Nov. 24 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Capital One Arena
Time: 5:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7
Tampa Bay Lightning 16-3-2
Washington Capitals 12-10-1
Two nights after putting together a strong and impressive performance in a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators, the Capitals close out a four-game homestand at Capital One Arena on Friday night. The Tampa Bay Lightning is in town to supply the opposition for the late afternoon affair, which will also be the first of a set of back-to-back games for the Caps. Washington then travels to Toronto for a Saturday night date with the Maple Leafs.
Consistency has been elusive for the Caps this season. Too frequently, they've followed excellent performances with lackluster ones, and they're in the thick of cluster of teams bunched together in the middle rungs of the league's standings ladder. A total of 23 of the league's 31 teams are within just seven points of one another, with 29 points at the high end and 22 at the low end of that grouping. All of those teams are seeking separation over the weeks ahead, and the Caps are one of four teams with 25 points heading into Friday's busy slate of NHL activity.
After his team managed just 11 even-strength goals over a span of its previous eight games, Caps coach Barry Trotz rejiggered all four of his forward lines before the Ottawa game, to good effect. The Caps got three even-strength strikes in Wednesday's win over the Sens. Just past the quarter mark of the season, the Caps are still seeking to find a level of consistency, and furthering that goal against the likes of the Lightning and the Maple Leafs, the top two teams in the Atlantic Division, will be a tall order. One area in which the Caps' newly minted forward lines showed some improvement in Wednesday's game was on the forecheck.
"Obviously we forechecked well and we moved the puck well," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "And I thought we got some more zone time [than we did] the other night [against Calgary]. When we can keep grinding and make sure the other team gets tired in their own zone, that's going to lead to scoring chances and to score goals."
"That first period we had some really good shifts just cycling and creating some chemistry," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who earned his 12th win of the season on Wednesday. "I think that shows confidence, when you're getting into their zone and you're not just throwing pucks. You're making them move going back on a breakout, not just panicking and throwing it. I thought we were doing that today. It showed that we were ready. That confidence is coming and you can see that in a lot of guys it's high right now."
One of the Caps' even-strength goals in Wednesday's win over the Sens came off a sustained offensive zone shift while the other two came off the rush and were fueled by sharp and crisp breakouts.
Tampa Bay comes to town for the first of its two visits this season, and it brings with it the league's best record. The Lightning has won 16 of its first 21 games this season, and it has claimed at least a point in 18 of 21. The Bolts have won seven of their nine road games to date this season, and they've claimed a point in eight of them (7-1-1).
The Lightning boasts the league's leading scorer in Steven Stamkos (36 points in 21 games), the league's leading goal scorer in Nikita Kucherov (17 goals in 21 games) and the league's leading winner among its netminders in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
With an average of 3.90 goals per game, the Lightning leads the NHL in that department. The Bolts have allowed just 2.52 goals against per game this season, the fourth best rate in the circuit. Special teams? Sure, the Lightning is pretty solid in that regard as well. The Bolts lead the NHL with a 27.2% power play success rate, and their 83.3% penalty kill success rate ranks 11th in the circuit.
Washington has faced Tampa Bay once this season, in Tampa on Oct. 9 in the Caps' third game of the season. The Capitals carried a 3-2 lead into the third period of that game, but couldn't quite close the deal as the Bolts took control of the contest in the third period. Despite a stellar effort from Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer, Washington dropped a 4-3 overtime decision on that night early last month. Kucherov tied the game with a highlight reel goal in the third period, and he set up Brayden Point for the game-winner on a Lightning power play in overtime.
The Lightning is beginning a four-game road trip in the District on Friday. For the Bolts, Friday's game also starts a set of back-to-back contests. Tampa Bay travels to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins on Saturday night before moving on to Buffalo and Boston on the back half of the four-game journey.