The Tampa Bay Lightning is seeking their third three-game winning streak of the season when they face-off against the Metropolitan division leaders Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on Friday night (Dec. 18) in the final game of their three-game road-trip.
In the match-up, the teams will conclude their three-game season series having played all three games in a 22-game span, with the Capitals (22-6-2, 46 pts.) having won both previous meetings. In their opening series meeting back on Nov. 27 in Washington, the Caps jumped out to a 4-0 lead as they scored three power-play goals before Victor Hedman and Brian Boyle netted goals in the Bolts’ comeback effort. In their second meeting played on home ice on Dec. 12, Nikita Kucherov’s third-period power-play goal wasn’t enough to overcome a 2-0 deficit as the Lightning fell 2-1 to the Caps.
Washington is 74-31-6-7 all-time against the Lightning and 40-11-4-4 at home against Tampa Bay. The Capitals own a modest three-game winning streak, but they’ve also won six straight games on home ice, winning at least six straight games at Verizon Center.
Despite winning five of their last seven games and eight of their last 12, the Bolts (16-13-3, 35 pts.) are just 1-4-4 in their past nine games at the Verizon center, with the lone win coming back on April 13, 2014 via a shootout. The Bolts has lost four in a row to the Caps and two-straight at the Verizon Center and are 15-34-6 with four ties all-time versus the Caps at the Verizon Center.
Additionally, the Bolt’s are looking to sweep a three game-game for the first time since the 2010-11 season when the won at the New York Islanders (4-2, Nov. 17), Philadelphia (8-7, Nov. 18) and Buffalo (2-1, Nov. 20). However, the Bolts are 4-3-0 against Metropolitan Division opponents this season. Entering the contest, the Lightning is fresh off back-to-back win for the first time since last season as they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 on Dec. 14 and a 5-4 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 15.
In their 5-4 win over Toronto, Vladislav Namestnikov scored on a 2-on-1 break 2:01 into overtime to give the Lightning their second win in a row. Nikita Kucherov netted his team-leading 12th goal of the season to open scoring and Anton Stralman tallied a goal to break a six-game goal drought for Bolts defensemen.
The game also saw Mike Blunden tallying his first goal in a Lightning uniform, the NHL debut of Yanni Gourde who also recorded his first league point (assist) along with Jonathan Marchessault, netting a goal for the second-straight game. Blunden and Marchessault’s goals came 36 seconds apart, the quickest back-to-back goals the Bolts have scored this season. As well, Andrei Vasilevskiy made 33-of-37 saves to pick up his first victory since Nov. 5 at Buffalo.
Most likely to start in goal for the Bolts will be Ben Bishop who made 25 saves on 26 shots in his last start Dec. 14 at Columbus to win his 13th game of the season. Bishop is tied for 10th in the NHL for victories and has won four of his last five starts and is 8-2-1 over his last 11 starts and ranks second in the NHL for goals-against average at 1.92, trailing only the Caps Braden Holtby (1.83), who is likely to start in goal. However, against Washington Bishop is 1-5-1 with a 3.70 GAA and a .886 save percentage in eight career meetings.
Caps goaltender Braden Holtby will be aiming for his 10th straight win on home ice and has earned at least a point for the Capitals in each of his last 13 games, going 12-0-1 with a shutout, a 1.67 save pct. and a .945 save pct. in the process. Holtby has posted a 7-2-1 record against the Lightning in his career with one shutout.
Lightning Nutz and Boltz
Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin have faced each other 33 times in regular-season play and the Capitals have posted a 24-7-2 record in those games. Ovechkin has scored a goal in 16 of those 33 games and registered 45 points (20G, 25A), while Stamkos has recorded 26 points (13G, 13A). The Capitals have won each of the 16 games in which Ovechkin has scored a goal with Stamkos in the lineup.
Nikita Kucherov overtook Steven Stamkos for the Lightning goal lead with his 12th of the season Tuesday at Toronto. He ranks tied for 22nd in the NHL for goals and has scored six goals in his last six games.
The Lightning rank third in the NHL for goals-against per game at 2.22, trailing only Los Angeles (2.10) and Washington (2.13) and is tied with Washington for the least 5-on-5 goals allowed (41) in the league.
Washington-Tampa Bay scoring leaders
Steven Stamkos has 14 goals and 14 assists in 34 games all-time against the Caps. Alex Ovechkin has registered 77 points (38g, 39a) in 59 career games against the Bolts, marking the second-most points he has recorded against any franchise in the NHL (Winnipeg: 85). Nicklas Backstrom has earned 44 points (9g, 35a) in 40 games against the Lightning and T.J. Oshie has tallied 11 points (5g, 6a) in 11 career games.
Injuries have taken a toll on the Bolts this season as evident by the fact of having six forwards currently out of the lineup (see below). Because of this situation, the team doesn’t have enough salary cap space according to GeneralFanager and confirmed by GM Steven Yzerman to make any call-ups from the minor unless they place someone on the long-term injured reserve, which requires an absence of 10 games and 30 days. Johnson, Paquette and Condra have been placed on injured reserve, but as of Dec. 18 no player has been put on the long-term injured reserve.
Ondrej Palat (left ankle), Tyler Johnson (undisclosed) and Jonathan Drouin (lower body) are out against the Capitals although Palat and Johnson did skate following practice on Thursday. Palat aggravated an ankle injury when Capitals forward T.J. Oshie fell on him on Dec. 12 and Eric Condra (lower body) was back at practice after missing the five games and will be a game-time decision. Joel Vermin was injured when he blocked a shot against the Blue Jackets on Dec. 14 had successful hand surgery Thursday and will miss 6-8 weeks.