January 12 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum
Time: 7:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap Pre-Game Podcast on washingtoncaps.com at 2 p.m.
Washington Capitals (24-12-7)
Tampa Bay Lightning (25-13-5)
The Caps conclude a quick two-game trip to Florida with their first visit of the season to the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa Bay. First place in the Southeast Division is at stake as the Caps and the Lightning get together for the fourth time this season.
“Going into their rink, we haven’t seen them at home yet this season,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks. “We look forward to it. It’s what you want to do, you want to play the best. It’s going to be a good game [with] two good teams.”
A year ago tonight, the same two teams hooked up in the same building. At that time, the Caps had 60 points through the season’s first 44 games and were well on their way to a runaway Southeast Division championship. Washington held a 16-point bulge as the two teams got set to tangle. Tampa Bay won that night, 7-4.
With the point gained by virtue of its 4-3 overtime loss in Florida on Tuesday, Washington comes to town in a tie for first place with the Lightning in the Southeast Division. Both clubs have 55 points going into Wednesday’s crucial contest, but the Lightning is officially in the top spot by virtue of having one more victory than the Capitals.
After enduring an eight-game winless streak (0-6-2) in the first half of December, the Caps have put together a 6-0-3 run since. On Tuesday the Panthers became the first team to score more than three goals in a game against the Caps since the New York Rangers handed Washington a 7-0 spanking on Dec. 12 in Manhattan.
The Capitals held their own early in Tuesday’s game against the Swamp Cats, but a pair of simultaneous minors to Mike Knuble and Nicklas Backstrom midway through the first gave the Panthers a 5-on-3 power play for two full minutes. Florida took advantage of that opportunity to grab a 1-0 lead and it added another later in the first frame to forge a 2-0 lead after the game’s first 20 minutes.
Another Florida goal on another 5-on-3 power play gave the Cats a 3-0 lead, but Washington came storming back. Two goals from Marcus Johansson and one from Mike Knuble evened it up, but the Caps were unable to get the lead. They fell on a 4-on-3 power play goal in overtime.
“We started off way too bad,” says Caps center Marcus Johansson, who enjoyed the first two-goal game of his NHL career in a losing effort against the Panthers. “We can’t let them get a two-goal lead and then take too many penalties. It’s good we came back and got one point, it’s just too bad we didn’t get two points.”
While the Caps will strive to avoid a slow start on Wednesday in Tampa, they’d love to bring the game they played over the final 30 minutes or so of regulation on Tuesday in Florida.
“A lot of energy,” says Caps center Jay Beagle when asked what the Caps need most heading into Wednesday’s game. “Coming off a loss in OT is something we’ve got to try and put in the past and come out [on Wednesday] and be flying and have a good start and go from there.”
“It was a good effort,” says Hendricks. “It could have been a lot uglier if [goaltender Michal Neuvirth] didn’t play so well in net for us. Give him a lot of credit. Give the boys credit for battling back. It’s just a tough pill to swallow losing like that.”
After Washington took the first two meetings between the two clubs this season – scoring six goals in each contest – Tampa Bay blanked the Caps by a 1-0 count in overtime at Verizon Center last Tuesday. Newly acquired Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson – making his Tampa Bay debut after being obtained in a Jan. 1 trade with the New York Islanders – stopped all 34 shots he faced in the Jan. 4 game in Washington.
Roloson’s whitewash was the third of his career against the Capitals, and each has come with a different club (Minnesota, Edmonton and Tampa Bay). He joins Greg Millen (Pittsburgh, Hartford and St. Louis) as the only two goalies to shutout Washington with three different opposing clubs.
Roloson’s shutout was the Lightning’s first against the Capitals since John Grahame blanked them on Feb. 4, 2006 and the first by a Tampa Bay goaltender ever at Verizon Center.
Daren Puppa is the only other Bolts goalie ever to pitch a shutout against the Caps in D.C. He also turned in a 1-0 whitewash on March 10, 1996, but that one came at USAir Arena in Landover.
After taking that 1-0 decision over the Caps in the extra session eight days ago, the Lightning concluded their road trip with an 8-1 loss in Pittsburgh, a 2-1 win at Ottawa and a 6-3 setback to the Devils in New Jersey.
Idle since Sunday’s loss to the Devils, Tampa Bay starts a two-game homestand with Washington’s visit on Wednesday.
Expect Semyon Varlamov to be back between the pipes for Washington on Wednesday. Prior to Tuesday’s game against the Panthers, Varlamov had started a career-high five straight games. He was 4-0-1 with a 1.19 GAA and a .962 save pct. in those five games.
On the losing end of last week’s defeat at the hands of Roloson and the Lightning, Varlamov had a personal shutout streak against Tampa Bay come to an end when Martin St. Louis scored the game-winner in overtime. Prior to that St. Louis strike, Varlamov had stopped 66 straight Bolts bids over a span of 147 minutes and 42 seconds against the Lightning.
Lifetime, Varlamov is 4-1 with two shutouts, a 1.66 GAA and a .939 save pct. against the Lightning.
“We’ve got to get a better start [on Wednesday] and play like we did at the end there and I think we’ll do good,” says Johansson.
“I think we’re going to be fine,” echoes Hendricks. “We’re in good shape. We’re just going to get a good meal in us tonight and focus on things that make it easier for us, getting pucks deep and not leaving ourselves out there overextended.”