Something To ProvePosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Tonight's game against the Lightning is the second game of the season and it's on a Monday night. Not so very long ago, that match-up would have meant a crowd somewhere south of 10,000 at The Phone Booth and a less-than-scintillating 60 minutes of hockey down on the ice sheet. Those days are gone. Last year, the Caps and Lightning jockeyed for the Southeast Division lead all season long with Washington finally prevailing. But the Lightning had the last laugh, ousting the Caps from the Stanley Cup playoffs in four straight games last spring. The season has begun anew and both teams figure to be among the elite in the Eastern Conference and the Southeast Division. In tonight's game, the Caps have the obvious incentive of trying to exact a small measure of revenge against the team that snuffed out their Stanley Cup dreams last spring. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun will be making his Washington debut tonight, but he's spent the last four seasons playing in the Southeast Division against Florida. He wasn't here when the Bolts bounced the Caps from the playoffs, but he knows this one means a bit more than your generic second game of the season. “For this team today, it’s something to really prove," says Vokoun. "They beat them four straight in the playoffs. So I’m sure guys remember that and certainly coaches do. It’s somewhat I think of a statement game. It’s the second game of the season. Early on, that means two points but on the other hand you want to send a message back." Tampa Bay is in the midst of a season-opening five-game road trip, and the Lightning is coming off a less than stellar performance in its most recent game, Saturday night at Boston. The Bruins -- the team that bounced the Bolts from the playoffs last spring -- trounced Tampa Bay 4-1 on Saturday, and that loss still troubles Lightning head coach Guy Boucher. Prior to Monday's game in Washington, Boucher was asked if he was upset with his team's compete level in the Boston game, which came a night after the Lightning knocked off the Hurricanes 5-1 to open the campaign. "That’s an understatement," responds Boucher. "We’re a team that competes. We do not have the firepower, the skill, the depth to think that we’re up there with the top teams. We didn’t last year either. Because we’re aware of it, we do what we need to do to compete against those teams. The minute forget that, it looks like last game.” The Lightning are carrying 23 players on their active roster, and Boucher planned his lineups to allow each of those 23 players to get into the lineup within the first three games on the schedule. Forward Mattias Ritola and defenseman Bruno Gervais will see action tonight, the last two members of the Lightning to do so. This morning, Boucher made it clear to his charges that after tonight, they themselves will determine who is in the lineup from night to night, not him. "The ball is in their camp," says the Tampa Bay coach. "I think right now the first three games, the plan was to give those guys an opportunity. [Blair] Jones played well the first game and [Tom] Pyatt played great the second game. He’s one of the few guys that played a decent game against Boston. "But we’ve got to take some guys out. It was clear to the players this morning that I don’t care after tonight, whatever your name is. It’s about coming out and being ready for those games. And certainly last game, yes it is a back-to-back, and yes we traveled, and yes [the Bruins] were waiting for us and they were home the whole time. They do have more energy than us, but there are things that are unacceptable from last game. It doesn’t matter who you are. After tonight, we are going to make the tough decisions. The last three games they weren’t tough for me. They were planned.” It's game two for the Caps, and three for the Lightning. But both teams have plenty to play for tonight.
Two games of an 82-game slate is a miserably small sample size. But today is an off day, and two games are all we’ve got. So here are a few random ramblings, thoughts, notes, observations, takeaways – whatever you want to call them. Wins against division opponents are big wins, and four points are