The Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning open their round-robin tournaments to determine 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference on Monday afternoon. The Capitals swept all three regular-season games and have won four straight overall against the Lightning, but the two have not met since December 21. Action from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or NBCSN nationally beginning at 4 PM ET.
After a 26-6-5 start to the regular season, the Capitals went 19-16-3 in their final 38 games of the season and 7-9-3 after a four-game winning streak around the NHL All-Star Break. They also allowed 3.44 goals-per-game after December 22, the most of the 24 NHL teams included in the qualifying round. They allowed 2.76 goals-against per game before that (the eighth-lowest). However, they finished the season with a 41-20-8 record, claiming their fifth straight Metropolitan Division title.
Captain Alex Ovechkin, who scored two goals in the team’s 3-2 exhibition game victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, co-led the NHL in goals (48) with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak and tallied 22 goals in his final 22 regular-season games. Defenseman John Carlson’s 60 assists ranked fourth in the NHL while his 75 points were tied for 12th with New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad. The 30-year-old, who left the Capitals’ 3-2 exhibition win over the Hurricanes after crashing into the boards late in regulation, underwent more treatment on Saturday and practiced on Sunday. Forward Jakub Vrana had a breakout year with 25 goals, third on the Capitals behind Ovechkin and forward T.J. Oshie (26). Forward Tom Wilson also scored 21 goals while center Evgeny Kuznetsov got 19 in 63 games.
The Capitals acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 conditional third-round pick less than a week before the NHL trade deadline. The 29-year-old recorded no points, a -2 rating, a 51.12% Corsi-for percentage, and a 54.44% expected goals-for rate while averaging 2:40 per game on the penalty kill and bringing physicality on the back end. They also picked up forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who had a goal and four points in seven games with the Capitals, from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a 2020 third-round pick.
The Capitals’ average of 3.42 goals-per-game ranked second in the NHL while their average of 3.07 was 18th. Their 19.4% power-play efficiency was also 18th, but their 15.6% scoring rate after December 7 was 28th. The Capitals’ penalty kill had a solid year as their 82.6% killing rate ranked sixth. The team’s average of 32 shots-per-game was 11th, while their average of 30.2 shots-against per game ranked ninth. Their 48.3% face-off-win percentage was only better than the New York Rangers (46.6%) among the 24 teams left.
After goaltender Ilya Samsonov suffered an undisclosed injury that will keep him out of the tournament just before training camp, goaltender Braden Holtby, who went 25-14-6 with an .897 save percentage and a 3.11 goals-against average in the regular season, will almost certainly start against the Lightning on Monday. In 21 career regular-season games against the Lightning, the 30-year-old has gone 12-4-3 with a .905 save percentage, a 2.86 goals-against average, and two shutouts. He allowed only four goals on 57 shots in two games against the Lightning this season (.930 save percentage). He posted a .919 save percentage, a 2.04 goals-against average, and two shutouts against them during the 2018 Eastern Conference Final, which the Capitals won in seven games.
After leaving the last time they faced the Capitals with a 17-13-4 record in 2019-20, the Lightning were the best team in the NHL, going 26-8-2 through the pause. They had a 10-game winning streak from December 23 to January 11 and 12-game winning streak (which was included in a 14-game point streak where they went 13-0-1). The Lightning finished the season with a 43-21-8 record, only worse than the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference (44-14-12).
Forward Nikita Kucherov, the reigning Hart Trophy winner as MVP of the NHL, led the Lightning once again in goals (33), assists (52), and points (85) and was fourth in plus-minus (+26) om 68 games. Center Steven Stamkos, who is not expected to play in Monday’s game due to an injury suffered during phase two of the NHL’s return-to-play plan, recorded 29 goals and 66 points in 57 games this season while center Brayden Point posted 25 goals, 64 points, and a +28 rating, which tied center Anthony Cirelli for the team lead. Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman, who missed some time last week due to a personal matter but could play against the Capitals, recorded 11 goals, 55 points, and a +27 rating (third on the Lightning).
The Lightning loaded up at the NHL trade deadline as they acquired center Blake Coleman, who topped the 20-goal plateau for the second consecutive season with the New Jersey Devils but had only an assist in nine games after the trade, in exchange for forward prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick in the 2020 or 2021 NHL Draft; and forward Barclay Goodrow, who posted only two assists in eight games with the Lightning, (and 2020 third-round pick) from San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2020 first-round pick and forward Anthony Greco. Goodrow posted eight goals, 24 points, and a -8 rating in 62 games with the Sharks this season.
The Lightning were the only team in the NHL that scored more than the Capitals, averaging 3.47 per game, while their average of only 2.77 goals-against per game tied the Philadelphia Flyers for seventh. The team’s 23.1% power-play efficiency was tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for fifth while their 81.4% penalty-killing rated was tied with the Colorado Avalanche for 13th. The Lightning averaged 31.1 shots-per-game, which tied the New York Rangers for 19th, and 30.9 shots-against per game, 12th. Their 50.5% faceoff-winning percentage was tied for ninth.
Vezina Trophy (awarded to best goalie of the year) finalist and reigning winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, who went 35-14-3 (led NHL in wins) with a .917 save percentage (tied for 19th), a 2.56 goals-against average (tied for 14th with Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues), and three shutouts (tied for eighth) this season, will start against the Capitals. In 11 career games against the Capitals, the 26-year-old is 4-6-1 with an .897 save percentage and a 3.70 goals-against average and allowed eight goals on 68 shots (.882 save percentage) in two games against them this year. He posted a .906 save percentage and a 3.16 goals-against average in the Lightning’s seven-game series loss to the Capitals in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.
Corsi-for Percentage: Capitals — 51.6% (tied for seventh) Lightning — 52.25 (fifth)
Expected Goals-For Percentage: Capitals — 51.2% (13th) Lightning — 53.73 (third)
Team Save Percentage: Capitals — .9125 (24th) Lightning — .9253 (seventh)
By Harrison Brown