Tampa Bay at Washington Preview: Capitals Tangle With Tampa For The Final Time This Season

Patrick McDermott:Getty ImagesPhoto: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night for the final regular-season meeting between the two teams. After the Capitals stormed back from a two-goal third-period deficit to the Lightning for win 4-3 in overtime on November 29 at home, they earned a 5-2 victory in Tampa on Saturday for their third consecutive victory over the Lightning. The Capitals have points in four straight games against the Lightning (3-0-1). Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or NHL Network nationally beginning at 7 PM ET.

Lightning

The Lightning head to Washington for a short one-game road trip during a stretch where they play 14 of 19 games from November to the end of the month at Amalie Arena. The Lightning have points in four consecutive road games, including two straight victories, and eight of 11 (7-3-1) after dropping three of their first four road contests. They are 8-5-2 on the road this season and are coming off of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, a game in which they led 3-1 in the second period, on Thursday night.

The Lightning have begun to return to the level they were at last season, when they tied an NHL-record with 62 regular season wins, as they have earned points in four of their last five (3-1-1) after a 5-1 defeat to the New York Islanders on home ice on December 9. They are scrambling with four other teams in the Atlantic Division for a playoff position. While they are 11th in the Eastern Conference with 38 points this season, they are only two points behind the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs for second in the Atlantic Division with two games in hand on the Canadiens and three on the Maple Leafs.

Forward Nikita Kucherov, who won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s scoring champion last season when he notched 128, leads the Lightning with 25 assists and 36 points in 32 games this season. The 26-year old enters Saturday night needing two points for 500 in his career and is riding a four-game point streak where he has recorded a goal and five points, including an assist against the Capitals last Saturday. Center Steven Stamkos, who has posted 30 points in 30 games this season, leads the Lightning with 13 goals but doesn’t have any in his past three games. He enters Saturday night’s game needing four points to hit 800 in his career.

The Lightning’s average of 3.52 goals-per-game heading into Saturday ranks third in the NHL but their average of 3.24 goals-against per game is the fifth-highest. Their 29.9% power-play efficiency is a hair behind the Edmonton Oilers’ 30.3% rate for first in the league. They average 33.2 shots-against per game, which is tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the ninth-most, but allow an average of 31.2 per game, the 12th-highest.

Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is 14-9-2 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.88 goals-against average this season, will likely start for the Lightning on Saturday night. In 11 career games against the Capitals, the 25-year old has gone 4-6-1 with an .897 save percentage and a 3.70 goals-against average. In addition, he has allowed at least three goals in each of his past five games against the Capitals and at least four in each of his past four. He has made 80 saves on 88 shots-against (.909 save percentage) in the Lightning’s first two games against the Capitals this season.

Capitals

The Capitals return home from a three-game road trip where they went 2-1-0 to host the Lightning on Saturday night, only their third home game in the last nine. They will play the second half of a back-to-back after downing the New Jersey Devils by a score of 6-3 at Prudential Center on Friday night. The Capitals are 9-3-4 on home-ice this season and have points in five of their last six home games, going 4-1-1.

After recording a goal and two points against the Devils on Friday night, defenseman John Carlson climbed to within three points of Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel for sixth in the NHL scoring chase. He leads the Capitals with 47 points in 36 games this season, while his 34 assists are third in the league behind Edmonton Oilers centers Connor McDavid (39) and Leon Draisaitl (37). Before Friday night, the 29-year old went without a point in three of his last four games. His +21 rating ranks third behind Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (+23) and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves (+22). Captain Alex Ovechkin‘s 22 goals this season rank third behind Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak (28) and Eichel (24). Before recording a goal and two points in Friday’s 6-3 win over the Devils, the 34-year old went scoreless in three straight games.

The Capitals have won three of their last four games (3-1-0) and have points in 10 of their last 12 (9-2-1). Two of those wins in that stretch have come against the Lightning. They lead the NHL with 55 points and have scored at least three goals in every game that they have won over that stretch. In addition, they have allowed two goals or fewer in seven of their last nine games. They hold a five-point lead over the Boston Bruins for first in the Eastern Conference and a seven-point lead over the New York Islanders for first in the Metropolitan Division, though the Islanders have three games in hand on the Capitals. The Bruins and Capitals have each played 35 games this season.

The Capitals’ average of 3.56 goals-per-game is first in the league this season while their average of 2.81 goals-against per game is 10th. Their 22.4% power-play efficiency ranks sixth while their 84.9% penalty-killing rate is fourth. The Capitals have allowed an average of just 30.7 shots-per-game this season, which is tied with the Bruins for the eighth-fewest in the NHL.

Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 16-4-4 with a .909 save percentage and a 2.82 goals-against average this season, will start for the Capitals against the Lightning on Saturday night. In 20 career games against the Lightning, the 30-year old is 11-4-3 with a .902 save percentage, a 2.96 goals-against average, and two shutouts. He made 27 saves in the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime victory over the Lightning three weeks ago, his lone start against them this season.

Shavings

  • Over their last 12 games, the Capitals have played five games against opponents that currently rank in the top seven in power-play percentage (11/23 vs. Vancouver Canucks, 11/27 vs. Florida Panthers, 11/29 vs. Lightning, Dec. 11 vs. Bruins, Dec. 14 at Lightning); in those games, the Capitals have killed a combined 19 of 22 power-play opportunities (86.4%), 1.1% higher than their season average
  • The Capitals are 4-0-1 in the second half of back-to-backs, 2-0-1 following a win in the first half and 2-0-0 following a regulation or overtime loss
  • The Capitals are the only team in the NHL that haven’t lost two consecutive games in regulation
  • The Capitals are 15-1-3 this season when they score the game’s first goal
  • Defenseman Dmitry Orlov has recorded four assists in his last six games and 13 assists in 36 games this season, putting him on pace to record 30 assists over an 82-game season, which would set a new career-high (2016-17: 27 assists)

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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