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Caps Entertain Battered Bolts

December 9, 2013
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Dec. 10 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center     

Time: 7:00 p.m.


Radio: Capitals Radio Network


Tampa Bay Lightning (17-10-2)

Washington Capitals (16-12-2)


On the heels of a solid 4-1 victory over the Rangers in New York on Sunday and a sweep of a set of back-to-back weekend games, the Capitals head back home for one game on F St. They’ll host the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center on Tuesday.


This is the first time since 1992-93 – the Lightning’s first season of NHL existence – that Washington and Tampa Bay have not been dwellers of the same division. The Caps and Bolts shared occupancy of the Atlantic Division from 1993-94 through 1997-98 and were co-denizens of the Southeast Division from 1998-99 through last season.


With its twin wins over Nashville and New York, Washington has won four of its last five games and has moved back into sole possession of second place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division. The victories over the Preds and Rangers were the Capitals’ first pair of regulation wins in consecutive games this season, and the first time Washington jumped out to 3-0 leads in successive tilts since it had 4-0 leads in games against Tampa Bay and Toronto, respectively, last April 13-16.


The Capitals took Monday off and will reconvene for a Tuesday morning skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to prepare for Tuesday’s tilt against Tampa Bay. Here’s a quick look at some of the areas of the Caps’ overall game that have helped fuel Washington’s recent mini-surge.


While Washington relied heavily on its power play earlier in the season, the Caps have had a reliable stream of scoring from up and down the lineup over their last five games, during which they’ve scored 15 goals. Ten of those tallies came in five-on-five play, and five of those occurred when the forward trio of Eric Fehr, Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer were on the ice.


The Caps’ top line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin has accounted for just one of the team’s last dozen five-on-five goals, but the rest of the lineup has picked up the slack. The Caps have had two goals from their fourth line in the last five games, one with Martin Erat manning the middle and the other with Jay Beagle serving as the pivot for Aaron Volpatti and Tom Wilson.


Washington’s Jason Chimera-Erat-Joel Ward unit has been on the ice for two of the team’s last 10 five-on-five goals.


Caps defensemen have also gotten into the scoring act of late. Blueliners have scored five of Washington’s last 10 goals and have contributed nine points over the team’s last four games (2.25 per game). In the first 26 games of the season, Caps defensemen combined for eight goals and 41 points (1.58 per game).


While the Caps were winning four of their last five games, the team’s power play was going 2-for-16 (12.5%), so the consistent contributions from up and down the lineup have been crucial to the team’s success over that span.


Another critical factor has been a combination of team discipline and the Capitals’ penalty killing outfit. During Washington’s four-game losing streak (0-3-1) that stretched from Nov. 20-27, the Caps were a dismal 9-for-15 (60%) on the kill. Those four games also ended a stretch in which the Caps were faced with at least five penalty killing missions in nine of 14 games, taxing the unit a bit too much.


Over the past five games, the Caps’ discipline has been exemplary. Washington has had to deal with two or fewer penalty kills in four of its last five games, and it faced four shorthanded situations in the other game, its only loss in the last five.


Keeping the penalties to a manageable number has enabled Caps coach Adam Oates to spread the ice time more evenly among his 18 skaters, and that’s important because four of those last five games have been part of back-to-back sets. That discipline has also helped get things right with the penalty-killing outfit, which has succeeded on 10 of its 11 missions (90.9%) during that span.


As is almost always the case with hockey teams that are trending positively, keeping the puck out of their own net has also aided the Capitals. Washington allowed 14 goals during the life of its four-game skid, but has permitted only 11 (and only nine at even-strength) in the last five games. Caps goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have combined for a .937 save pct. in the team’s last five games.


Finally, as the good folks at Japers Rink noted in a Monday Tweet, the Caps have posted positive Fenwick Close numbers in five-on-five play for four straight games, doing so for the first time in the Oates administration.


Tampa Bay makes the first of its two visits to Verizon Center this season; it’s a quick one-game trip up the Eastern seaboard for the Bolts.


Since starting off the season on a 14-5 run, Tampa Bay has been spinning its wheels a bit. The Lightning is 3-5-1 in its last nine games. But that’s somewhat understandable; the Bolts have been battered by injury this season.


The absence of sniper center Steven Stamkos is the most notable of Tampa Bay’s list of seven players on injured reserve, and the team has gone 5-5-2 in the first dozen games he has missed. But the Bolts are also without defensemen Victor Hedman and Mattias Ohlund and veteran winger Ryan Malone. They’re also missing bottom six forward Tom Pyatt and depth defensemen Keith Aulie and Brian Lee. Left wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie is nearly ready to return from an upper body injury and could be in the lineup on Tuesday.


If Labrie is good to go, the Lightning may not need to dress seven defensemen (and only 11 forwards) as it did for Saturday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets.


During its current 3-5-1 slide, the Lightning has gone just 2-for-30 (6.7%) with the extra man. Tampa Bay’s power play ranks 20th overall (15.8%) heading into Monday night’s NHL action, and its penalty killing crew stands eighth (85.2%).


Since winning consecutive home games by a combined count of 9-2 over the Rangers and Flyers, respectively, on Nov. 25-27, the Lightning is 1-2-1. The Bolts have scored four goals while averaging fewer than 25 shots on goal per contest in those four games.


Ben Bishop has handled the lion’s share of the goaltending chores for Tampa Bay this season, posting an impressive 15-5-1 record to go along with a sparkling 1.98 GAA and a .934 save pct. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman did well to ship rookie forward Cory Conacher to Ottawa for Bishop just ahead of the trade deadline last April. Bishop has stabilized what had been a bit of a revolving door situation in the Lightning crease prior to his arrival.


Bishop has made three career starts against the Capitals, going 0-2-1 with a 4.41 GAA and an .884 save pct. in those appearances. All three of those starts came at Verizon Center, with two of them coming last April after Bishop was acquired from the Senators. The first came in Dec. 2008 when Bishop was a member of the St. Louis Blues.