Tampa Bay At Washington Preview: Capitals Host Defending Champs In Saturday Night Showdown

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals host the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first of three matchups this season, including two at Capital One Arena. The two did not see each other last season when the NHL was forced to realign temporarily due to the United States-Canadian border closure.

The Capitals swept the three-game regular-season series in 2019-20 against the Lightning by a combined score of 12-6 but fell to the Lightning 3-2 in the round-robin matchup between the two on August 3, 2020, in the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoff bubble. Action from the nation’s capital can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET.

Lightning

The Lightning wrap up a two-game road trip in Washington on Saturday after starting it with a wild 7-6 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday where they overcame two three-goal deficits. The Lightning went just 15-10-3 on the road last season but went 7-4 away from home during the postseason en route to their second Stanley Cup Championship. They started the season with a 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on home ice on Tuesday.

Despite missing their top scorer in right-wing Nikita Kucherov for the entire regular-season and center Steven Stamkos for 19 games last season, the Lightning finished third in the Central Division with a 36-17-5 record. They got their two stars back in time for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and went 16-7 en route to their second consecutive championship.

Since they were well above the NHL salary cap, the Lightning were forced to part with numerous key players over the offseason, including their entire forward checking line of Yanni Gourde (selected by Seattle Kraken in NHL Expansion Draft), Barclay Goodrow (traded to New York Rangers), and Blake Coleman (signed with Calgary Flames as unrestricted free agent) in addition to defenseman David Savard (signed with Montreal Canadiens) and center Tyler Johnson (traded to Chicago Blackhawks). They signed right-wing Corey Perry (-3 rating in two games this season), center Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare (even rating), and right-handed defenseman Zach Bogosian (-2, 45.83% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 20.93% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage) before he suffering a lower-body injury in the home opener, which will cost him 4-6 weeks out of the lineup.

The Lightning have allowed six goals in each of their first two games of the season (though, three against the Penguins were empty-netters) and have scored nine. They have gone three-for-eight on the power play and five-for-six on the penalty kill. The Lightning have also outshot their opponents 76-61 and won 52% of the draws through two games.

Stamkos (two goals) and defenseman Victor Hedman (five assists) each lead the Lightning with five points. Stamkos, left-wing Alex Killorn, and left-wing Ondrej Palat co-lead the team in goals. Last season, center Brayden Point led them in goals (23) and points (48) in 56 regular-season games before leading the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 14 goals in 23 games. Kucherov led the tournament with 24 assists and 32 points.

At five-on-five, the Lightning have recorded a 53.29% Corsi-for percentage (ninth), 43.94% expected goals-for percentage (18th), 47.83% scoring-chances for percentage (14th), 3.85% shooting percentage (22nd), .8542 save percentage (22nd), and a .893 PDO (23rd).

Capitals

The Capitals continue a three-game home stand and a stretch where they play six out of eight to open the season at Capital One Arena after defeating the New York Rangers by a score of 5-1 in their first game. They will close the home stand out against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. The team went 17-8-3 at Capital One Arena a season ago.

In their season opener, the Capitals outshot the Rangers 27-24, went three-for-six on the power-play, four-for-five while shorthanded, and won 39.2% of the faceoffs.

Captain Alex Ovechkin recorded two goals and four points in Wednesday’s victory while center Evgeny Kuznetsov earned three assists. Center Hendrix Lapierre, who is stepping in for Nicklas Backstrom while the 33-year-old is on long-term injured reserve while healing from a hip injury suffered last season, scored his first career NHL goal in his first game while right-wing T.J. Oshie recorded a goal and an assist.

In Wednesday’s win, the Capitals posted a 52.38% Corsi-for percentage, a 51.33% expected goals-for percentage, a 63.64% scoring chances-for percentage, and their lone goal-against came on the penalty kill.

On Thursday, the Capitals claimed left-handed defenseman Dennis Cholowski, who earned one goal, three points, a -1 rating, a 42.51% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 41.14% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 40.53% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage while averaging 15:54 per game (including 1:41 on the power play) with the Red Wings last season, from the Seattle Kraken. The Kraken picked the 23-year-old as their selection from the Red Wings in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Cholowski was set to arrive in Washington on Friday and will participate in Saturday’s morning skate but it is doubtful that he will play vs. the Lightning.

Goaltending Matchup

Lightning — Andrei Vasilevskiy (1-1-0, .845 save percentage, 4.50 goals-against-average; last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner as 2021 Stanley Cup Playoff MVP where he went 16-7 with a .937 save percentage, a 1.90 goals-against average) will likely start. The 27-year-old is 4-6-1 with a .897 save percentage and 3.70 goals-against average in eight career regular-season games vs. the Capitals.

Capitals — Head coach Peter Laviolette did not name a starter for Saturday’s contest on Friday. Vitek Vanecek stopped 23 of 24 shots-against on Wednesday and Ilya Samsonov went 13-4-1 with a .902 save percentage, a 2.69 goals-against average, and two shutouts last season. Vanecek, 25, has never faced the Lightning in his NHL career while Samsonov made 26 saves in his lone career appearance against the Lightning, a 5-2 win at Amalie Arena on December 13, 2019.

Game Notes

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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