November 26 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center
Time: 5:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Tampa Bay Lightning (13-7-2)
Washington Capitals (15-6-2)
Two nights after concluding a two-game road trip with a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, the Capitals head back to the District to close out the November portion of the schedule with a two-game homestand against Southeast Division foes. First up is the Tampa Bay Lightning, which provides the opposition for a late afternoon Black Friday contest at Verizon Center.
Wednesday’s win over the Canes kept the Caps losing streak from reaching four games. Washington forged a 2-0 lead on a pair of Nicklas Backstrom goals after 40 minutes, only to see the always plucky Hurricanes come back to even the game midway through the third.
Brooks Laich’s power play goal in the third – courtesy of Alex Ovechkin’s third primary assist of the game – made winners of the Capitals and goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who made 30 saves to record his first win of the season while starting his first NHL game in more than a month.
The Capitals have yet to lost more than four games in succession since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the Washington bench just over three years ago.
“It was a nice win [Wednesday] night,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks. “We hadn’t been doing too well; I think we had one point out of a possible six there. Two tough road losses, so it was nice to get a road win last nice against a team that fought hard for 60 minutes. They really played well. Give them credit, they came back.”
Putting Laich with Backstrom and Ovechkin and moving Ovechkin to the right side was an inspired bit of coaching by Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau, but how long that unit remains together remains to be seen. With Mike Knuble ready to return to the lineup after a three-game absence, Boudreau has options to mull and decisions to make.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do – well, I do know, but I’m not telling you guys – from minute to minute,” teases Boudreau. “We’ve got a lot of versatile players on our team that can play center and wing, and right wing and left wing. We do this and they all play together. Sometimes they’re better with other guys and that, but for the most part we do it so other teams can’t assign certain lines and certain checkers to us. If we can get along with it and do it, then we do it.
“I’m going to think all day [Thursday]. I’ve got an idea in my head of what I want to try and do, but we’ll see how it is [Friday].”
Coming home to face the Lightning on the heels of a win instead of a fourth straight setback is no small thing for the Capitals.
“It’s very important,” says Hendricks. “We needed it for ourselves more than anything, more than the standings. We needed it for the locker room, to have a good feeling coming to the rink today, knowing that we didn’t have a game. We wanted to go into [Friday’s] home game feeling good about ourselves. Obviously there are points we need to get better at, but all in all it was a win and it feels good right now.”
While Washington endured a three-game skid, the Lightning was working on a winning streak. Tampa Bay has won five straight games heading into Friday’s contest, closing the gap between themselves and the Caps to just four points.
“They’re a hot team right now,” says Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz. “They’re coming at us. It seems like the roles have almost switched. I remember when they were at the top of the division there and we were trying to catch them all the time. Now it seems like they’re hot on our tails and it’s going to be a tight battle until season’s end.”
After Washington’s 4-2 win over Buffalo on Nov. 17, the Capitals held a nine-point lead over the Lightning in the Southeast Division standings. That same night, the Bolts halted a stretch in which they had lost six of seven (1-5-1) with a win over the hapless New York Islanders.
The Lightning has not lost since, and it now trails the Caps by just four points for the top spot in the Southeast.
Tampa Bay’s total of 13 wins through the season’s first 22 contests is the most in franchise history.
Special teams have been superb for the Lightning this season, but particularly so during the team’s current five-game winning streak. The Bolts are 8-for-25 (32%) on the power play in their last five games and have killed 15 of 16 (93.8%) opposition power plays during the same span.
Tampa Bay’s power play unit is fourth in the league with a 25.2% success rate. The Lightning is also fourth in the NHL with a kill rate of 88.6%.
In seven of their last nine games, the Bolts have limited opponents to 30 or fewer shots on goal.
“We’re playing arguably right now the best team in the league, the hottest team anyway,” says Boudreau. “Them or Philly, but these guys beat Philly. And ever since they beat Philly they’ve been allowing no goals but still scoring five.
“We know we’ve got our hands full. We know they’re a really good team, and hopefully we’re ready for them.”
Notes: Washington reassigned goaltender Braden Holtby and defenseman Brian Fahey to Hershey of the AHL … Right wing Mike Knuble has missed the last three games after suffering a broken jaw from an Eric Fehr shot to the face in last Friday’s game at Atlanta. After being fitted with some brackets and a plate, and getting his helmet equipped with a facebar, Knuble is ready to return to action on Friday against the Lightning … Defenseman Tyler Sloan is on injured reserve and won’t be eligible to play until Wednesday’s game in St. Louis … Blueliner Mike Green missed the Carolina game with an injury and remains day-to-day. If he is unable to play on Friday, the Caps will recall Fahey from Hershey.