The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Tonight, the Washington Capitals end their last long road trip of the year, finishing up their four game swing with a trip to Tampa to take on the Lightning for the third time in 16 days. It is their last visit to the left coast of Florida this season, where they have been fantastic and fallen flat in two games. They rode a Semyon Varlamov shutout to a 3-0 win back on December 7th, then they were blitzed, 7-4, on January 12th. Tonight, they visit one last time an arena that, once filled when the Lightning were Stanley Cup contenders, is among the emptiest of the league. The Lighting are 20th in league attendance this year, 26th in capacity filled. Hockey is a harder sell these days, and…
“I could help with this…”
“I could help sell tickets.”
And you are…
“Jingle… Jimmy Jingle.”
That’s not you’re real name, is it?
“Does it matter?”
Whatever. So, you can help the Lightning. How?
“It’s all in the name, pal.”
“No, Jingle, you putz.”
You seem to have a rather surly attitude for a guy named “Jingle.”
“Wouldn’t you?...folks call you ‘Bells’ or ‘Jingle Jangle Jingle.’”
Yeah, about that help.
“Surely you’ve heard my work.”
“Yeah… try this one on…. “I want my TampyBayTampaBayTampaBay…”
Like the restaurant thing…
“You got it. Or maybe, “Give me back that Tampa Bay…Give me that Bay..”
“Cute. Or maybe to target the kids, ‘Light-ning, Tampa Light-ning, what kinds of kid like Tampa Light-ning? Fat kids, Skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks. Tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox love Light-ning, Tampa Light-ning. The team kids think's alright."
That’s a stretch, don’t you think?
“Well, I can’t exactly use ‘Tampa Bay is M’mm M’mm Good,’ now, can I?”
Truth in advertising?
“You got it.”
Well, while Mr. Jingles pens a few more candidates, there is a game to play. This being the third time in two weeks these teams have met, not much has changed since we looked at the Lightning here and here. Tampa Bay split the previous two games in this mini-set, losing to the Caps, 5-4, back on March 4th, and then taking a 3-2 decision on March 12th.
Tampa Bay has seen its tenuous position as a playoff contender slipping away since March 1st. The Lightning are 2-6-1 for the month, and there really isn’t any secret what their problem is. Their offense has dried up – 13 goals for in their last six games (1-4-1). And, they’re leaking like a sieve on defense – four times allowing at least five goals in a game this month (3.89/game overall). Their overall numbers look like this:
Leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos started the month like a house a-fire… seven goals in his first five games. But he is now on a four game streak without one, his longest streak of the season since a six-game silent streak that ended on January 6th. It is hardly a coincidence that the goalless streak has coincided with a stretch of four games in which the Lightning have only seven goals overall. Tampa Bay hasn’t received much by was of secondary support.
Of those seven goals in their last four games, Vincent Lecavalier has three of them, including the game-winner in the 3-2. Lecavalier’s problem this month is not so much his scoring (he is 6-1-7 for the month, but he is a minus-8 in nine games). Of the 35 goals allowed by Tampa Bay this month, he was on the ice for 13 of them.
Regarding the secondary scoring problem, a bright light shines on Alex Tanguay as far as this goes. Tanguay is not exactly playing himself into a big pay day (he is an unrestricted free agent after this season). Since notching a goal and an assist against the Islanders on February 4th, he is without a goal in his last 14 games, has only three assists and is minus-8.
If that isn’t bad enough, the Lightning could be missing two important cogs. Ryan Malone will be out as a result of knee surgery. He also has an upper body injury. That follows some serious injury to his production on the ice… 15 goals in his first 22 games, six in his next 43 games, and none in his last 15 preceding his injury.
Mattias Ohlund appears likely to miss this one, too. The defenseman has an ankle sprain that has kept him out of the Lightning’s last four games. That’s almost 23 minutes of ice time that has to be replaced.
It will place more pressure on goalie Antero Niittymaki, who you would think will get the call tonight. He has been in goal for seven of the nine games this month (including the last four) and defeated the Caps in both of his appearances against them this year. He owns a 7-2-1 career record against Washington (including wins in his last five decisions), 2.35, .927.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Tampa Bay: Steve Downie
It’s like the quote from Michael Corleone in Godfather III.. “Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.” Just when you think Downie is turning into a living, breathing hockey player (fifth on the team in scoring with 41 points), he goes and does something stupid by trying to snap Sidney Crosby’s leg off at the knee early on in a 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday (he was fined $1,000). Tonight he will take the ice in Alex Ovechkin’s first game back from suspension, and these two have had their moments already this year. Downie, you might recall, was about to square off with Ovechkin in the 7-4 Lightning win on January 12th. Ovechkin and Downie got tangled up earlier (Ovechkin accused later of kneeing Downie), and when the two, who served coincidental penalties, emerged from the penalty box they squared off to settle things. Matt Bradley intervened on behalf of the captain and fought Downie. Tonight’s question… Good Stevie (a hockey player) or Bad Stevie (looking to “Crosby” Ovechkin)?
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
The last time Alex Ovechkin was suspended (and we hope that is the last time we have to type those words), he returned to face the Lightning in Tampa Bay. He scored two goals, including the game winner, in a 3-0 win over Tampa Bay on December 7th. In 35 career games against the Lightning he is 23-26-49, including three goals and six assists in five games this year. Then there is the whole 50th-goal celebration thing on St. Pete Times Forum ice last season. Things happen when Ovechkin plays in Tampa. Expect that to happen again.
1. Familiarity breeds contempt. The Caps are 16-3-1 against the Southeast Division this year. But this month they are 2-1-1 against the Division, and both wins were of the one-goal variety, one of those in overtime. The Caps can’t treat any opponent with contempt, and their Southeast Division opponents have shown no fear in playing them lately.
2. Be gritty with Niitty. Antero Niittymaki has a fine record against the Caps. He has a fine record at home (11-7-3, 2.32, .928, and a shutout). But he has lost his last three at home and gave up five goals on 22 shots his last time out, a 6-2 loss to the Sabres, one in which he allowed three goals on 14 shots in the first period. It’s the 14 number that is important. Get on him and get after him early.
3. High wind warning. Only Ottawa has suffered more three-plus goal losses than Tampa Bay. Marry that to the fact that Tampa is having trouble scoring goals, and the Caps lead the league in goals scored in the first period (ok, they lead in second and third period goals scored, too), and you would have to think that if the Caps get an early lead, it could be a blow out.
In the end, whatever chance the Lightning had to earn a playoff spot is all but gone. They have had a poor month for a team fighting for that last spot, they are suffering injuries from a couple of important players, their leading goal scorer is in a mini-slump at the worst time, and they just have too big a hole (six points with 12 games remaining) with too many teams to climb over (three) to have anything but the dimmest chance to make the top eight. Given where the Caps reside in the standings, the Lightning cannot even play the role of spoiler. Pride will be on the Lightning bench tonight, and that is no small factor in hockey. But it won’t be enough…
Caps 5 – Lightning 2