Another battle at the top; Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning preview

WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)

Remember earlier this season? The Washington Capitals didn't just have the Tampa Bay Lightning's number, they had the Bolts number, it's lunch money, and had stuffed the Bolts in a school locker. That about summarizes a pair of Lightning loses at Verizon Center earlier this season: 6-3 and 6-0. The Lightning were outplayed, unmanned, out classed, etc. etc.

But things change, people change, rivers change course, governments rise and fall... And the Washington Capitals, the mighty juggernaut of the Eastern Conference, and titan of the Southeast Division, has not quite lived up to their reputation as of late. They've fallen to 5th in the Eastern Conference standings, with the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers nipping at their heels.

Make no mistake, the Capitals are still a very potent and very dangerous team... A team that wants their division lead back. They come into Times Palace tonight having gone 3-3-4 in their past 10 games, and having been shutout twice in their most recent contests against the Lightning (1-0 in overtime on January 4th, and 3-0 in regulation on January 12th.

is this a must-win game for the Caps? Comcast Sports Washington asked around the Capitals locker room yesterday, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau gave his answer:

"The reality is, it's a big game for both teams. If I'm them, I'm saying: 'Hey, we can put this away.' If I'm us, I'm saying: 'We want to fight till the end.' Seven or three, it's what they call the big four-pointer."

Tonight, it is not playoff hockey time at the St. Pete Times Forum. But, if both teams bring their A game, it's going to sure as hell be close.

For the Lightning, Mattias Ohlund's knee is still an issue and it may limit his playing time tonight... And the potential for it keeping him out is there. There have been no reports this morning of his status. We'll keep you posted on that one.

Dwayne Roloson should get the start in net tonight for the Lightning. After all, he is 2-0-0 with a 0 GAA and a 1.000 save percentage against the Capitals so far this year while playing with the Lightning (I'm embellishing here a bit, people. He has lost to the Capitals this season while playing with the New York Islanders -- but even that was a close one: 2-1 Washington the final on October 13th).

The Capitals have killed off 30 of the last 31 short-handed situations they have been in, which is quite a feat. They are 2nd in the NHL with an 86.4 kill-rate. The Bolts are 8th in the league with an 84.7% kill-rate.

On the power play, the Bolts remain not the team they were in the first half. They have improved in the rankings, but mostly because other teams have fallen. The Lightning power play is ranked 6th, with a 20.7% conversion rate. The Caps, oddly, are in the bottom half of the league (ranked 18th) on the power play. They have converted on 17.4% of power play opportunities.

One thing to mention about line-combos at current for the Bolts: The St. Pete Times spent time on Simon Gagne in their edition this morning, but the true story (that Simon tried to play up) is that the line of Gagne - Vincent Lecavalier - Teddy Purcell is clicking. The three forwards have a combined 25 points in their past 10 games.

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Lightning Hockey Blog

Frozen Sheets of Hockey

Bolts by the Bay

Full game coverage on SB Nation

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