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Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning: What havoc will Ovechkin wreak?

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At 32 years old the Russian is off to his best start ever, and that means trouble for the Lightning.

Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME # 3

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SunS NSWA

Opponent SBNation Site: Japers Rink

Preview:

Remember about five months ago, when the Capitals lost another heartbreaking playoff series to the Pittsburgh Penguins and there were calls for Washington to dismantle the team and trade Alex Ovechkin? Those were fun times.

Whether it’s trying to prove the doubters wrong, or the Russian winger looking to wreak havoc on a league that is preventing him from representing his country at the Olympics, Ovechkin has had an incandescent start to the 2017-18 season. He has played in two games and recorded two hat tricks. Fourteen of his shots have made their way on net and seven of them have beaten the goaltender.

At this point he doesn’t even have to be looking at the net to score:

While the Capitals didn’t completely overhaul their team, there are some new faces in the line-up. Twenty-one year old Czech rookie Jakub Vrana has appeared on the opposite wing of Ovechkin’s line and faired pretty well through the first two games, picking up three assists.

The third and fourth lines for the Capitals sport the most new names as veterans Alex Chiasson and Devante Smith-Pelly were brought in to help Washington’s depth. Another new new name toiling on the bottom lines is 23-year-old Nathan Walker, the first player from Australia to play in the NHL. The rookie scored his first career goal on Saturday with his family watching in the stands.

Ovechkin’s reborn scoring touch is not a good sign for the Lightning, a team that surrendered 8 goals in two games to the Florida Panthers. Another not so great trend for the Lightning were their 11 minor penalties in two games. Giving Ovechkin more space on the ice isn’t a great way to win a hockey game. While he has only scored one power play goal this season, giving him more three or four opportunities while on the man advantage wouldn’t be the most effective game plan, either.

In order to keep Ovechkin off of the score sheet, Tampa is going to have to get better at getting pucks out of their zone and into the offensive zone. Too much of the first two games have been played on the defensive (a trend that can be traced to the beginning of last season), and the only reason the Lightning aren’t staring at an 0-2 start is the play of the Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Despite having a rather pedestrian .905 save percentage, the young goaltender has been fantastic through the first two games. He has faced an average of 42 shots against ( and, why yes, that is the highest number in the league). The team has to find a way to cut down on the number of shots that make it on net, and the answer isn’t having Dan Girardi block more of them. They have to get the puck out and keep it out of their zone.

The good news for the Lightning is that they have had some effective play when they do have the puck. The Steven Stamkos/Nikita Kucherov/Vlad Namestnikov line has been as advertised: all three players have 3 points apiece through two games. Brayden Point has picked up right where he left off last season, accumulating 5 points in his first two games.

Comparison chart:

As comparison numbers tend to be a bit wonky early in the season due to small sample size, here is a graphic that best represents the Lightning’s history against the Capitals.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Gabriel Dumont/J.T Brown

Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Dan Girardi

Slater Koekkoek - Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Lineup Notes:

Coach Cooper did shake up things a bit in game 2, inserting Jake Dotchin and JT Brown while removing Andrej Sustr and Gabriel Dumont. In all likelihood that is a rotation that will continue throughout the season.

Washington Capitals Lines

Forward Lines

Andre Burakovsky - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jakub Vrana

Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Alex Chiasson

Nathan Walker - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defense Pairings

Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Aaron Ness - Taylor Chorney

Goalies

Braden Holtby

Phillip Grubauer