The first of six -- Tampa Bay hosts Washington (preview)

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

First place, Southeast Division.  First Place, Eastern conference.  29 games, 42 points.

The Washington Capitals are the mountain to climb for any team looking to show they are due some respect. They're the mountain to climb is you want to show the world you are legit. That's exactly how the Lightning should be approaching this game - as outsiders in the NHL standings, trying to prove something to themselves and the world.

The popular memo in Tampa is that Alex Ovechkin is back. And angry... I'll skip that, thanks. Yes, Ovechkin is one of the premiere players in the world but he's not the entirety of the Washington Capitals threat. Mike Green on defense, Alexander Semin Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich... They're all a threat in one way another (as is the rest of their roster), and all contributing to the Capitals this season.

But even the Capitals are behind someone in the President's Trophy race this season: The San Jose Sharks.

And who beat the San Jose Sharks? Oh yeah, that's right, the Tampa Bay Lightning did.

From our side of things, the question really is the message that Rick Tocchet will be sending the team with who starts in net tonight. Is it Jekyll-and-Hyde Mike Smith, who is coming off his shutout win against the Islanders and has a habit of falling flat coming off victories? Or is it Antero Niittymaki, the more steady-hand in net who has a 29-6-4 record against the Southeast division all-time? Smith's spectacular inconsistency is not what the Bolts should be hoping for in net if coach Rick Tocchet decides to go with him as starting goalie.

[Note by John Fontana, 12/07/09 1:12 PM EST ] It will be Mike Smith in net tonight.

And will the Lightning's defense, regardless of who starts in net, stand up in front of their own goal or hang their netminder out to dry?

The Capitals boast the #1 power play unit int he league, with a near-quarter conversion rate (24.6%).  Their penalty kill rate is a lot lower but still sound enough at 79%.  The team is averaging nearly 32 shots on goal a night (31.7) and allowing nearly 31 (30.5).

Odds are Semyon Varlamov starts in goal for the Capitals tonight. He's 11-1-2 on the season with a .920 save percentage and a 2.36 GAA.

This is the first of eight six meetings between the teams.  The question is, will the Lightning approach this game as playoff-caliber, or just another one of 82?

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

(updated December 7, 2009 by RawCharge subject to change)

Forward Lines:

Alex Tanguay - Vincent Lecavalier - Jeff Halpern
Ryan Malone - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
James Wright - Paul Szczechura - Steve Downie
Stephane Veilleux - Zenon Konopka - Kurtis Foster


Mattias Ohlund | Andrej Meszaros
Victor Hedman | Lukas Krajicek
David Hale | Matt Walker


Mike Smith (starter)
Antero Niittymaki

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview


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