CAPITALS (27-15-10) at LIGHTNING (32-15-5)
TV -- NHL Network-US (HD), CSN (HD), SUN (HD)
Last 10 -- Washington 3-3-4; Tampa Bay 7-3-0
Season series -- It's the fifth of six games between these Southeast Division rivals -- Washington won the first two, 6-3 and 6-0, while Tampa Bay claimed the past two, 1-0 (in overtime) and 3-0.
Big story -- Can the Capitals solve Dwayne Roloson and keep pace with the surging Lightning? Roloson has posted back-to-back shutouts against his new rivals and provided a profound statement after Washington whipped Tampa Bay in the first two meetings.
Capitals -- The maddening search for goals from what is supposed to be one of the top offensive clubs in the League continues. Washington's defense is much improved and the Capitals have shown an ability to hold onto their gains in the department, but the lack of goals is still a huge problem. The result is the team is letting games get to overtime and the shootout that it should win in regulation. Sure, losing 10 of the past 11 games that have gone more than 60 minutes is unlucky. The solution is winning games in regulation like good teams are supposed to do.
Lightning -- Each of the past two times Roloson has shut out the Capitals he has been yanked in the following contest. Beyond those two games, though, he's been fantastic and the Lightning could challenge for the top spot in the East if he keeps this up. Tampa Bay is in the midst of a 12-game homestand and has won the first three by a combined 13-1 margin.
Who's hot -- Steven Stamkos had gone six games without a goal, but he's got seven in his past seven contests and has a commanding lead over Sidney Crosby in that category. Simon Gagne had 3 goals and 7 points before the last meeting with Washington. He had a goal in that win and has 6 goals and 2 assists in his past 9 games. … Mathieu Perreault was sent to the AHL during All-Star weekend and responded with 2 points in his first game back -- it was the third time this season he's had two points in his first game after a recall.
Injury report -- Defenseman Tom Poti (groin) and right wing Eric Fehr (shoulder) are out for the Capitals. Right wing Alexander Semin (groin) practiced for the fourth time Thursday but coach Bruce Boudreau said he wasn't sure if Semin would make the trip. … For Tampa Bay, Ryan Malone (mid-body) is doubtful and defenseman Mike Lundin (groin/abdomen) is questionable.
Stat pack -- The Capitals have lost 20 of 33 games since starting the season 14-4-1 and being on top of the NHL standings at that point. Washington does have at least one point in 16 of the past 20 contests, but it still has lost more than half of them (9-4-7). … The Lightning have scored 44 power-play goals and allowed 31 -- the 13-goal differential is the third-best in the League behind Vancouver and San Jose.
Puck drop -- There was plenty of chatter at the Capitals' practice facility Thursday about this potentially being a "must-win" game for Washington. No game is a "must win" at this point in the season. It is probably pretty important for the Capitals to score on Roloson, though -- three straight shutouts (and eight in the team's past 34 games) would be inching towards crisis mode again in the nation's capitol.
"It's a big game for both teams," Boudreau told reporters. "If I'm them I'm saying: 'Hey listen, we can put this away.' If I'm us, we want to fight right to the end. Seven or three [points behind Tampa depending the outcome] -- it's what they call the big four-pointer."