Let’s just boil it down to this: the next game the Washington Capitals play that lacks importance is likely to be the preseason opener for the 2013-14 season. For weeks now, it seems as though every game in this abbreviated 48-game season has had significant significance attached to it.
With just 10 games remaining on the slate, don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
The Tampa Bay Lightning is in town tonight for the first time this season, and the Caps hold a six-point advantage over the Bolts with three weeks left in the campaign. The two teams meet here next Saturday as well, but the Caps might be able to render that game meaningless if they can take two points from Tampa Bay tonight.
Washington currently occupies the top spot in the Southeast Division, but it is there only by virtue of games in hand; the Winnipeg Jets have the same number of points but have played two more games than the Caps. The Jets have two more regulation and overtime wins (18) than Washington does (16) this season.
The thing about games in hand is, they only mean something if you win them. Tonight marks the first of the Caps’ two games in hand on the Jets. It’s a chance to put an actual distance of points between themselves and the Jets, rather than having their margin determined simply by number of games played.
“We are in a decent situation right now,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “It’s nice that we have an opportunity to hold our own fate. We have to win a game like tonight.”
Washington will have to take on Tampa Bay tonight without the services of forwards Martin Erat and Brooks Laich. Erat left Saturday night’s game against the Panthers after taking a check from behind from Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson.
Laich left Thursday’s game against the Islanders in the middle of the third period and did not accompany his teammates on their weekend journey to South Florida.
“Marty felt way better than he anticipated,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “So I don’t think it’s going to be too long. Brooksy, he’s still hurting. He is going to see the doctor on Tuesday just to get an evaluation of where he is. I think he’s going to be out a few days.”
The Caps haven’t seen the Lightning since Washington’s 4-3 win over the Bolts on Feb. 14. Tampa Bay has since replaced Guy Boucher behind the bench, promoting Jon Cooper to replace him. Cooper had been the bench boss of the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse.
Tampa Bay has also had some roster turnover since that Feb. 14 game, and the Caps will be facing the Lightning’s newly acquired goaltender Ben Bishop tonight.
“It makes it a little bit difficult in terms of preparation,” admits Oates, “in terms of how much time we have to show the guys stuff. The coach that came up, he’s coaching a lot of the guys that he coached in Syracuse. They’re quick and they’re also playing pretty free, like they’ve got nothing to lose. So that’s a very dangerous team and they obviously have some great players over there. We have to ready.”
Washington will counter with goaltender Michal Neuvirth against the Lightning. Neuvirth has been idle since suffering a 4-1 loss to the Bruins in Boston on March 16. His starting assignment tonight halts a string of 11 straight starts for Braden Holtby.Posted in: Sports
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