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After ending December on an impressive run, the Washington Capitals have good reason to feel optimistic about extending it into the new year.
The Capitals look to build on the Eastern Conference's best home record when they meet the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday in the opener of a four-game homestand.
Washington (24-11-3) finished December by winning four straight and nine of 10. The Capitals now open a four-game homestand during which they'll also face the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets - all teams with fewer wins than Washington.
Adding to the Capitals' confidence is how well they are playing at home. Washington is 15-1-1 at the Verizon Center, where it's won six straight while outscoring opponents 24-9. Alex Ovechkin has eight goals and 11 points during those six games and has scored 16 of his team-leading 25 goals at home.
Ovechkin was held without a point in Washington's 4-2 win over Buffalo on Tuesday, just the second time in 11 games he's been kept off the scoresheet. Ovechkin has 11 goals in Washington's last 10 games.
"He's a terrific player, but he can't score every game," said Nicklas Backstrom, who had a goal and an assist in the win over the Sabres to give him seven points in the last four games.
Jose Theodore recorded 31 saves in his fourth consecutive start for the Capitals. He has a 2.33 goals-against average during that period and now looks to extend his success at home, where he's 7-1-0 with a 1.98 GAA.
Theodore has won three straight against the Lightning (10-16-10) and is 7-5-0 with two ties and a 2.06 GAA in his career versus them.
Tampa Bay is looking to bounce back after having its three-game winning streak snapped with Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens. The Lightning were 1-9-3 from Nov. 23-Dec. 20 before putting together their recent run.
"The shootouts are tough because (they are) a confidence builder," coach Rick Tocchet said. "You really take off when you win those things. So hopefully (Thursday) we'll get those guys up again because we have a little bit of a streak and we're getting some points, but we need the two points - bad."
To build on the recent momentum, though, Tampa Bay will have to turn around its struggles on the road as it plays six of its next seven away from home. The Lightning are 6-10-3 on the road, where they're scoring 2.4 goals per game.
"The last four or five games we have been playing much better," left wing Jussi Jokinen said. "We have to get going in the right direction and picking up points."
Washington beat the Lightning 4-2 at home on Nov. 10 for its sixth straight win in the series. Ovechkin had a goal and an assist in that victory to give him 15 goals and 14 assists in 25 career games against Tampa Bay.
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