Tampa Bay Lightning (17-14-3) at Washington Capitals (19-8-5): GAME 35
Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Verizon Center, Our Nation’s Capital
Broadcast/Streaming: Sun, Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic,RSN
Opponent SBNation Site: Japers’ Rink
Apparently losing to the Lightning in a shootout 20 days ago lit a bit of a spark under the Capitals, as they went on a six-game winning streak immediately after the loss. They have lost their last two, 2-1 to Montreal and 3-2 to Philadelphia in a shootout, but the winning streak vaulted them well ahead of the Lightning for the final wild card playoff spot. All of this without Alex Ovechkin scoring (2 goals in his last 12 games).
The Lightning are currently 5 points behind the Capitals despite having thee games in hand. The good news for the Lightning is that they are only two points behind Boston for the third spot in the Atlantic Division. To think, people don’t like the new playoff system. I think it’s just dandy.
Tampa has had just a little bit of roster churn over the last couple of weeks, but the stellar play of Jonathan Drouin (7 points in his last 4 games) has helped them tread water. Somehow the Drouin, Brian Boyle, Val Filppula line has been quite productive. In the Detroit game the Vlad Namestnikov, Brayden Point and Alex Killorn have found some chemistry as well. Maybe the Coach Cooper Blend-O-Line 2000 actually works!
The reason there has been so many combinations and call-ups is because the forwards just can’t seem to stay healthy. Losing Steven Stamkos is one thing, but losing Nikita Kucherov, Ryan Callahan and Ondrej Palat on top of that is crippling to the offense. The good news is that after tonight’s game they will have a few days off and hopefully a few guys will be good enough to play after the break.
Stamkos and Ben Bishop won’t be back, because apparently someone made a deal with the devil but forgot to read the fine print (yes, Steven Stamkos will re-sign with your team at a crazy good price, but he will be hurt for most of the season). In Bishop’s case, getting his yearly injury out of the way this early means he should be good to go for the playoffs. And it also give the Lightning 3-4 weeks to see how Andrei Vasilevskiy will fair as a number one goalie.
With the way the league is set up, it’s hard to say that the Lightning have to win right now or else they’ll be out of the race, but it wouldn’t be a bad time to string together a couple of wins. The schedule isn’t leaning towards that happening as they have Montreal, Toronto (don’t snicker Lightning fans, the Leafs are only a couple of points behind them and have a scary fast set of forwards), Nashville, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh all over the next couple of weeks. That doesn’t scream 6-game winning streak under the best of conditions.
The Lightning surprised us earlier this month by beating the Caps in a shootout when we were all certain they’d be run out of Amalie Arena. Who knows maybe they can surprise us again by turning their modest two game winning streak into three.
With a few days off following the game there is a better than average chance that Coach Cooper rides with Vasilevskiy in net despite the big Russian playing Thursday night against St. Louis. If not then Kristers Gudlevskis will make his season debut in net. The Latvian has been stellar in his two previous regular season starts giving up only 3 goals on 70 shots. His last start for the Lightning was a dazzling 1-0 OT loss to the Blackhawks in 2015-16.
In lieu of potential lines, because Coach Cooper is currently using a dart board to pick them, I give you a couple of Christmas-based rankings. [I’ll allow it, but only because I agree with your top two. - Acha]
Best Christmas Movies
5. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
4. Die Hard
3. Love Actually
2. A Christmas Story
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Worst Christmas Songs
5. The Christmas Shoes
4. The Christmas Shoes
2. The Christmas Shoes