CAPITALS (26-19-3) at LIGHTNING (21-23-4)
TV: NBCSP (HD), TSN2
Washington 5-4-1; Tampa Bay 4-5-1
The Capitals have won each of the first two meetings this season. Both were in Washington -- one went to a shootout and the other was a one-goal game as well. Washington has won 21 of the past 25 meetings in the regular season against Tampa Bay. The Lightning have won the past seven postseason meetings, including a sweep in the second round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Can Washington begin to figure out on the road despite not having its three best players, or will Tampa Bay continue its strong run after the All-Star break?
Washington reached the All-Star break atop the Southeast Division after a strong finish. The Capitals are 9-4-1 since a Dec. 26 loss in Buffalo, including a 5-3 win against Boston last Tuesday despite not having the suspended Alex Ovechkin
or the injured Nicklas Backstrom
and Mike Green
If the Capitals are going to fend off the Panthers and Jets and win the Southeast Division for the fifth straight season, the six games they have left with those two teams will go a long way to determining that. It would also help them to start winning away from Washington.
The Capitals are 8-13-2 away from Verizon Center this season, which is the 25th-best road record in the League. It won't be easy to improve on that -- seven of Washington's 18 road games are against the League's top eight teams -- two against the Bruins and Rangers and one each against the Red Wings, Blackhawks and Flyers.
Tampa Bay was scuffling but still within striking distance of the top eight of the Eastern Conference at the end of 2011, but the start of 2012 was a disaster that could prove to be the Lightning's undoing. The Lightning lost the first seven games in January and went from six points shy of a playoff spot to 12 back and tied for the fewest points in the East.
Tampa Bay won the final four games before the All-Star break, and has climbed to within nine points. The Lightning will need to extend their current surge for several weeks if they're going to have a chance to make the playoffs again this season. They have been besieged by injuries, but there could be reinforcements on the way to help the cause.
Washington center Mathieu Perreault
has 4 goals and 6 points in his past four games, including his first career hat trick against Boston a week ago. … Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier
has at least one point in every game since the calendar flipped to January, and he has 15 points in 11 contests this month.
The Capitals will again be without Ovechkin (suspension), Backstrom (concussion) and Green (sports hernia surgery). … The Lightning went into the break with nine players injured, but a few of them could be back in short order -- maybe even against Washington. The list of wounded includes defensemen Mattias Ohlund
(knees), Victor Hedman
(concussion) and Marc-Andre Bergeron
(upper body) and forwards Ryan Malone
(upper body), Ryan Shannon
(knee), Adam Hall
(forearm), Tom Pyatt
(lower body), Dana Tyrell
(knee) and JT Wyman
(upper body). Manlone, Shannon, Pyatt and Hedman could all be back in the coming days for Tampa Bay.
Washington has played 16 games since Dec. 20. The Capitals have been outshot in 15 of them, and in the 16th they outshot Calgary 21-19. They have breached 25 shots only twice in these 16 games and been held to fewer than 20 twice. Washington has also been outshot by double digits in seven of the 16 contests.
Tampa Bay is 30th in the NHL in goals allowed, but more surprisingly is the Lightning's impotence on the power play. They are tied for 26th at 13.6 percent, despite having three world-class forwards. The issue is compounded by shorthanded goals allowed -- Steven Stamkos
has played more than 185 minutes on the power play this season and not only has been on the ice for only 15 Tampa Bay goals, he's been out there for seven shorthanded goals against. The Lightning have allowed eight shorthanded goals this season.
Want further proof that Tampa Bay's power play has been as much of a problem as the goaltending? Last season the Lightning scored 160 goals at even strength and allowed 164 (not counting empty-netters). This year, they've scored 108 and allowed 110. So what's the big difference?
The Lightning scored 70 when the teams were not at even strength and allowed 61 last season (including a whopping 14 shorthanded). In 2011-12, Tampa Bay has scored only 23 times when the teams are not at even strength while yielding 46 goals.