The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Washington Capitals tonight in the first game of a three-game homestand for the Bolts, and there's one player on the opposite bench who will generate more attention than he usually commands.
Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin lit the hockey world on fire to start the 2017-18 season after recording a hat trick in each of his first two games. Ovechkin has seven goals to start the season, three more than anybody else in the league.
At his post-morning skate press conference, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was asked how you stop Ovechkin.
"How many months are in a season, six? What's six times seven, 42?," Cooper asked rhetorically. "So you score 42 goals in a year, that's a pretty good year, right? So let's hope he used his seven up for October and we're good."
In all seriousness, the Lightning will have to play particularly close attention to Ovechkin and where he is on the ice at all times if they have any chance of shutting him down.
Video: Callahan | Pregame TBL vs. WSH"Ovechkin is a shooter, and he's really, really good at it," Cooper said. "And the one thing, regardless how hot he is, this is what shooters do. (Steven) Stamkos is in very much in the same breath. They're going to shoot, so you have to limit where they shoot from. You try to make their angles as bad as possible. You try to limit their time and space. But those type players, they're going to get their shots. They're shot volume guys. The problem is when they're hot, which he is right now, and the puck has eyes for him, how much you can stop that?"
Another problem is the rest of the Capitals' lineup. Focus too much on Ovechkin and other standouts like T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov can hurt you. Kuznetsov is currently tied with Ovechkin for the league's scoring lead, all seven of Kuznetsov's points coming via assists, mostly setting up Ovechkin.
"You look at the lineup and they have other players like Oshie, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, all those guys are highly-talented, offensive-minded players," Bolts defenseman Anton Stralman said. "But, the way (Ovechkin's) been playing, the way he's shooting, he's obviously the biggest threat shooting the puck. So we'll try to limit him off the puck as much as we can."
Stamkos talked about how turnovers have plagued the Bolts over their first two games, especially on Saturday when Florida rallied down 3-2 to score three-consecutive goals, all in a span of less than three minutes, to take control. The Lightning surrendered 48 shots, tied for the fifth most they've allowed in franchise history. Florida had 24 shots alone in the first period.
Video: Cooper on slowing down OvechkinThe turnovers, Stamkos said, have led directly to those numerous scoring chances. If they continue turning the puck over at the same rate tonight against the Caps, Ovechkin could add to his goal lead considerably.
"It's just about limiting chances," Stamkos said. "You know they're going to get them. You never completely shut those guys down, it's just limiting their time and space. I know it's a cliché, but you don't want them to have the puck. In saying that, it comes right back to what we've talked about with limiting turnovers. Those guys are going to feed off turnovers. If we're going to give them the puck all night, they're going to make those plays. We'll look to have the puck. If we have the puck the majority of the night, it's tough for them to make plays."
LINE CHANGE: The Lightning mixed up their lines a bit during morning skate, sliding Ryan Callahan to the right wing on a line alongside Chris Kunitz (left wing) and Cedric Paquette (center). J.T. Brown and Gabriel Dumont split rushes on the right wing with Alex Killorn (left) and Tyler Johnson (center), indicating the Bolts might go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen tonight.