The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Now we are down to it. Ten games left. The Washington Capitals hold the thinnest of leads in the Southeast Division, a tie breaker owing to the fact that while they are tied with the Winnipeg Jets with 40 standings points, the Caps reached that mark in fewer games (38) than the Jets (40). And with those 40 points the Caps do not have enough points to qualify for the top-eight in the Eastern Conference, since the New York Islanders sit in eighth place with 42 points.
That makes this evening’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning just another in what will undoubtedly be nothing other than a series of important games right through to the end of the regular season. The Capitals come into this game having faced the Lightning twice so far this season, both times in Florida. Washington split those games, dropping a 6-3 decision on opening night in January, and then beating Tampa Bay by a 4-3 score on Valentine’s Day.
Tampa Bay comes to Washington stuck in a place they might not have thought they would be after a 6-1-0 start to the season in which they outscored opponents by a 37-18 margin. Since then, the Lightning are 10-18-2, and they have won consecutive games in regulation time only once. After a promising couple of games to close the month of March – a 2-1 win over Buffalo and a 5-4 trick shot win over the New Jersey Devils – Tampa Bay started April losing two of three games. Worse, the Lightning are 1-4-0 over their last five road games, and their lone win came against the slumping Carolina Hurricanes.
What the Lightning will bring to Washington that the Caps did not face in the two games in Tampa is a new coach. Jon Cooper stepped behind the Lightning bench in relief of fired coach Guy Boucher on March 29th. In the four games played by the Lightning since Cooper took over, Tampa Bay is 2-1-1, splitting a pair of decisions in the freestyle competition – a 5-4 win over New Jersey in Cooper’s debut and a 3-2 loss to Florida on April 2nd. Then Tampa Bay split a pair of conventional decisions, a 5-0 win over Carolina and a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders.
What is unsurprising over those first four games of the Cooper era is that Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis lead the Bolts in scoring. Stamkos is 2-4-6, and St. Louis is 1-3-4 over those four contests. But there are a couple of surprises in there, too. One is that Alex Killorn has a pair of goals and a pair of assists to tie St. Louis in scoring over these four games. Killorn has put together a respectable rookie season with the Lightning, going 6-10-16, plus-1, in 27 games with Tampa Bay after going 16-22-38, plus-6, in 44 games with Syracuse in the AHL.
The other surprise is not a pleasant one for Lightning fans. After missing nine games with a broken foot, Vincent Lecavalier returned to the lineup on April 4th against Carolina. He has but a single assist in the two games played since his return. What is more, Lecavalier has only one goal in the last 13 games in which he appeared.
Here is how the two teams stack up, numbers-wise…
1. In the 21 games from February 16th through March 29th, Steven Stamkos recorded 18 goals. Only six times in those 21 games did he fail to record at least one. However, he is without a goal in his last three games, his longest streak since going five games without one in early February.
2. The Lightning sure can light it up late. Tampa Bay leads the league in third period goals with 54. That is as many as Florida and the Rangers have scored in the first and second periods combined. It is more than five teams have scored in the first and third periods combined.
3. There is little mystery about what sort of game is conducive to a Lightning win. Tampa Bay has more wins by a three or more goal margin than any team in the league (12). The Lightning also happen to have the worst record in the league in one-goal games (4-10-2).
4. And why is that? Well, Tampa Bay has the best record in the league when leading after one period (13-1-0). The Lightning have the worst record in the league when trailing after one period (0-10-2).
5. Only four teams have recorded more fighting majors than the Lightning. Seven different players have dropped the gloves so far this season with B.J. Crombeen leading the team and tied (with Colton Orr) for the league lead in fighting majors with a dozen.
1. The Capitals are not a team inclined to resort to violence to settle differences. Only three teams have fewer fighting majors – Detroit, Carolina, and Edmonton – than Washington (14).
