The Caps conclude a four-game homestand and start a weekend set of back-to-back games against the top two teams in the Atlantic Division on Black Friday afternoon when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to the District for the first of their two visits to Capital One Arena this season.
Tampa Bay owns the best record in the NHL at 16-3-2 (34 points), and the Bolts have achieved separation from most of the rest of the Eastern Conference pack. The Lightning is off to a better start this season than either of the last two editions of the Capitals. Washington was 13-6-2 (28 points) after 21 games last season, and the Caps were 15-5-1 (31 points) at that point of the campaign in 2015-16.
The Lightning's top forward trio of Vladislav Namestnikov, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov has combined to produce 36 goals and 90 points in the team's first 21 games this season. They've scored 22 of those goals at even-strength.
"The key is to keep the puck out of their hands," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "They have a lot of that chemistry. Obviously they've got so much speed and skill, and they make plays - a lot of lateral plays - and stuff like that. It sort of reminds me of the [Patrick] Kane-[Artemi] Panarin type of skill level where they can do certain things one-on-one and they can find each other.
"They're dynamic players and they're dangerous every time they have the puck, so you've got to stay above them. If you're going to give them odd-man rushes, then you're really going to get torn apart. Even if you give them regular rushes, they're going to find people, they're going to delay, they will challenge you one-on-one - they're a handful. You're going to have to play a five-man game against those guys every time they're on the ice."
Caps winger Tom Wilson moved up to the team's top trio with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom last game, and those three guys are likely to see some time against Tampa Bay's top six tonight.
"Watching film on them, they're as electric and dynamic as it gets right now in the NHL," says Wilson. "We're going to have a big job, not only at five-on-five, but special teams where they're good as well.
"They've got a lot of guys who can make things happen. If O and Nicky and I are playing against they're top guys, then we've got to do a job and we've got to make sure that we're playing tight-knit hockey and making sure we don't give them too much room, because they can definitely take advantage of those moments.
"We'll finish their [defensemen], and hopefully keep them out of the rush, and then try and take away the space from their forwards. I think as long we keep moving our feet and we're playing hard, it will be a good game."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | November 24
Graovac Back - On Friday morning, the Capitals announced the recall of forward Tyler Graovac from AHL Hershey. Graovac played in three games with the Caps earlier this season, but suffered an upper body injury and has been sidelined for more than a month at the NHL level.
Graovac was recently sent to Hershey on an injury rehab assignment, and having completed that assignment, he is back on the Washington roster. His addition puts the Capitals at the maximum of 23 players.
"I just talked to him, he'll be day-to-day," says Trotz of Graovac. "He is not in tonight, right now he is not. He is going to take warm-ups. We'll see where we are after tonight. There's a good chance he could get in tomorrow. We'll see how the game goes."
After nailing down a roster spot with a strong training camp showing, Graovac skated in three of the Caps' first seven games this season. He was in injured in an Oct. 17 game against Toronto at Capital One Arena, and hasn't seen NHL action since.
Graovac got into four games with the Bears during his rehab assignment, registering a goal and an assist.
"He did well in Hershey, and I kept in contact with him right through the whole process," says Trotz. "The first game, he actually played a lot better than probably he thought and probably what [Bears coach] Troy [Mann] thought. But usually what happens is it's a little bit of adrenaline that you get. You get back after you've missed a lot of time and you just want to play really well, and he actually did. Second game was fine, and his third game was a little bit off, and then his fourth one he was fine.
"That's just the process you go through, but I'm glad he did it. I'm glad he took that route. He is thinking of putting himself in a position where he can have a real legit chance - when he gets in the lineup - to show well. So, good on him."
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | November 24
Skating Session - Injured forward Andre Burakovsky and ailing defenseman Christian Djoos were on the ice for a skating session with Caps strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish after Friday's morning skate. Neither will play this weekend, but it's a step in the right direction for both.
"They're both in that protocol that they can skate, and they'll continue that day-to-day," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "And when the trainers come to me and say they're good to go, then they're good to go. But they're skating, they're both skating."
Video: Rinkside Update | Tom Wilson | November 24
In The Nets - Philipp Grubauer starts in goal for the Capitals on Friday, making his seventh start of the season and his first on home ice. Grubauer is seeking his first victory of the season, and he is hoping his teammates can get him a lead to work with for the first time since his first start of the season, which was also against the Lightning back on Oct. 9.
"Grubi has worked hard, so he gets an opportunity at home here," says Trotz. "More than anything, he just deserves it."
Grubauer has played better than his record would indicate, but he has not played with a lead at any point over his last seven-plus appearances. He has been in the nets for 353 minutes and 11 seconds consecutively without the luxury of playing with a lead. Washington has scored just five goals in Grubauer's last four starts, and it has scored a total of 10 goals in his six starts this season.
Including his two relief appearances, Grubauer is receiving an average of 1.78 goals worth of offensive support per 60 minutes in the nets this season.
Lifetime against the Bolts, Grubauer is 3-0-1 with a 2.61 GAA and a .923 save pct.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the likely starter for the Bolts, who are opening a four-game road trip and a set of back-to-backs of their own tonight in Washington. Vasilevskiy leads the league with 15 victories, and he is 15-2-1 with a 2.32 GAA and a .929 save pct.
Lifetime against Washington, Vasilevskiy is 1-3-0 in four appearances with a 3.96 GAA and an .876 save pct.
Tampa Bay travels to Pittsburgh on Saturday to take on the Penguins, and the Bolts are likely to deploy both goaltenders this weekend. If they opt to go with Vasilevskiy against the Pens, Peter Budaj would go on Friday against the Caps. Thus far this season, Budaj is 1-1-1 with a 3.33 GAA and an .873 save pct. in three appearances. Over the course of his career, Budaj is 1-3-2 with 2.87 GAA and an .885 save pct. in nine outings against the Caps.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Lightning to look for Friday's matinee match between the two teams at Capital One Arena, the second of three meetings between the two teams this season:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 25-Smith-Pelly
18-Stephenson, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
29-Djoos (upper body)
65-Burakovsky (upper body, week-to-week)
90-Namestnikov, 91-Stamkos, 86-Kucherov
18-Palat, 21-Point, 37-Gourde
17-Killorn, 9-Johnson, 23-Brown
14-Kunitz, 13-Paquette, 24-Callahan
59-Dotchin (undisclosed, day-to-day)