Ovechkin returns as Capitals take on Lightning
Monday, 12.07.2009 / 7:30 PM
Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing EditorCAPITALS (18-5-6) at LIGHTNING (11-9-8)
Washington 6-2-2; Tampa Bay 3-5-2
This is the first of six games this season between the Southeast Division rivals. Last season the Caps swept all six games, scoring at least four goals in all of them. Alex Ovechkin
had 6 goals and 7 assists, and teammate Mike Green
had 6 goals and 5 assists. Martin St. Louis
led the Lightning with 2 goals and 7 assists.
How will Alex Ovechkin
play in his first game back from suspension? Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said he'd have a hard time telling a 60-goal scorer to change his style of play, and Ovechkin himself said, "Maybe it just gets me more angry."
In case anyone was wondering how the Capitals' offense would fare without Ovechkin, ask the Panthers and Flyers. In two games, the Caps scored 14 goals without the best offensive player in the League. Leading the way was Green, whose 4-point night Saturday in Philadelphia moved him to the top of the scoring list among the League's defensemen.
"We have guys who step up and play when he's not in the lineup," Green told the Washington Post on Saturday. "We know how important he is to our team, and when he's not there, we have to play better."
If you can't kill penalties, you won't win many games, and the Lightning found that out in a big way during their four-game losing streak that ended with Saturday's 4-0 win against the Islanders. During the four-game skid, they allowed seven power-play goals and sank to 27th in the League in penalty killing. But Saturday, they killed off all six Isles power plays, including an 81-second, first-period two-man advantage.
"That was huge," goalie Mike Smith told reporters Saturday. "I think there were two or three blocks in that penalty kill, and that's what you have to have in order to win hockey games."
Who's Hot --
With 14 goals in two games and a five-game win streak, everyone in a Washington jersey qualifies. Backstrom's 5-point game Saturday was a career-best, and he now has goals in three straight games and at least a point in four straight.
Lightning forward Steve Downie
has a point in three straight games, and very quietly is having a solid season, with 5 goals and 12 points in 28 games, despite playing just 12:46 per game.
Injury Report --
The Capitals expect to have Ovechkin back from both his suspension and the sore knee he suffered from his knee-on-knee collision with Carolina's Tim Gleason. Also, Matt Bradley, who needed stitches to close a gash on his left cheek after getting punched in the face by the Flyers' Daniel Carcillo on Saturday, said he expects to play. Power forward Mike Knuble
(finger) is expected back as soon as Wednesday. Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (concussion) is on the trip, but missed his eighth consecutive game Saturday.
For Tampa Bay, Paul Szczechura sat out Saturday's game with an upper-body injury.
Stat Pack --
Everyone knows just how potent the Washington offense is with Ovechkin in the lineup. But according to the Washington Post, in the eight games Ovechkin has missed this season, 15 different Capitals have combined for 36 goals.
Puck Drop --
Tampa Bay got beat around pretty good by Washington last season, but that Lightning squad couldn't be any different than the one skating today. Smith turned in his first shutout of the season Saturday, and backup Antero Niittymaki also is playing well. After last season's circus-like atmosphere, coach Rick Tocchet has guided the Lightning into playoff position.
The Caps will have a lot of jump in their step with Ovechkin's return, so this should serve as a real measuring stick for just how far the Lightning have grown.