January 13 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 5 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Tampa Bay Lightning (17-21-4)
Washington Capitals (22-17-2)
The Capitals continue their four-game homestand and set out on the second half of the 2011-12 season on Friday night when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center.
Washington started the homestand in fine fashion on Wednesday when Jason Chimera’s goal stood up as all the offensive support needed in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves to earn his 17th win of the season in his seventh successive start. The shutout was the 46th of his NHL career, tying him with Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Dryden for 26th place on the NHL’s all-time list.
Chimera’s goal came late in the first, and the Caps nursed that lead into the third when they played one of their best periods of the season. Rather than sit on the 1-0 lead and try not to lose it, the Caps forechecked hard and were vying for an insurance tally or two.
Vokoun’s shutout win over the Penguins came in his seventh straight start. Even though he surrendered four goals in each of his two previous starts on the West Coast, he played well in those games and has been solid since struggling in a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 13.
For the season, Vokoun is 17-10 with a 2.56 GAA and a .915 save pct. Those figures are right in line with his career marks of 2.56 and .917.
After his Dec. 13 loss to the Flyers, Vokoun was idle until a Dec. 26 relief appearance at Buffalo. Beginning with that game against the Sabres, he is 5-2 in his last eight appearances (seven starts) with a 1.88 GAA and a .938 save pct. during that span. He has allowed two or fewer goals in five of those seven starts, winning each of them.
As solid as Vokoun was in Wednesday’s game against the Penguins, his defense in front of him was good, too. And Vokoun helped out his blueliners as well, coming out to play pucks and help tee up breakout plays for them, doing so more than he had been throughout his first half-season with Washington.
“I think overall [the Penguins game] was a good game because I think I was more involved with the play,” says Vokoun. “Obviously, I think I helped the team out with the stickhandling. It’s something I’m going to try to improve on and be more consistent in it in games to come.
“Saying that, I don’t judge games by if you give up goals. Sometimes you play a good game and you give up four goals. [Wednesday] was a game where there was chances, but you didn’t see any breakaways and 3-on-1s and really bad breakdowns in our coverage. It’s all relative. Sometimes you benefit from circumstances, and sometimes you’re a victim of them.
“It was a good game. I’m glad we won. It was nice I could chip in and win a game when we scored one goal. Hopefully, we can get on a roll here.”
Washington woke up Thursday morning with the first half of its season in the rear view mirror. The Capitals’ total of 46 first-half points is the team’s fewest since 2007-08 when it had 37 points after 41 games. But this season’s point total is enough to land the Caps in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, 12 points behind the front-running New York Rangers and 11 points ahead of the basement-dwelling Carolina Hurricanes.
Like Pittsburgh on Wednesday, each of the remaining three opponents on this homestand is coming into Verizon Center on the second of back-to-back games. The Lightning hits town on Friday on the heels of a Thursday night home game against the Hurricanes.
“We have some big games coming up,” says Vokoun. “We need to make up some ground on some teams and obviously move a little bit higher in the standings.”
After reaching the Eastern Conference final in its first season under head coach Guy Boucher last season, the Lightning has fallen on hard times in 2011-12. The team’s netminding has been porous; the Lightning has allowed an average of 3.40 goals per game, the most in the NHL.
The Bolts are 13th in the NHL with an average of 2.69 goals scored per game.
Tampa Bay comes to town in 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings, eight points behind eighth place Washington. The Caps and Lightning will have five of their six meetings this season in the second half of the campaign. The only other meeting between the two teams this season resulted in a 6-5 shootout win for the Capitals. That game was on Oct. 10 in Washington’s second game of the season.
The Bolts were at 11-9-2 after a home-and-home sweep of divisional rival Florida on Thanksgiving weekend. Since then, Tampa Bay is just 6-12-2, and it is a mere two points in front of the Hurricanes at the bottom of the conference standings ladder.
The Lightning is still seeking its first victory of 2012. Since a 5-2 win over the Hurricanes on New Year’s Eve, the Bolts have dropped five straight (0-4-1). Tampa Bay had two five-game losing skids earlier in the season, an 0-3-2 run and an 0-5 drought. The Lightning has been outscored by a combined 23-11 during the life of its current losing streak.
Tampa Bay has been playing without two of its top defensemen, Victor Hedman (concussion) and Mattias Ohlund (knee surgery).
The Lightning’s power play effectiveness has drifted down to 28th in the NHL on the season; the Bolts are clicking at a rate of just 13.3% with the extra man. In their last 11 games, the Bolts have just two power play goals in 35 extra-man opportunities (5.7%).
Tampa Bay has also struggled on the penalty kill of late. In their last 16 games, the Bolts are just 46-for-60 (76.7%) in shorthanded situations.