Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
The two-time defending champions of the Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions clash for the first time this season on Friday evening when the Washington Capitals host the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning took two of three games against the Capitals last year, including a 5-4 overtime thriller in Washington on March 20. Friday’s game marks the first of three times the two teams will play each other in a span of 22 days. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 5 PM ET.
The Lightning will be on the road for the lone time in a span of four games and for only the fourth time in 17 games. They are 6-5-1 away from Amalie Arena this season. After Friday’s game in the District, the Lightning will head back to the bay to host the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
After tying an NHL-record with 62 wins, leading the league with 128 points, and getting swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the second wild-card Columbus Blue Jackets last season, the Lightning entered Thanksgiving two points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot. Before falling to the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues by a score of 4-3 at home on Wednesday, the Lightning had won three straight games and six out of eight.
The Lightning made some minor changes in the offseason after a record-setting campaign a season ago. On the backend, they let defenseman Anton Stralman walk in free agency and signed Kevin Shattenkirk, who has recorded five goals, 18 points, and a +9 rating in 22 games this season, and Luke Schenn, who has posted a goal and a -3 rating in eight games. Up front, they traded J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks and Adam Erne to the Detroit Red Wings and signed Pat Maroon, who has scored five goals, 10 points, and a +1 rating this season. They also signed goaltender Curtis McElhinney.
Defenseman Erik Cernak will serve the final game of a two-game suspension for elbowing Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in the Lightning’s 5-2 win on Monday. The Lightning could also be missing center Steven Stamkos on Friday as he’s missed the past two games with a lower-body injury, but head coach Jon Cooper was hopeful that he would be able to play this weekend.
The Lightning currently lead the NHL with an average of 3.73 goals-per-game but their average of 3.27 goals-against per game is the 10th-highest. Their 31.9% power-play efficiency is only 0.1% shy of the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers for the league-lead. The Lightning’s average of 33.6 shots-against per game is the third-highest in the NHL this season, while their 51.4% power-play efficiency is tied with the Nashville Predators for seventh.
Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is 9-7-0 with a .908 save percentage and a 2.90 goals-against average, is expected to start for the Lightning on Friday. In nine career regular-season appearances against the Capitals, the 25-year old netminder is 4-5-0 with a .901 save percentage and a 3.64 goals-against average. He was 2-1-0 against the Capitals last year but allowed 13 goals on 127 shots (.898 save percentage).
The Capitals wrap up their annual two-game Thanksgiving homestand against the Lightning on Friday after defeating the Florida Panthers by a score of 4-3 on Wednesday night. They are 7-2-4 at Capital One Arena this season and have points in three consecutive home games (2-0-1) and nine of their last 10 (7-1-2) after dropping their first three at home.
Defenseman John Carlson leads the team with 28 assists, which ranks third in the NHL; 36 points, which is fifth; and a +13 rating, which is tied with Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen for ninth this season. After an eight-game point-streak where he tallied a goal and 13 points came to an end, the 29-year old has been held off of the scoresheet in consecutive games. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who opened the scoring in Wednesday’s contest against the Panthers, leads the Capitals with 16 goals this season.
The Capitals’ average of 3.54 goals-per-game entering Friday’s game is tied with the Colorado Avalanche for third in the NHL while their 92 goals are one behind the Boston Bruins for the league-lead. Their 23.2% efficiency on the power-play is good for seventh in the NHL while their 83.7% penalty-killing rate is tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for eighth.
Forward Garnet Hathaway will return to the lineup after being suspended the past three games for spitting on Anaheim Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson in the Capitals’ 5-2 win on November 18. He will draw in on the fourth-line, forcing Beck Malenstyn out of the lineup. Center Nicklas Backstrom will miss his fourth consecutive game with a lower-body injury and is on target to return during the Capitals’ four-game road-trip next week.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 12-2-4 with a .909 save percentage and a 2.86 goals-against average this season, will likely make his sixth consecutive start against the Lightning on Saturday. In 19 career outings against Tampa Bay, the 30-year old is 10-4-3 with a .902 save percentage, a 2.97 goals-against average, and two shutouts. In three games against the Lightning last year, he was 1-1-1 and allowed 12 goals on 89 shots (.865 save percentage).
- Ovechkin enters Friday six shots shy of passing Marcel Dionne (5,363) for third on the NHL’s all-time shots list.
- With Backstrom out of the lineup, center Lars Eller has primarily played with Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie; over the last four seasons, when Backstrom or center Evgeny Kuznetsov has been out of the lineup, Eller has 13 points (two goals) in 18 games, including 11 points (two goals) in 13 games in this scenario over the last two seasons.
- The Capitals are 6-1-0 against the Atlantic Division this season.
- Ovechkin has earned 90 points (47 goals) in 69 career games against the Lightning, marking the third-most points he has earned against an NHL franchise (Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets and Carolina Hurricanes: 91), and ranks first in NHL history in goals (47) and first in points (90) earned against them; in addition, he ranks fourth in assists (Backstrom, Jaromir Jagr: 47, Daniel Alfredsson: 46) against the Lightning.
By Harrison Brown