Game 30 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning @ Washington Capitals

The Tampa Bay Lightning (17-10-2, 36 PTS) have a road excursion against the Washington Capitals (16-12-2, 34 PTS) before making the jaunt back to Tampa in order to play host to the Red Wings on Thursday.

The Bolts came up short against the Jets on Saturday night after finally getting in gear at about the game’s midpoint, though it at least managed a point in giving away the second one to a non-conference opponent. Although offensive production again was again hard to come by, with Tampa Bay scoring just a single goal on the night, the club again delivered stingy results in its own end (even if the process was a little more sloppy for portions of the game).

The return of Eric Brewer and Radko Gudas served as a jolt for the Lightning’s defensive corps, which had been taxed heavily during the Sens game in which the team lost both Keith Aulie and Victor Hedman to injury. Gudas was particularly effective while gobbling up 21:38 and 18:30 of total and even-strength ice time, second only to regular partner Matt Carle. During 5v5 play (all and score-close) the duo was very sound in helping with the territorial battle as  Gudas posted a healthy 64.5% (+20, -11) and Carle a 62.5% (+18, -11) percentage of shot attempts for.

A lineup that still boasts a slew of still-raw and rookie talents, a couple of whom (Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson) head coach Jon Cooper has inserted team captain and longtime scoring winger Martin St. Louis alongside — a move that has paid dividends — in recent games — is tasked with holding down a top-heavy conference opponent that has been alternately formidable and vulnerable.

To this point, Washington, which as scored 26 of its 86 goals (30%) with the man-advantage, has been buoyed by its power play production. It’s 10.36 goals for per 60 minutes of 5v4 ice time is the league’s highest rate — better even that for the similarly prolific Penguins — and also boasts, at 18.1%, the league’s top shooting power play percentage. Alex Ovechkin, the club’s main weapon, is doing the bulk of his damage here, too, with 17 (giving him the league’s co-lead) of his 31 points coming while a man up. He has scored 13 goals too, but has just a single assist at evens, where the Capitals’ production, collectively (gauged both total- or rate-wise), is far less prolific, likely stunted by a sub-par possession game. Put simply, when the opposition has a like number of skaters, the Capitals have been closer to the Lightning than the juggernaut that is the Blackhawks.

The good news for Washington, which is currently nestled in second-place of its new divisional home is that it is still in a fairly comfortable spot despite a decent start that is slightly off-pace from last season and in line with 7th place, 92-point finish it managed during the 2011-2012 campaign. That may very well be good enough to take one of the three guaranteed playoff spots in the Atlantic Metropolitan division.

Tonight the Bolts obviously need to stay out of penalty trouble and take their odds at even-strength given that the Lightning has been very good at limiting opponent attempts and, to a lesser extent, shots on goal and, of course, has enjoyed some pretty sharp goaltending on most nights. The offense, which has scored 25 goals in the twelve games — with 17 of those goals in just four of those matches while Tampa Bay has scored just a goal or been shutout in seven other contests — played in Steven Stamkos’ absence, needs to find a way against a team that is middling in terms of preventing opposition attempts as well as one of more porous clubs in terms of shots on goal against and, particularly, a goaltending duo that has had its share of ups and downs. It also wouldn’t hurt to not just go neutral but actually win the special teams battle, too, by adding a power play marker, something it hasn’t done in the last eight, just once in the last ten games and just three times in the last seventeen games.

[/wptabcontent] [/wptabs]Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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