Pregame #2: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington Capitals (1-0-0) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (1-1-0)
Location: Verizon Center
7:00 PM
TV: Local: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), National: Versus (HD), Canada: TSN2
Games Remaining:
Jan 13, 2012 TB@WSH, 7:00 PM
Jan 31, 2012 WSH@TB, 7:30 PM
Feb 18, 2012 WSH@TB, 7:00 PM
Mar  8, 2012 TB@WSH, 7:00 PM
Apr  2, 2012 WSH@TB, 7:30 PM
Former Lightning: Jeff Halpern (126 GP, 2008-2010), Roman Hamrlik (377 GP, 1992-1997)
Opposing Viewpoints:
Our Bloguin Partner: Lightning Hockey Blog
Our friends at: Raw Charge

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The Washington Capitals get their first crack at avenging their second-round playoff loss as they take on the Southeast Division runner-ups, the Tampa Bay Lightning.  This should be All-Star goalie Tomas Vokoun‘s first game as a Capital, and he was spectacular against Tampa last season with a 2-0-1 record and a shutout, a .954 save percentage, and a 1.26 goals against average.  Coming off an opening night overtime thriller over the Hurricanes, the Caps offense played well, but the team still has some areas that need work. 

This Columbus Day matchup is the third game of a season-opening 5-game road trip for the Lightning.  The Bolts return nearly the same line-up from last season, including #1 center Steven Stamkos (2 assists in 2 games), who signed a 5-year, $37.5 million contract over the summer.  The key subtractions for Tampa over the offseason were sharpshooting LW Simon Gagne and Cap-killing LW Sean Bergenheim.  Their replacements are 19-year old rookie sniper RW Brett Connolly and 2007 Stnaley Cup-winner RW Ryan Shannon.  The Lightning should push the Caps for the Divison title again, especially if LW Ryan Malone and RW Steve Downie can stay healthy for the whole season.  And while new backup goalie Mathieu Garon was less than impressive Saturday night in Boston, ageless netminder Dwayne Roloson is expected to carry the load. 

Injury Report: Capitals’ D John Erskine (shoulder surgery) is out.
-For the Lightning, veteran D Mattias Ohlund (right knee inflammation) is on injured reserve. 

Three Things To Watch For:

Chess Masters:  Crafty Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and strategizing Lightning Coach Guy Boucher faced each other 10 times last season, and each coach found effective strategies to frustrate the other each time.  From Caps defensemen constantly passing back and forth in their own end to Boucher’s 1-3-1 neutral zone system to special teams adjustments, look for two of the smartest coaches in the NHL go at it again.  While there is considerable talent on both rosters, this game is more likely to come down to the coach with the best tactics for neutralizing the opponent’s skill. 

Man Down Debacle:  On Friday, the Capitals allowed all three goals to the Hurricanes while they were a man up.  The frustrating part was the two powerplay goals and the 6-on-5 goal were all scored from about the same place on the ice with no Capitals in sight.  The Hurricanes were able to station a player back-door and get a cross-crease pass to the wide-open man.  Hopefully these issues will start resolving themselves when the Caps defenders have more of a chance to play together, but it needs to be resolved quickly because Tampa has a lot more offensive weapons than Carolina. 

The Spirit of St. Louis:  The Tampa offense is once again let by miniature offensive dynamo Martin St. Louis.  With 2 goals and 3 points in the first two games, the 5’8, 175 lb right winger is poised to build off his 99 point season last year, when he won his second straight Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for gentlemanly play.  At 36, age hasn’t slowed him down one bit, and the Lightning powerplay looks as dangerous as ever.  The Caps will need to stay out of the penalty box tonight.