Nov. 29 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Capital One Arena
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Tampa Bay Lightning 12-8-2
Washington Capitals 17-4-5
The Caps conclude a three-game homestand when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning in a Black Friday matinee match at Capital One Arena. The game marks the first of three meetings between the Caps and the Bolts this season, and all three will take place within the next 23 nights.
Washington halted a short two-game slide (0-1-1) with a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night. The Caps were doubled up in shots on net by a 40-20 count in that contest, but Braden Holtby made all the saves he needed to make and when he needed to make them, as the Caps twice led one-goal leads slip away, but they never trailed.
After netting just nine goals at 5-on-5 in their previous seven games, the Caps were scuffling to score once again through most of the first two frames of Wednesday's game. It was a 1-1 game late in the second, but the Caps got three goals from three different lines in the last 21 minutes, and they needed all three to outlast a potent Florida attack.
"We're going to look at the scoresheet at the end of the night, and it's four goals, and that's something we haven't done recently," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "That's something we talked about, and getting quality opportunities when we had the chance. You get partial breakaways, you get really good looks from in the slot, if you're talking about [Alex Ovechkin's] goal. Or [Brendan] Leipsic's in on a half breakaway on a really good regroup play. Obviously another one where it's a pass off the pads, and we convert on a rebound. So some good things there."
While the Caps certainly have experienced a market correction in the goal scoring department, they've also defended much better in the season's second month. Washington is still averaging 3.54 goals per game this season, which is tied for third in the NHL. But the Caps have quietly moved up to a tie for 11th place in the circuit in goals against at 2.92 per game.
Since the start of November, Washington has permitted 30 goals against in a dozen games. Over that same time frame, only two teams in the league have allowed fewer goals: Dallas (23) and Winnipeg (29).
"I think we've been cleaning up a lot of things," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "The [penalty kill] has been huge for us to limit our goals against, and it's something we've been trying to work on. We still feel there is room to improve, and we're still trying to get better."
Because of Friday's 5 p.m. start time, the Caps will not conduct a morning skate before the game against the Lightning. They practiced at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Thanksgiving morning, and for the second straight day, Nicklas Backstrom (upper body injury) participated in a light blue non-contact sweater. Backstrom won't play on Friday, and is highly unlikely to play Saturday, either. But he is expected to accompany the team on its upcoming trip.
Garnet Hathaway returns to action for the Caps on Friday after returning from his three-game suspension, and Carl Hagelin will be eligible to return to the lineup for the Dec. 3 game against the Sharks in San Jose.
Friday's game with the Lightning is the front end of a set of back-to-back games for the Caps, who are off to Detroit immediately after the game. The Caps take on the Red Wings in Motown on Saturday night, and this set of back-to-backs finishes up the November portion of the schedule for Washington.
After posting a 9-2-3 record in October, Washington is now 8-2-2 in November with those two games remaining.
Seen by many as one of the elite teams in the NHL at season's outset, Tampa Bay got out to an uneven start in the first month of the campaign. But even with a 4-3 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on home ice in their most recent outing, the Lightning has won six of its last nine games (6-3-0).
The Lightning's potent attack has awakened; the Bolts have scored 18 goals in their last four games and they lead the league with an average of 3.73 goals per game. But Tampa Bay has also permitted average of 3.27 goals per contest, which ranks 22nd in the league.
Tampa Bay just concluded a three-game homestand, and their trip to Washington is a solo shot; they're headed back home to host the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night. Two weeks from Saturday, the Caps will be in Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning, and a week after that, the two teams will finish off their season's series here in Washington in a Dec. 21 tilt at Capital One Arena.