Where: Verizon Center, Washington, District of Columbia | When: 7 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: FS Florida Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Japer's Rink, Stars and Sticks, Russian Machine Never Breaks
So, are the Washington Capitals the Empire or the New Republic? The Empire is basically what you saw dominating the original Star Wars films - and fragments of it are evident in the new flick that premieres today. The New Republic is the new government founded by the Rebels after the conclusion of Return of the Jedi.
The Capitals at the moment have a really imposing team either way, one that's ruling the Eastern Conference with their 22-6-2 record, only two points behind the Dallas Stars for the overall league lead while also having two games in-hand on Dallas. The Force is strong with these guys. Heck, we've seen it in the two matchups between them and the Tampa Bay Lightning this season - the 4-2, can't-come-back game in late November and then the close-but-no-cigar contest at the Amalie just under a week ago. Now we get to see it again, for the third and final time this season (well, regular season... but Tampa Bay is on the outside looking in with the playoffs at the moment so...). The Bolts limp into Verizon Center with two victories from this three game road swing, but more injuries (and distraction factors) than they did when they started on the road.
From where we're standing as Lightning fans, we're the Rebels trying to take down the Empire while also stopping their Sith lord, Darth Ovechkin, and his apprentices.
If you're a Washington Capitals fan, you're eye rolling at all my Star Wars and negative-Nancy crap steered toward Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Caps crew. I can't even bring myself to keep up that stuff when I know this more in-season parody is out there from the Capitals crew:
Tis the season for hilarity, and that's one thing Ovi and company have been able to pull off for a while now, as well as being tough competitors.
The Lightning are ending their little jaunt through the northeast, still licking wounds of injury and forcing the roster as well as the fans to cover their ears and scream "I'm not listening!! I'm not listening!" It's called a distraction. And we have one. I don't need to further that point now, the damage is done. It's how well the roster - the regulars who are still standing as well as the call-ups who are filling holes - ignores the distractions and toughs it through the roster limitations created by injury that will keep Tampa Bay competitive or cost the season.
The one other complication of tonight when you look at the overall picture and not the nitty-gritty details is the polar-opposite degree of the recent and the now. The Lightning had a trial in back-to-back games against the league-worst clubs in Columbus and Toronto. They got what they should have pulled out in either city but it was a lot more competitive and close than it should have been. Facing the Capitals now gives a solid reason to worry this could be an ugly loss. Washington has outscored opponents 91-64 in their 30 games played this season. The Caps power play is the 2nd best in the NHL (22.9% conversion rate), 24 places better than the Lightning's man-advantage potency (or lack thereof - 16.5%). Both clubs stay on par in their rankings on the penalty-kill too - with Washington ranked 6th and the Lightning ranked 24th (83.5 as to 78.1).
Reports have suggested Erik Condra is a game-time decision for the Lightning lineup, that's a nice little note for the lower lines. It's the top guys where the hurt lies most and the morning skate - though optional - had some encouragement to note:
Optional morning skate for #TBLightning. Johnson and Palat among those skating. So is Condra, who is game time decision.— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) December 18, 2015
Part of the droopy stats on both the special-teams games is due to the loss of Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat from the lineup to go along with Cedric Paquette and Jonathan Drouin. Johnson is the only player Lightning coach Jon Cooper seemed even light-casually hoped might see ice time during this road trip. The next six games of the season after tonight are at home at Amalie Arena, we'll likely see a return of Johnson and Palat during that. I'm not so sure about Drouin and certainly am lost on the status of Paquette (who is always on the verge of return but never shows up in the lineup).