Pregame #68: Capitals vs. Lightning

Washington Capitals (45-13-9) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (27-27-12)
Verizon Center      
7:00 pm
Radio: 820AM, 1500AM, 106.7 FM and XM
Previous Meetings:
Mar 4, 2010       TBL@WSH     WSH, 5 – 4
Jan 31, 2010     TBL@WSH     WSH, 3 – 2
Jan 12, 2010     WSH@TBL     TBL, 7 – 4
Dec 7, 2009       WSH@TBL     WSH, 3 – 0
Remaining Meetings:
Mar 20, 2010     WSH@TBL      7:00 PM

The Washington Capitals bookend their 5-game home stand against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight as they play their first game as the 2009-10 Southeast Division champions.  While the Caps are coming off an overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night, the Bolts flew in from Toronto to play the second game of a back-to-back series, after losing 4-3 to the Maple Leafs on Thursday. The Bolts look to keep their postseason hopes alive with a win tonight after dropping seven of their last eight contests – all the while giving up 5+ goals in 6 of 7. Tampa Bay is now six points behind eighth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference, while Washington enjoys a 14-point buffer over second-place Pittsburgh.  DC has notched 17 goals since returning from the Olympic break, going 4-0-1- will the train keep a-rollin’ tonight?

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What To Watch For:

– Varls in Charge: Oh, Varlamov, why must you taunt the Capitals fanbase so? You’ve been given every shot at winning back the Caps’ top Goaltender slot, but going 1-0-1 since the Olympic break and allowing 5 (of 7) goals in the third period is not the way to do it. Here’s hoping you channel your December 7th performance when you blanked the bolts 3-0. Or concede the net to Theodore.

– On the Road Again: The Capitals are 26-3-4 on Verizon Center ice this season, and have the fewest regulation losses in the NHL. The Lightning are 9-19-6 away from Tampa Bay this season, tied for the fewest in the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay has also scored less goals on the road (83 on the road to 93 at home) in 2 less games this season. TB’s PP (18.9% to 19.7%) and PK (77.7% to 83.6%) are also worse on the road, and have allowed more goals while away from Florida (125 to 73).

– Along the Green-way: Mike Green dominates the rest of the league’s defensemen in every offensive category: goals, assists, points, power play goals, power play assists and power play points. He also leads the Caps in scoring since returning from the Olympic break with 3 goals and 3 assists in 5 games. One area MG52 has been lacking: actually playing defense his +/- rating – he’s second in the league, behind line mate Jeff Schultz.

Player to Watch: Steven Stamkos, C #91

Yes, yes it was the easy pick, but Stamkos has been unstoppable as of late. He’s currently riding a franchise-best 18-game scoring streak (17 G, 16 A), and has lit the lamp in seven straight contests, the longest streak for any NHL player in 2009-10. After netting 17 goals in his last 17 games, the second year player now has 42 on the season – two less than the league leaders Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.