2. The Caps are not too shabby at scoring third period goals themselves. Perhaps not as prolific as Tampa Bay, but even with not having scored a third period goal in the 4-3 win over Florida on Saturday night, the Caps are still tied for sixth in total third period goals scored (39).
3. The good news is that the Caps have won 80 percent of the games they led after two periods. The bad news is, so what? 22 teams have won at least 80 percent of the games they led after two periods, meaning that there are only eight teams with worse records.
4. Only four teams in the league have allowed more shots on goal per game than the Caps (31.6/game). Only Toronto and Edmonton have a worse shots-per-game differential than the Caps (-4.3 shots/game).
5. On St. Patrick’s Day against the Buffalo Sabres, head coach Adam Oates put Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson together on the top line for the Caps. Since then, this trio has 19 of the 37 goals scored by the Caps over 11 games. Ovechkin is 13-6-19, plus-6. Backstrom is 3-14-17, plus-7. Johansson is 3-11-14, plus-8. As a group they have nine of the 12 power play goals scored by the Caps in that span, Ovechkin recording seven of them.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Tampa Bay: Ben Bishop
When Tampa Bay acquired Anders Lindback in a trade with the Nashville Predators last June, it was seen as an opportunity for the promising Lindback to step out from behind Pekka Rinne’s shadow in Nashville and take on number one goaltender responsibilities of his own. It did not go especially well. Lindback is tied for 39th among 47 qualifying goaltenders in goals against average (2.88) and is 35th in save percentage (.903). Then to top it off, he sustained a high ankle sprain in a loss to Toronto on March 20th. The Lightning sought to shore up that problem by obtaining Ben Bishop from Ottawa for forward Cory Conacher and a draft pick. It was another chance for a goalie to step out on his own in Tampa as a number one netminder. He certainly looked the part in a 45-save shutout of the Carolina Hurricanes in his first game with the Bolts, but he seemed a bit more mortal in 24-for-27 effort in a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday. If he gets the nod in the second half of the Lightning’s weekend back to back, it will be his second career appearance against Washington. While with the St. Louis Blues in the 2008-2009 season, Bishop gave up four goals on 29 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Caps.
Washington: Wojtek Wolski
With the injuries to Brooks Laich and now to Martin Erat, Wojtek Wolski could get a chance to skate on left side of the second line for the Caps. Wolski has appeared in only six games since March 1st, going 2-2-4 in those games. The Caps are going to need something from the left side to provide a scoring threat from somewhere other than the first line. He has had some success against the Lightning. He has more career goals against Tampa Bay than any other team in the Eastern Conference (five in 10 career games).
1. Better late than ever. In the first two meetings between the clubs this season the Lightning broke open what was a 3-3- tie after two periods with a three-goal explosion on opening night to win, 6-3, then in the second meeting of the clubs in February the Lightning came back from a 4-1 third period deficit to make a game of it with a pair of goals before losing, 4-3. Those kinds of third period swoons are not part of a winning recipe.
2. Don’t be pecked to death by ducks. It is not a reference to Anaheim, but to the fact that against a team with the big scorers on the top line in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, the Caps cannot let the undercard beat them. That means keeping the likes of Alex Killorn and Tom Pyatt (each with two goals in four games since Jon Cooper took over as head coach) off the score sheet.
3. Killing mood. Only Columbus has fewer power play goals on the road than Tampa Bay. The Caps cannot be leaky here and expect to win. Tampa is a very good 5-on-5 team.
In the end…
This is the last back-to-back set of games this season for the Caps. They are 3-2-2 in the second half of back-to-backs so far this season. A win here would be especially important for the Caps, since this game burns one of the games in hand the Capitals hold over Winnipeg in the fight for the Southeast Division lead. It would also put another two points between the Caps and the Lightning in the Southeast, and since Tampa Bay seems to be the only team other than the Caps playing at a competent level (the Lightning are 5-4-1 over their last ten games), those two points could be important down the road.
Capitals 5 – Lightning 3