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Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview: A chance for redemption

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The sliding Capitals come to town as the Lightning look to shake off a bad loss to Toronto

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Capitals (45-17-8 98 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (34-27-9 77 pts) GAME 71

Time: 7:00pm EST

Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

Broadcast/Streaming: SUN, CSN-DC

Opponent SB Nation Site: Japer’s Rink

Previous Game Musings

Preview

Since the Lightning were unable to capitalize on their opportunity Thursday night they now get a chance to redeem themselves…against the best team in the league. Thursday’s beatdown by the Toronto Maple Leafs was a firm reminder that without actual NHL caliber centers this team is vulnerable. The Lightning are still in the thick of the playoff race, but Thursday night’s loss puts, even more, an importance on the remaining twelve games on the schedule.

The league-leading Washington Capitals come into town tonight coming off an overtime loss to the Nashville Predators. Surprisingly, the Capitals have not been playing well over their last ten games. They have a 4-5-1 record. They scored 22 goals and allowed 28. Chalk it up to a difficult road schedule against Western Conference teams or the Capitals finally hitting a small slump, but Washington is still a top team in the NHL.

The Capitals come into tonight’s matchup with the 4th best offense at 223 goals scored and the best defense at 156 goals allowed. On special teams, the capitals are a top ten team in both categories with a power-play at 21.1% (8th) and a penalty kill at 84.1% (7th). Looking at some advanced metrics the Capitals are a top ten team in shot share with a Corsi For % of 51.31% (7th), so they normally outshoot their opponents. They are a middle of the road team at getting highest quality chances with an xGF% of 50.54% (14th). Regardless of their recent slump, this is still a team that Tampa Bay does not want to take lightly.

Nothing has really changed with the Lightning. The offense has scored 191 goals (18th) while the defense has allowed 192 (14th), which firmly plants them in the “mediocre” area of the league. On special teams, the shining light continues to be the power-play at 22.6% (6th) while the penalty kill sits at 80.7% (16th). The advanced metrics look promising with a Corsi For % of 51.28% (8th) and an xGF% of 51.14% (10th), but the longer the Lightning go on without Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Cedric Paquette at center the more these numbers will drop.

The current centers just aren’t able to sustain the high level of play needed to make an impact. Out of those currently playing center for the Lightning, Brayden Point is doing fine. But Jonathan Drouin is more of a natural winger who is being forced to play at center. Greg McKegg and Byron Froese are fringe NHLers at this point.

Even with the recent blowout against Toronto, Tampa Bay has done well over their last ten games, sporting a 7-2-1 record while scoring 25 goals and allowing 22. A playoff spot is still well within reach (Toronto is only one point ahead), but to qualify for the postseason the Lightning are going to have to forget Thursday’s embarrassment and focus on getting two points against the Capitals. This will be the third and final meeting between the former Southeast Division rivals with both teams taking one game each. The most recent meeting was a 2-1 win in the shootout for Tampa Bay, so defeating the Capitals isn’t impossible.

Given how inconsistent the Capitals have been as of late, this is a game the Lightning can win. The effort has to be far higher than it was Thursday, especially since Tampa Bay can’t expect Washington to just sit there and let the Lightning wallop on them. This is a Barry Trotz team; Trotz teams rarely get walked on.

Twelve games remain (including tonight) and the playoffs are still manageable for the Lightning. The Lightning has to do what Toronto just did by taking an embarrassing loss and turning it around with a dominating performance to right the ship.

*Ondrej Palat left practice Friday with an undisclosed injury and Joel Vermin was recalled. There has been no official report that Palat is out for tonight’s game, but the lines will be updated once more information is provided*

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Jonathan Drouin - Yanni Gourde

Gabriel Dumont - Greg McKegg - J.T. Brown

Adam Erne - Byron Froese - Luke Witkowski

Defensemen

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Goaltender

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Washington Capitals

Forwards

Alexander Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Jakub Vrana

Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Defensemen

Karl Alzner - John Carlson

Dmitri Orlov - Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik - Kevin Shattenkirk

Goaltender

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer