bright spots for a team currently mired in a 2-9-1 tailspin. The Bolts dropped each of the first three games on the current homestand and will be seeking to salvage something before going back out on the road for five of their next six games.
The Lightning stands 11th in the Eastern Conference standings. The Bolts are six points behind eighth-place Boston with just a dozen games remaining on the slate.
Like the Caps, Tampa Bay boasts some of the league’s top scorers. With 82 points each, sophomore center sensation Steven Stamkos and veteran Marty St. Louis are tied for fifth in the league’s scoring chase. While the Caps have four of the league’s 15 scorers, Vincent Lecavalier (62 points) gives Tampa Bay three of the top 28.
Antero Niittymaki has taken over as the top man in the Tampa Bay nets. He has generally fared well against Washington throughout his NHL career, posting a lifetime mark of 7-2-1 with a 2.34 GAA and a .927 save pct. against the Capitals.
Niittymaki has fared much better on home ice this season than he has on the enemy sheets around the circuit. He has forged an 11-7-3 mark with a 2.32 GAA and a .928 save pct. at the St. Pete Times Forum this season. On the road however, he is just 7-8-2 with a mediocre 3.24 GAA and an underwhelming .890 save pct.
Since the Olympic break, the Lightning is 6-for-34 (17.6%) on the power play. The Bolts have riddled the Capitals for seven power play goals in 18 tries (38.9%) in the previous five meetings between the two teams this season.
Notes: The Lightning will be attempting to join the New Jersey Devils as the second team to defeat the Caps three times this season. One of New Jersey’s wins came in the shootout; both of the Lightning’s previous wins over Washington have come in regulation.