Two seasons ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning were Stanley Cup champions. Just over two weeks into this season, they are trying to climb out of last place.
The Lightning hope to escape the Southeast Division basement and win consecutive games for the first time this season when they play the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on Saturday.
Tampa Bay (3-4-0) made its third straight trip to the playoffs in 2005-06 as it finished second in the division. Inconsistency this season, however, has the team alone in last place and one point behind a Washington team which hasn't been to the playoffs since 2002-03.
The Lightning ousted the Capitals (2-1-3) in the first round that season before losing in the next round, and won the first championship in team history the following season. They have not looked like a Stanley Cup contender early this season, with a power-play unit that ranks among the league's worst with a 7.7-percent (3-for-39) success rate.
After opening the season with a shootout win in Atlanta, Tampa Bay suffered three straight one-goal losses before sandwiching 4-1 wins over Florida and Philadelphia around a 5-1 loss to Carolina.
Thursday's victory over the Flyers saw the Lightning fail to score a power-play goal for the fifth time in seven games. Tampa, though, also did not allow a man-advantage goal after giving up five over its previous three contests.
"We needed to find our identity and get back to our brand of hockey," said goaltender Marc Denis, who made 34 saves.
Vaclav Prospal had a goal and an assist against the Flyers, while Brad Richards had two assists to double his season point total.
"It's only good if we go in and do something good in Washington," said Richards, who has yet to score this season. "You've got to back these wins up."
Left wing Ruslan Fedotenko scored his third goal of the season, and has scored in each of his last three games against the Capitals (2-1-3).
Denis is 3-3 with a 2.11 goals-against average this season, and has allowed only one goal in three of his last four games. He has three losses and a tie in his last four starts against the Capitals, posting a 4.35 GAA, but has not faced them since 2003.
The goalie in the opposite net is a big reason the Lightning have had little success in Washington.
Olaf Kolzig is 12-4-1 with a 2.20 GAA at home against Tampa since the Verizon Center opened in 1997. The 2000 Vezina Trophy winner went 2-0-1 with a 1.89 GAA in three home games versus the Lightning last season, and is 20-9-2 overall against them.
Tampa went 4-2-2 against Washington last season, but was 1-1-2 at the Verizon Center.
Kolzig, who is 2-1-1 with a 2.97 GAA this season, is expected to start Saturday after sitting out Thursday's 4-3 shootout loss to Atlanta.
Alexander Semin scored his team-leading seventh goal to extend his point streak to six games, but the Capitals gave up the tying goal with 33 seconds left in regulation before losing the shootout 2-0.
Alex Ovechkin, who won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie last season with 52 goals and 54 assists, tallied his third goal of the season and also had an assist on Thursday. He has 10 points in eight games against the Lightning.
|Mar 31 '07||WSH 2 at TBL 5||D. Boyle|
|Mar 18 '07||TBL 1 at WSH 7||T. Fleischmann|
|Mar 01 '07||TBL 5 at WSH 4 - SO||N. Tarnasky|
|Feb 15 '07||WSH 2 at TBL 3 - SO||M. St. Louis|
|Jan 11 '07||WSH 4 at TBL 5||M. St. Louis|
|Dec 19 '06||TBL 5 at WSH 4||N. Alexeev|
|Nov 28 '06||WSH 5 at TBL 2||A. Semin|
|Oct 21 '06||TBL 6 at WSH 4||N. Alexeev|