There are worse places on earth to play back-to-back hockey games than south Florida (insert Pittsburgh/Philadelphia joke here), and that is what the Caps are completing tonight – a back-to-back set of games in sunny south Florida. Last night it was a 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers to put the Caps back on top in the Southeast Division, and tonight Washington can open up a three-point lead with a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This trip is also a chance for many of the Caps’ players to bond with their fathers, who were invited on this trip. It is one of those mysterious things in life, the bond between father and son, and we were wondering what the secret is. So, we asked some well-known fathers what the key is to forging that bond with their sons.
Jim Anderson…you raised a lovely family in the heartland, two daughters and a son. What was your secret to getting through parenthood?
“Well, Peerless, I found that nothing beats giving a kid a sense of their own identity…”
“That’s right, nicknames…’Bud,’ ‘Princess,’ ‘Kitten’…
Sort of like hockey?
“Exactly, except I don’t know that you’d give a hockey player the nickname, ‘Princess.’”
We’ll let Matt Pettinger know. And how about you, Cliff Huxtable? Your family was the epitome of wholesome, middle class virtue. What was your secret?
“Pudding…lots and lots of Jell-o pudding.”
Hmmm…interesting. And what about you, Homer Simpson? Do you have any advice on how to forge that bond?
“I won't lie to you, fatherhood isn't easy, unlike motherhood. But I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world ... except for some mag wheels, that would be sweet.”
Well, what would be sweet would be a Caps win to close out the trip to Florida. And even though the Caps are visiting what is a formidable team on home ice (Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference in home wins and is tied with Montreal for the lead in points earned on home ice), the Lightning have been struggling lately. Starting with a 5-2 loss at home to the Caps on February 4th, the Lightning are 5-6-2 overall, 4-4-2 on home ice. Overall, the Lightning look like this…
With 41 goals in 65 games, Steven Stamkos is on a pace for 51 for the season and his second straight Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer. The immediate problem, though, is that Stamkos has not recorded a goal in his last five games and has only one over his last 11 contests (while going minus-7). Maybe it is a product of the streakiness of goal scorers, perhaps it is a case of his getting a heavier ice time burden (averaging almost 22 minutes a game over the last 11 after getting a bit less than 20 minutes a night before that). In what might be an effort to shake Stamkos out of his slump, coach Guy Boucher moved him from center to right wing for Sunday’s practice. In 17 career games against the Caps Stamkos is 8-3-11, including a goal and an assist in five games so far this season.
As part of the shift of Stamkos to the wing, Dominic Moore was given time at center between Stamkos and Martin St. Louis by coach Guy Boucher on Sunday. Moore was described by Boucher as “our best player the past two weeks.” An odd thing to say about a player who is 12-12-24, minus-13 for the season? Well, he is 2-3-5, plus-1 in his last seven games (both goals coming on power plays), and only once has he lost a majority of the draws he took. For a player who gets little power play time compared to the likes of Stamkos or St. Louis (he is 16th on the club with 48 seconds per game), his four power play goals seem rather productive. And here is your odd Dominic Moore fact. He has scored more goals on Mondays this season (three in five games) than he has on any other day of the week. In 21 career games against the Caps he is 2-4-6, with a goal and an assist in five games this season.
The Lightning do not get an extraordinary number of goals from their defensemen (18 overall, compared to 22 for the Caps’ defenseman corps), but they do get scoring contributions. Three defensemen – Brett Clark, Victor Hedman, and Pavel Kubina – all have more than 20 points for the Lightning. Brett Clark is the unlikely leader of that group with eight goals and 23 points. His scoring has more or less dried up over the last several weeks, though. Clark does not have a goal in his last dozen games and has only one assist in his last ten. In 16 career games against Washington, Clark has a goal and an assist, that goal coming in five games played against the Caps this season.
This is the sort of game for which the Lightning obtained goalie Dwayne Roloson. A big game, even though you might get some blather from both teams about it being just another regular season game. In fact, it might be with the Caps in mind that Roloson was brought to Tampa. In 16 regular season games against Washington he is 8-5-0, 2.19, .919, with four shutouts. Two of those shutouts came at the expense of the Capitals eight days apart in early January. He has faced the Caps four times this season, one of those appearances coming when he was tending goal for the New York Islanders (a 2-1 loss in October).
So, that covers three of Roloson’s appearances against the Caps this season, two for Tampa Bay and one for the Islanders. What of that fourth one? That would be the game that started the Lightning on their recent 5-6-2 funk. The Caps beat the Lightning, 5-2, in that matchup, Roloson allowing four goals on 35 shots. Starting with that game Roloson is 4-5-1, 3.38, .878 as he gets ready for tonight.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Tampa Bay: Steve Downie
Last season Steve Downie established himself as a player with as much potential as a scorer as he displayed in racking up penalty minutes. With 22 goals in 78 games it looked as though Downie could provide the kind of supplementary scoring the Lightning would need to take some of the scoring heat off Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Well, this year did not start well in fulfilling that promise. In his first 31 games Downie recorded three goals. He was somewhat more productive in his next ten games, scoring five goals in that span. Part of the problem is that he has missed 14 games to ankle and back injuries, and now he is listed as “day-to-day” in what appears to be a recurrence of his ankle problems. But complicating his situation is his on-ice behavior against Boston last Thursday, a game in which he had an assist on the only goal in a 2-1 loss, but one in which he also took a ten-minute misconduct penalty for some confrontational antics. If the Lightning are to retake the Southeast Division lead from the Caps and win it in the end, having Downie on the ice contributing on the score sheet will be important. If he plays tonight, he has to exhibit some of that potential he showed last season.
Washington: Matt Bradley
Sixteen points might not sound like a lot, especially when they have come in 36 games, but that is how many points Matt Bradley had in 36 career games against the Lightning coming into this season, twice as many as the next highest point total he had against any other team. This season he has not registered a point against Tampa Bay in three games. With one point in his last 16 games, the Caps could use some production out of The Professor.
1. Better Late Than Never. Neither team is especially adept (by NHL standards, at least) in holding leads when they score first. Tampa Bay and Washington are 20th and 22nd, respectively, in the NHL in winning percentage when scoring first. However, while these two teams rank first and second in the league in winning percentage when allowing the first goal, it is the Caps that are the only team to have won more games than they have lost in regulation when allowing that first goal.
2. Stymie Stamkos. We’ve probably made the point before, but Stamkos really is the key here. He has scored at almost a goal per game pace in wins (33 goals in 37 wins). If he gets a goal, it very well means a win for the home team.
3. Score. In three wins against the Lightning this season the Caps have 17 goals. In two losses, none. And since Tampa Bay has allowed 43 goals in their last 13 games (ok, only 10 in their last five), do the math.
In the end, this game might be the tipping point of the Caps’ season. It has been largely disappointing to date at the individual and team level, if such can be said of a 36-win team at this point of the season. The Caps are catching the Lightning at a moment when they are not doing well what they do best – score goals. Tampa Bay has only eight goals scored in their last five games. If the Caps can hold the Lightning to that kind of output, the Lightning goaltending might not be up to the challenge. Beating the Lightning and getting a three-point foothold of a lead over Tampa Bay could enable the Caps to set their sights on bigger fish and bigger prizes down the road.
Caps 4 - Lightning 2