Tampa Bay Lightning @ Washington Capitals
Washington: 11-4-0, 22 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 8-12-20 in 15 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.1%
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tom Poti, G Semyon Varlamov
Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (9-3-0, 2.46, .912)
Player to watch: C Boyd Gordon
Tampa Bay: 8-4-2, 18 points
Leading scorer: Steven Stamkos, 13-11-24 in 14 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 45.8%
Notable injuries/illnesses: W Simon Gagne, W Steve Downie
Starting goalie: Dan Ellis (4-2-2, 2.11, .924)
Player to watch: C Steven Stamkos
The Capitals, on a five game winning streak, come to back home to face division "rival" Tampa Bay for the first time this season. On the back of strong goaltending and some great luck Tampa Bay is off to a strong start and looks to present a tough matchup. At first glance they strike me as similar to last year's Caps--underrated goaltending and defense, lots of skill up front without the same dominance as a Chicago or Detroit but with nice shooting luck. The Caps have about the same Corsi, but with some significant Corsi underperformance from Alex Ovechkin.
1) Shut down Stamkos. Boyd Gordon got my "player to watch" for the Capitals because he'll likely be tasked with going head-to-head with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and whoever replaces the injured Steve Downie. That may be his toughest assignment this entire season with the way the Lightning have been shooting thus far. Then again, Stamkos actually has a negative relative Corsi. As long as the Caps can limit scoring chances against and take away Stamkos' favorite shot, the one-timer from the left circle, the Caps should be alright.
2) Quick puck movement. The Lightning have some good forwards that will snipe top corners if the Caps give them the change with defensive-zone turnovers (as in the NYR game). The Caps D will need to get the puck to the Caps' reborn puck-controlling offensive players as fast as possible, so as to not risk giving up those opportune goals to Tampa Bay.
3) Who gets Vinny Lecavalier? Both Tampa and the Caps will have the same issue of figuring out how to assign their defensive players, having two strong lines to shut down. For the Caps, youngsters John Carlson and Karl Alzner will likely either draw hot Stamkos or big, physical Lecavalier. This should be a good measuring stick for the two, and I have a feeling they'll be up to the task.
4) Who plays up/down? Considering Tampa's good record and Stamkos' league-leading goal and point totals, you might think they're dominant on the puck. In reality, they're about even with the Caps in overall Corsi, as the Corsi Rel charts suggest Tampa is a bit above Washington , with both in the 7-7.4 range. Considering Alex Ovechkin's struggles, I think the Capitals are the better team--the question is whether they play down or up. If they play up they're going to win this game.
5) Chess game. Both teams looks similar, with tons of talent on the top two lines, some good defensemen, and severely underrated goaltending. I think they'll be going power versus power too, at least Lightning tough-minutes center Vincent Lecavalier. You can bet each team's top two pairings will take the other team's top two forward lines, with each third pairing needing shading. This game could very well go down with several in-game adjustments, and Bruce Boudreau will get his first taste of hotshot coach Guy Boucher.
Every winning streak has to end. I think the Lightning will come out strong and surprise the Caps, who surprise them back with another close comeback. Capitals 4, Lightning 3 (OT).