Last season, Vincent Lecavalier scored a career-best 52 goals to lead the league. This season, the Tampa Bay Lightning center has set his sights on being named the league's best player.
Coming off his best game of what has been an outstanding run recently, Lecavalier looks to continue his success against the Washington Capitals and help the Lightning (9-8-1) extend their winning streak to five games when the Southeast Division rivals meet on Friday night.
With three goals and two assists in a 6-1 rout of Southeast-leading Carolina on Wednesday, Lecavalier set a team record with his sixth straight multipoint game. He had two goals and two assists in a five-goal second period before scoring late in the game to complete his fifth career hat trick, also a team record.
Now in his ninth season, Lecavalier also set career bests in 2006-07 with 56 assists and 108 points. The top overall pick in 1998 by Tampa Bay, Lecavalier started slow by tallying seven goals and six assists in his first 12 games this season. Since then, however, he's reeled off five goals and 11 assists in a six-game streak and has given the Lightning a chance to win five straight in regulation for the first time since an eight-game run from Feb. 23-March 6, 2004.
A home matchup with the last-place Capitals (6-11-1) gives Lecavalier has a good opportunity to continue shining. He has recorded three straight muiltpoint games at the St. Pete Times-Forum against Washington, totaling five goals and three assists.
The Lightning have split two games with the Capitals this season, both in Washington. Lecavalier had two assists in a 5-2 Tampa Bay win on Saturday night in the teams' last meeting.
The Lightning's offense also has been complemented by strong defensive and special teams play. Tampa Bay has killed off 12 of its opponents' 13 power-play opportunities during its winning streak, and has allowed just five goals overall in that span.
Bearing down on defense has helped create opportunities for an offense that has scored five goals or more in each of its last three games.
"They're buying into playing good sound defense first, and let the offense come from that," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said.
Johan Holmqvist has started each of the Lightning's last four games, posting a 1.25 goals-against average.
Washington, meanwhile, has been held to two goals or less in six of its last seven games, and is 3-11-1 since winning its first three contests.
Alex Ovechkin scored a goal for the third straight game, but it wasn't enough as the Capitals lost 2-1 to Florida on Thursday night. It was the sixth time Washington has lost by a one-goal margin, and it's now 0-10-1 when trailing after two periods.
"We need to win these close games and we're just not getting it done," said Capitals captain Chris Clark, who returned to the ice Thursday after missing eight games because of an ear laceration.
Ovechkin has accounted for three of Washington's last seven goals. The top overall pick in 2004 has 11 goals and 23 points in 18 games against Tampa Bay, including two goals and four points in two matchups this season.
The Caps' Olaf Kolzig, though, hasn't fared nearly as well against the Lightning in his last nine games against them as he's gone 3-5-1 with a 3.81 GAA.