The Lightning’s four-game home stand continues tonight as they host the Eastern Conference leading Washington Capitals. The home stand hasn’t been kind to the Bolts so far, with a pair of 2-1 defeats to Pittsburgh and Phoenix as well as a 6-2 loss to Buffalo on Thursday. Despite the little mini-skid the Lightning are on, they are still only six points out of the eighth and final playoff position so everything is still there for the taking and it’s not like Tampa Bay hasn’t had success against the Caps this season.
The Lightning have posted a 2-3-0 record against Washington this season, including a 7-4 win at the St. Pete Times Forum on January 12. Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier have led the way against the Capitals this season with four goals each. Martin St. Louis also has two goals and eight points in the five games. Obviously, the Washington offense starts and stops with Alex Ovechkin who will be returning from a two-game suspension tonight. He has three goals and nine points against the Lightning this season. Antero Niittymaki has had some success against Ovechkin and Washington this season, posting a 2-0-0 record with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.
That being said, Niittymaki will get the start in goal tonight for the Bolts. He will be making his fifth consecutive start. Head Coach Rick Tocchet said he has played well lately and didn’t deserve his fate against Buffalo on Thursday, while one of the attending media pointed out that it was the first time this season he had seen the normally even-keel Niittymaki visible upset after a game. The line-up in front of him may look a little different tonight as well. Defenseman David Hale and forward Zenon Konopka have been cleared to play and will be game time decisions tonight with both guys taking the warm up.
For those of you who haven’t noticed, with Mattias Ohlund out with an injury, Tocchet decided to give the “A” to 20-year-old Steven Stamkos. Stamkos said this morning it is a huge honor while Tocchet said he has earned it and deserves it. “He has done all the things a leader should do as far as playing hurt and setting an example,” Tocchet said.
It was announced today that Lightning forward Stephane Veilleux, an avid tennis and Andy Roddick fan, will be participating in the Tampa Tennis Classic at the St. Pete Times Forum on Monday night. He will hit some balls before trying to return five of Roddick’s famous serves. He will also try to blow a couple past the three-time Wimbledon finalist. Sounds like some of Veilleux’s teammates are planning on attending to chirp him when he takes to the court. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets as well as at the St. Pete Times Forum Box Office.