Capitals Lightning Preview: Ovechkin and Backstrom Look To Shine Again

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UPDATE: Philipp Grubauer is expected to start in net tonight for the Washington Capitals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Spurred on by the reunion of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the Capitals’ top line, Washington is looking to string two solid wins in a row when they take on the on-fire Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday evening.

By Glynn Cosker
DCpuckDrop, Managing Editor

Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals

Time: 5.00 PM ET

Venue: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

TV: NHL Network, NBCSWASUN

The Washington Capitals (12-10-1) face a big challenge when they take on the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning (16-3-2) on Friday inside Capital One Arena. In the Caps’ last game, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom started and ended a game on the same line for the first time this season.

When asked last week about why he’d not paired Ovechkin and Backstrom so far, Washington’s head coach Barry Trotz replied with: “Don’t feel like it.”

Backstrom And Ovechkin Reunited And Scoring

[amazon_link asins=’B0727WDWNC’ template=’ProductAd’ store=’dcpuckdrop-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9b3a146d-d146-11e7-891e-3df7b0fb0d0b’]However, Trotz changed his mind Wednesday when his team took on the Ottawa Senators – reuniting Ovechkin and Backstrom to great effect as the pair was instrumental in driving a 5-2 victory in Washington. Ovechkin scored a goal with an assist from Backstrom, and it looked just like old times. But, was it a just one-off experiment to inject some fuel into a sputtering fore-check? Logic would dictate that it’s not – and we should expect to see the paring again on a regular basis. Whatever reason Trotz had for separating the two stars – who had lined up together in nearly every game since 2007 – is known only to Trotz. But, the players themselves were certainly grateful for the change.

“We needed that. It wasn’t working the way we had played, so I’m sure the coaching staff felt that way, and they wanted to switch things up,” said Backstrom.

“I don’t think there was any doubt,” Ovechkin told reporters after the Ottawa game. “We understand each other, how we have to play. Obviously, we played [together] a long time. So I think it worked out perfectly today.”

The Extra Offensive Kick

The Capitals also got a goal and two assists from Evgeny Kuznetsov along with two goals from Jakub Vrana against the Senators; both of those players were in need of big games, and perhaps seeing Ovechkin and Backstrom together again gave them an extra kick. Prior to the Senators game, the second line was comprised of Kuznetsov, Ovechkin and Devante Smith-Pelly, and it was ineffective and unproductive over the last six games with the threesome failing to tally a single full-strength point during that spell. Backstrom hasn’t scored a goal in 16 games, although he’s had some bad luck, and it’s just a matter of time before he scores while Ovechkin is alongside him again.

Impressive Lightning Come To Town

The big question now for the Capitals is whether or not they can build on the impressive Ottawa game and successfully string two good wins together for the first time in a long time. It won’t be easy against the first-placed Lightning – a team that leads in nearly every offensive department in the NHL.

Steven Stamkos leads the Lightning with 10 goals and 26 assists for 36 points, with Nikita Kucherov right behind him with 33 points (17 goals, 16 assists). The whole team seems able to score at will, but a healthy Stamkos is key to Tampa Bay winning so many games this year. The Lightning just missed the playoffs last season when Stamkos was sidelined with an injury, but – like Ovechkin – how Stamkos goes, so goes his team.

Stamkos leads the NHL in points, while Kucherov leads the league in goals. Not to be left out,  starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the NHL with wins and improved his record to 15-2-1 with a victory on Wednesday over the Chicago Blackhawks. Tampa Bay also has the best power-play percentage in the league with a 27.2 percent success rate; they have the most goals scored and the most average goals per game too.

Some Home Cooking

So, Friday’s game will be no easy task for the Capitals, but they have a few good things going for them – if each player plays to his strengths. The season began with the Capitals flying all over North America, often with little respite, but they’re enjoying some hometown games now. The Capitals are 6-1 at home in November, and they play six of their next seven games inside Capital One Arena. Every NHL team – even the high-flying Lightning – finds it a tough venue to leave with a win.

Braden Holtby is expected to start in net for Washington and will need to bring his A-game against Stamkos and Kucherov. Holtby has a knack for staying ice-cold focused in the high-stakes games and a good performance from him, along with an error-free showing from his blue-liners, are vital elements for the Capitals. Along with… Ovechkin and Backstrom side by side.

UPDATE: Philipp Grubauer is expected to start in net tonight for the Washington Capitals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Glynn founded DCpuckDrop in 2016 as a place for relevant, timely news on the Washington Capitals. He is a professional writer and editor with more than 25 years experience.