December 20, 2011; Washington, DC, USA; Nashville Predators goalie Anders Lindback (39) follows the puck against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

2 More Days Until Lightning Strikes!

The time has almost arrived, Lightning fans! There are only 2 more days until we come face to face with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

March 8, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) skates with the puck as Washington Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman (6) chases in the third period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Just think about it…just a few short days ago, every headline you read had the words ‘Lockout’, ‘CBA’, and ‘NHLPA’ in them. Names like Bettman and Fehr have become the bane of every fan’s existence. Now words like ‘term limits’, and ‘hockey related revenue’ are a thing of the past. Well, at least for the next 8 years.

However, I can say with the largest breath of relief known to hockey-kind, the lockout is over. Lightning Hockey is back!

So…down to business; first up, the Washington Capitals.

This is by far not an unbeatable team. In fact, for some strange reason I feel the need to sweep my floor. Oh yeah, that’s just the 2010-11 playoffs replaying in my head.

Ok, now that I got that out of my system.

The Capitals have undergone a lot of changes since last season. The most dramatic being the coaching situation. The first of which was the replacement of Bruce Boudreau back in 2011. Boudreau did great in getting his team to the big stage, but for some reason, they always seemed to choke once they got there. Enter, Dale Hunter. Dale Hunter played for the Washington Capitals in the 90’s and carried a reputation much like that of our favorite former-Lightning scrapper Steve Downie. He was met by a roaring reaction from Capitals fans. However, this would prove to be short lived as the very next season, he chose to the London Knights, and team in which he is co-owner. This leads us to former Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant Coach, Adam Oates. Oates is known as a very detail-oriented coach, which will be very good for them given their past inconsistencies. Based on his time with the Lightning, we can expect a strong power play and a more offensive game style from the Capitals.

February 13, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) lines up for a face-off against the San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

That brings us to their captain, Alex Ovechkin. Over the past few seasons, we have noticed a significant drop in the captain’s points, yet he still remains among the league leaders. In the 2011-12 season, we saw Ovechkin net 38 goals, which put him at 5th in the NHL. This year has been off to a good start for the beleaguered captain of the Capitals. While playing for Dynamo Moscow in the KHL, Ovechkin has scored 19 goals, and registered 21 assists bringing him to a total of 40 points so far. It will be important for the Lightning defense to shut him down early and make sure that his presence stays neutralized throughout the game.

The goalie situation in Washington seems to be quite an interesting story. There have been reports of a “controversy” between the two Washington net minders as of late. According to the Washington Post, there was even a story reported by a Czech website that quoted Neuvirth going as far as to say that Holtby was his “weakest competition”. Neuvirth has since apologized for the comment, and says that their relationship is “just fine.” Neuvirth’s fellow net minder Braden Holtby had this to say regarding the impending goalie showdown.

Once you start competing with teammates, it never goes well. You start adding different things into the equation when you just have to simplify as much as you can,” Holtby said. “The way the season is, we’re both gonna be called upon. They need both of us in order to put ourselves in position for the playoffs.” ~ Washington Post

Having two goalies entering their prime is going to be quite the challenge for the Capitals’ goaltending coach Dave Prior. According to the Washington Post, Coach Oates hinted that we may in fact see Holtby in net come Saturday when they come to town.

Now that we have covered the competition, it is time for the boys in blue.

As we all know, our boys have been far from lax during this “off-season” known as a lockout. There have been many informal practices at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum. Players have been doing their best to stay in shape with the hopes that a season would eventually come into fruition.

Feb 11, 2012; Buffalo, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the the First Niagara Center. Lightning beat the Sabres 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Then you have players like Victor Hedman who took his talents to Europe during the lockout, signing with the KHL’s HC Barys Astana. From the looks of it, this has much improved Hedman’s game. In 26 games, Hedman racked up 19 goals and 20 points. It was this type of play that also earned him a nomination to the KHL All-Star game, which is scheduled to be played this Sunday.

My offensive game, I think, got a real good boost playing almost two minutes every power-play,” Hedman said. “I played a lot of minutes, so that’s good for my offensive game. I think it’s a little bit more physical here and I need to get back like I was last year because I think I improved in that part of the game. Maybe it fell off a little bit over there because it’s big ice, and not as physical so I need to get back my mean streak and improve on my overall game. I think I have picked up my game to a higher level, so I’m just excited to step on the ice to prove it in the NHL too.” ~ Tampa Tribune

As you all know, we have had to do some rebuilding in the goalie department ourselves. After the departure of Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, our goalie situation remained unclear. Mathieu Garon, in his 48 appearances last season, was able to maintain a winning record of 23-16, and a save percentage of .901. I have no doubts that he will be able to fend off whatever may come at him in this accelerated season. We have also seen the addition of former Nashville Predators goalie Anders Lindback. During his time with the Predators last season, he was able to maintain a save percentage of .912. With two solid goalies between the pipes, I think we can look forward to an exciting season.

Nov 30, 2011; Detroit, MI, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates a goal by right wing Martin St Louis (26) goal against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period at the Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

 

As you can see defensively, these teams are pretty evenly matched. However, with scoring power like Stamkos and St. Louis, and the overall dependability of our first line, we should have no problem overcoming the Capitals this weekend.

 

As long as we can keep Ovechkin neutralized, pressure on the net, and the thunder in the crowd, all will be well in Hockey Paradise on Saturday night. I look forward to seeing all of you there.

Tags: Home Opener Tampa Bay Lightning

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