February 4 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum
Time: 7:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 pm on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (27-15-10)
Tampa Bay Lightning (32-15-5)
Washington makes the second of its three seasonal visits to Tampa on Friday where it will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in a key four-point Southeast Division contest. The Caps trail Tampa Bay by five points for the lead in the division.
For the first time since Nov. 8, 2008, the Caps will play a game against a divisional foe with more points in the standings than themselves.
“They’re ahead of us and it’s a four-point game,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green. “They win and it sets us back big time. It’s very important for us.”
The Caps are coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canadiens at Verizon Center on Wednesday. The loss was Washington’s eighth in a row in overtime or the shootout, and it was made more painful by the fact that the Caps jumped out to a 2-0 lead but couldn’t close the deal.
Washington has allowed only 37 goals in its last 20 games, a feat they also achieved in the final 20 games of the 2007-08 season as they made a late season push to the playoffs and a division title. But while the ’07-08 team went 15-4-1 and scored 64 goals in those same 20 games.
Although the Caps have picked up at least a point in 16 of those last 20 games, they’ve won fewer than half (9-4-7) and that has enabled Tampa Bay to put some space between itself and Washington. Washington has scored just 44 goals in its last 20 games, The Capitals lead the NHL with 10 overtime/shootout losses.
The Caps’ scoring woes extend back to early December; they’ve tallied just 52 times in their last 26 games.
“We have to be hungry and desperate to score,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “Compete, fight in there. Do anything, whatever it takes to score, myself included. I have to be more nasty around the front of the net, go to the net more, take a hack, take a whack, a shot in the face, whatever it is. Just compete, compete, compete. Don’t stop. And be ferocious around the net. If you keep doing that, eventually one is going to go in.”
While the Caps are just 9-6-2 against divisional foes this season, the Lightning is 10-4-1 against its fellow Southeast Division denizens. Tampa Bay has won six straight, taking each of the first three of those on shootout fashion. The Bolts have gone 18-7-2 since the beginning of December while Washington is 9-9-8 during the same span.
In their last 26 games overall, the Caps are just 2-7-6 against teams currently in the NHL’s playoff picture and 7-2-2 against the league’s also-rans.
Friday’s game marks the fifth meeting of the season between the Caps and Bolts. Washington took the first two games in the District, scoring six goals in each game. Tampa Bay’s New Year’s Day acquisition of goaltender Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders helped the Lightning turn the tide; the veteran goaltender pitched two straight shutouts against the Caps in January.
“The first two games went our way,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “To their credit, they adjusted and changed up things defensively. And they’ve gotten great goaltending and actually both games I thought they played really, really strong defensively. So you have to give them some credit.”
Heading into its most important game to date this season, Washington has had two full days to practice and prepare. The Caps have made the most of that time, and they should be ready to go on Friday night.
“I didn’t think we had great legs against Montreal,” notes Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “[Wednesday’s] practice was fairly difficult and today’s was a good, upbeat type of practice. And we had two real long video sessions, which is really not as normal as what we normally do. I think we were in there for 45 minutes today watching video. Hopefully, we’re getting it.”
With the five-day All-Star break just past, the Caps haven’t had much practice time recently.
“It was good,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks of the Wednesday and Thursday practices. “We haven’t really gotten to ‘X and O’ in a while. We touched up on a few key points, and hopefully it will make a different [Friday] night.
“It’s a big game for us. We either go down by three or we go down by seven. We can make up a little bit of ground and help ourselves out for a division championship tomorrow or we can go back seven [points] and make chances a little bit tougher.”
The Lightning is in the midst of a 12-game homestand, and their 17-4-2 home ice mark is one of the best in the league. The Bolts have also clamped down defensively. They’ve allowed two or fewer goals in 16 of their last 22 games and each of their last six.
“They play pretty tight in their own end,” says Hendricks. “They do a few things differently and they adjust well. They’ve been playing their systems well. We’ve had time to prepare for it, but at the same sense we’ve got to concentrate on what we’re doing and do a better job of it. Hopefully we get a [good] effort for 60 minutes, come out hard and go from there.”
Since joining the Lightning just over a month ago, Roloson has rolled to an 8-3 record with four shutouts, a 2.02 GAA and a .932 save pct.
“They believe in their goalie now,” says Boudreau, “whereas maybe before they didn’t believe in their goalie where they thought they had to get out there and be more aggressive. Roloson has had four or five shutouts since he’s gotten there. They’re a very confident team and rightfully so. They’ve won five or six in a row and they’ve won five or six in a row. And if you look at their roster, they’re good.
“The reality is, it’s a big game for both teams. If I’m them, I’m saying, ‘Hey listen. We can put this away.’ If I’m us, I’m saying ‘We want to fight right to the end. Seven [points back] or three, it’s what they call a big four-pointer and that’s what it is.”