Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals host the Tampa Bay Lightning for the lone time this season when the Bolts come to town on Wednesday night for the first time since Game 6 of last year’s Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning beat the Capitals 6-3 in the first meeting of the season between the two teams back on Saturday. NBCSN will have the call on “Wednesday Night Hockey” beginning at 7:30 PM ET.
The Lightning are the only team in the Eastern Conference to have clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and they have already captured the Presidents’ Trophy, which they won after a 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night. With nine games to go for the Lightning, they are on pace to set the league’s record for most wins in a single regular season, which was set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings (62). They have won five consecutive games and hold a 19-point lead over the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins for first in the NHL.
The Lightning begin a three-game road trip against the Capitals on Wednesday night, which will also include pit stops in Raleigh to face the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night and the Gateway City to visit the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. They will play seven of their final nine games of the regular season away from Amalie Arena. Their 25-7-2 road record is the best in the NHL entering Wednesday’s game.
Forward Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 82 assists and 117 points, holding 13-assist and 12-point cushions over Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid for first in each category. Centers Brayden Point (19) and Steven Stamkos (17) each own the top-two spots in the league in terms of power-play points, though Stamkos shares second with Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh leads the NHL with a +39 rating.
The Lightning are first in each power-play and penalty-kill this season. Their 28.4% efficiency on the power-play is 1.5% better than the Florida Panthers, who are second in the league on the man advantage. After their penalty-kill was the fourth-worst in the NHL with a 76.1% killing rate a season ago, it has an efficiency of 85.7% this season. Their average of 3.85 goals-per-game is also first in the NHL while their average of 2.60 goals-against per game is the fourth-fewest.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is tied for first in the NHL in wins (35) with Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, will start against the Capitals on Wednesday. The 24-year old’s save percentage of .930 is tied with St. Louis Blues rookie netminder Jordan Binnington for second in the NHL behind former teammate and Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop (.932). His 2.26 goals-against average is fourth in the NHL and his six shutouts are tied with Bishop and Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for second in the NHL behind Fleury (eight). In his career against the Caps, Vasilevskiy is 3-4-0 with a save percentage of .904 and a goals-against-average of 3.26. He made 31 saves in the Bolts’ 6-3 win over the Capitals on Saturday.
The Capitals open a four-game homestand on Wednesday night after going 2-2-0 on a four-game Eastern Conference road trip. They will also play six of their final nine games of the regular season at home. The Capitals are 21-9-5 at Capital One Arena this season and have gone 8-1-2 at home since January 23. They have won five straight and have points in eight straight (7-0-1) at home.
With two goals on Wednesday, Ovechkin can hit the 50-goal plateau for the eighth time in his NHL career. The 33-year old, who recorded two goals in the Capitals’ 6-3 loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday, leads the NHL with 48 goals and his team with 82 points this season. He has points in four consecutive games, posting two goals and five points in that stretch. Defenseman John Carlson leads the Capitals with 52 assists this season.
Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils marked the 11th straight game in which the Capitals scored at least three goals. They have scored 45 goals in those 11 games (an average of 4.09 goals-per-game) and have recorded at least five goals in a game seven times over that stretch. The Capitals’ average of 3.40 goals-per-game is good for fifth in the NHL this season.
The Capitals’ 54 points against the East this season is second in the conference, only behind the Lightning, who have 70. In their final nine games of the regular season, eight of them come against opponents from the Eastern Conference. In addition, they are 12-5-2 against the Atlantic Division. The Capitals, who are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games, enter Wednesday two points ahead of the New York Islanders for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with each team down to nine games remaining before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 27-18-4 with a save percentage of .909, a goals-against-average of 2.91, and three shutouts this season, will start against the Lightning on Wednesday night. The 29-year old is 9-4-2 with a save percentage of .908, a goals-against average of 2.84, and two shutouts in 17 career games against the Lightning. He made 29 saves against the Lightning on Saturday.
From Morning Skate
- Defenseman Brooks Orpik will draw back into the lineup in favor of Christian Djoos
- No other line changes for Capitals
- The Lightning announced that defenseman Dan Girardi (lower-body) is out indefinitely
- Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman (lower-body) is close to returning but will not play on the team’s road trip
- Center Evgeny Kuznetsov enters Wednesday’s game vs. Lightning one goal shy of 100 career goals
- The Capitals have an NHL-high seven different players with at least 18 goals (Ovechkin: 48; forwards T.J. Oshie, Jakub Vrana, and Tom Wilson: 21; forward Brett Connolly: 20; Kuznetsov: 19; center Nicklas Backstrom: 18). Washington is also tied for second with five different players with at least 20 goals (Lightning, Florida Panthers, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs: five 20-goal scorers; Columbus Blue Jackets: six 20 goal scorers)
- Ovechkin has earned 87 points (45 goals) in 67 career games against the Lightning, marking the third-most points he has earned against an NHL franchise (Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets: 91; Carolina Hurricanes: 89); Ovechkin ranks first in NHL history in goals (45) and first in points (87) earned against Tampa Bay and ranks fourth in assists (Jagr: 47, Daniel Alfredsson: 46, Backstrom: 45)
A Look Back In Time
After the Capitals dropped three consecutive games in the Eastern Conference Final to the Lightning, the team found itself in a do-or-die Game 6 at home. Before the game, Ovechkin called it “the biggest game of my career” and was one of the biggest games in franchise history against the best team in the Eastern Conference. With their season on the line, the Capitals played one of their best games in recent memory, winning 3-0, outshooting the Bolts 34-24 (and outshooting them in all three periods), outhitting Tampa 39-19, and blocking 20 shots. After a scoreless first frame, Carlson appeared to have given the Caps’ a 1-0 lead on a second-period power play but hit the post. Shortly after, Backstrom set up Oshie in the slot and Oshie beat Vasielevskiy high-glove to give them a 1-0 lead for real. The Capitals doubled their lead when forward Devante Smith-Pelly buried a Chandler Stephenson pass from behind the net after Stephenson beat Brett Coburn to a loose puck in the offensive zone. After that, the Capitals were swarming the Tampa Bay zone eager to extend their lead even more. Oshie added an empty net goal with about 50 seconds left for his second of the game. Holtby pitched his first shutout since March 2, 2017.
By Harrison Brown