The Washington Capitals have been hot and cold lately, hit and miss. Their poor play at even strength is starting to catch up to them now so they have to stop worrying about their special teams and get better at full strength, and fast.
The Capitals tomorrow night will try to stop themselves from losing third game in four, and win a fourth straight over the ever-improving Tampa Bay Lightning in Florida on a Saturday night in Amalie Arena.
Washington’s record is still pretty impressive at 19-6-2, but in each of their last two losses they only scored one and that will rarely win you games. Their most recent outing was an uneventful loss to Florida 4-1, on the road on Thursday. The Capitals’ lone goal was from Captain Alex Ovechkin, and only happened on a six-on-five near the end of the third period, when Philipp Grubauer got pulled for an extra attacker. The ploy worked and ruined the Panther’s shutout.
The worrying statistic, is that Washington has only mustered up one five-on-five goal in the last three games. That does not bode well for the Caps.
“We’re shooting a little bit of blanks in five-on-five,” coach Barry Trotz told the team’s official website. “I didn’t think we had enough support on the puck. There is always a battle on the puck, and second-man races are very important for puck possession and I didn’t think we did enough of that. Our execution wasn’t really great.
” … We just couldn’t find the back of the net. We’ve got to generate a little bit more five-on-five.”
The Capitals in the third period managed only four shots and failed to score on five power-play chances. That stuck the knife in their hears and proved fatal when it combined with their lack of production at even strength. You just can’t win games like that.
“We know how good we are and we can be better,” said Ovechkin, who’s scored a goal in two straight games. “Forget and move forward.”
In their three-game winning streak against Tampa Bay, Ovechkin has scored three goals and two assists during that domination, during which Washington outscored the Lightning 13-7. Head to head, the Caps are 8-1-1 in the last of their 10 meetings. Can they continue that streak? Not it they cannot score than 1 or 2 goals, against
Ovechkin was the one to open scoring when the Caps went on the power play in the first period of their latest matchup, it resulted in a 4-2 home victory which took place on Nov. 27. That night, goalie Braden Holtby made 32 saves and was able to get through a third-period onslaught where Tampa Bay had a 20-6 shot advantage yet only scored twice.
Holtby, will probably be back in net on Saturday night, who has given up two goals in each of his last five starts.
Tampa Bay on the otherhand does not have the best of records at 14-12-3, and will try to put their sluggish start behind them. They’ve won three of four and six of nine in their last stretch. On Thursday at home, the Lightning didn’t have their best game against visiting Ottawa Senators, but were able to pick up a 4-1 victory.
“It wasn’t a perfect work of art, but we got two points,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “We’ll take it.”
Nikita Kucherov had a strong two-goal effort, his second in three games. Goalie Ben Bishop made a solid 30 saves against the Sens, and Tampa Bay scored three times in the third period to seal the deal.
The Lightning has started to perform much better on the penalty kill, keeping their opponent to 0 for 3 for the second straight game. Before that stronger performance, Tampa Bay had given up eight goals on 19 opportunities in the previous four games, so they are on the upswing.
“We have a really good penalty kill, so to be able to shut them down was good,” Bishop told the team’s website. “We’ve had some bad games, but we don’t have a bad penalty kill. We just need to stay out of the box.”
That’s true, especially against Washington, who ranks third in the league at 23.9 percent efficacy on the power play. In their last match up, the Caps went 3 for 4. Tampa Bay, overall has been playing, even though their star center and captain, Steven Stamkos, has gone seven games without a goal. He has 11 goals in 29 games. Last season he scored 11 in his first 17, which he finished with 43 goals.
So they will need some offensive help, and it should be provided with the return of Ondrej Palat after missing and being out 12 games with an ankle injury. He was on the ice for both of Kucherov’s goals. “He’s a huge part of our team,” Kucherov said. “He brings more energy.”
So with Palat back and Stamkos itching for a goal, against a run and gun type Capitals team, you can expect a high scoring affair with lots of chances back and forth. The Lightning should have the slight advantage, so watch for the captain to cause some sparks.
Our Pick: Lightning over Caps, 5-3