Tampa Bay Lightning face tough challenge in Washington Capitals

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning has a tough challenge in front of them as they prepare to do battle with the No. 1 team in the National Hockey League, the Washington Capitals.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had gotten off to a bit of a rough start this season, falling well below the expectations set before them following their record-setting performance last season. Judging by the way the team has played over the last couple of games, it would seem the team is finally finding their footing.

This revelation couldn’t possibly come at a better time. The Lightning put on a stellar performance on Thursday night as they defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa. Now, the Lightning has a much greater challenge in front of them.

In just a few hours, the Tampa Bay Lightning will make their way into the Capital One Arena in the Nation’s capital to battle with captain Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. Right now, the Capitals are the top team in both the Eastern Conference and the National Hockey League.

As one can easily imagine, the captain is leading the way for his team. Ovechkin has a whopping 21 goals and 12 assists for a total of 33 points in as many games. These numbers are enough to put the “Great 8” in third place in the league in goals, topped only by Bruins forward David Pastrnak and Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel.

Much like the Lightning, the Capitals will have a bit of momentum in their favor heading into tonight’s Saturday night showdown. Just one night before the Lightning delivered their victory to the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals did the same, defeating the Bruins 3-2.

Tonight’s battled will be the second time these two teams will meet during the regular season. It will also be the last time these two teams will meet in regulation. The last showdown between these two teams was on November 29 where the Capitals defeated the Lightning 4-3 in overtime.

As usual, there are a couple of things that will be absolutely critical if the Lightning wants to extend their win streak and bring home a huge victory over the Capitals in their home.

Be Aggressive with the Puck

The one consistent thing between the Lightning’s last two games has been their aggressive playstyle. The Bolts have been spending a lot more time in the offensive zone and doing a significantly better job of controlling the puck and keeping it out of the hands of their opponents.

There’s an old saying that goes, “The Best Defense is a Good Offense.” Undeniably, there is a lot of truth to that statement. If the team keeps the puck off the stick of their opponents, there is essentially no chance their opponents can score and, therefore, win the game.

The Lightning will need to continue this play and mercilessly bombard the Capitals with shots. You can have the most skilled goaltender in the entire league, but if peppered with quality shots and persistent rebound attempts, even the best netminder is bound to break eventually.

One of the driving forces for the Lightning over the last few games has been captain Steven Stamkos. Stamkos has picked up at least one goal in each of his last four games. The captain picked up two goals on Thursday night against the Bruins, the second of which turned out to be the game-winner.

Steven Stamkos currently leads the team in goals with 13 goals and 16 assists for a total of 29 points. The only player on the team to best the captain in points is Nikita Kucherov, who has registered 10 goals and 23 assists for a total of 33 points in 29 games.

Stay Out of the Penalty Box

The Tampa Bay Lightning is no stranger to spending time in the sin bin. There are some nights fans feel as if the team could sneeze and get a penalty. Keeping this in mind, it’ll be imperative the Lightning is mindful of their surroundings and does whatever it takes to stay out of the box.

The Lightning Penalty Kill did a great job of keeping the Boston Bruins at bay on Thursday night. The Bruins went zero for two on the Power Play in their second meeting with the Lightning this season.

The Washington Capitals are in fifth place in the league right now in terms of the Power Play with a PP% of 24. This is a stark contrast to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are currently in 18th place in the league on the Penalty Kill with a PK% of 79.8. Needless to say, these numbers give the Capitals a bit of an advantage in this arena.

Play Solid Defense

There is no denying the Lightning has struggled defensively this season. A series of ill-timed defensive miscues have sunk the Bolts more times than any Lightning fan would like to admit this season.

In the past, Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy has been at the top of his game and has been able to shield the team from the consequences of their lackluster defensive efforts. Regrettably, Vasilevskiy has not exactly been himself this season and when put into a precarious position by the team, has not been as strong as some fans have hoped.

If the Tampa Bay Lightning is going to bring home a victory over the league-leading Washington Capitals, the Lightning is going to need to give their goaltender the defensive support he deserves and do a better job of keeping the puck away from the net and knocking their opponents off the puck.

The Tampa Bay Lightning has more than enough talent to get the job done against a team like the Washington Capitals. All the Bolts need to do is remain focused, stick to their system, and continually keep the pressure on their opponents for a whole 60 minutes of hockey.

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If the Lightning continues to play the way they have over the course of the last two games, the Bolts have a solid chance of bringing home another two points and extending their win streak with a victory over the Capitals. Here’s hoping the Lightning keeps momentum on their side tonight in Washington.