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Washington Capitals Hotdish: Tampa Bay Lightning

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Offering up a tasty hotdish of things to think about ahead of today’s game with the Lightning

NHL: NOV 29 Lightning at Capitals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At this time of the season, a lot of folks who write about hockey will post “takeaways” from games played, things that happened or to be considered as a team goes from one result to the next game. Instead of a “take away,” we present a “bring to.” We are going serve up a hotdish on the upcoming game.

“Hotdish,” for those of you not familiar with the term, is a Midwestern thing, a casserole generally made up of three ingredients with a sauce to bind them together, often brought to social gatherings. So, we are going to offer a “hotdish” to the readers here with three items and something to bind them together to get you thinking and talking about the Caps’ game on Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

1. Play him or not? John Carlson took a tumble in the third period of the Caps’ 3-2 exhibition win over the Carolina Hurricanes last Wednesday, skated one more shift, and then retired for the remainder of the contest. Head Coach Todd Reirden commented after the game that “we will evaluate every day, and best hope is to have him back on Saturday.” In his absence, Radko Gudas would likely get some or all of the minutes left behind by Carlson, although the defensive pairings might be shaken up.

At first blush, Carlson’s absence would seem significant, despite the fact that Carlson did not record a point in three games and more than 75 minutes of ice time against the Lightning this season, and the Caps still won all three games. But here is the thing with the Lightning. When the Caps beat them for the third and final time this season, they lost their second consecutive game to complete a lackluster 5-6-2 record over a 13-game stretch. After that, Tampa Bay went on a 26-8-2 record to finish the regular season, the best record in the league and a run that included ten-game and 11-game winning streaks.

Of course, after the Lightning posted an 11th straight win on February 17th, they went 3-6-1 in their last ten games to complete the regular season. In that sense, the Lightning resemble the Caps, a team that set at times a blistering pace earlier in the season, but one that finished comparatively poorly (the Caps, to remind you, finished the regular season with a 8-9-3 record in their last 20 games).

Given all of this, would the Caps suffer too much by holding out Carlson as a precautionary measure, at least for Monday’s game against the Lightning?

2. Braden Good, or Braden Bad? Braden Holtby has been streaky, to say the least, in goal against the Lightning over the course of his career. He won both games he played this season against Tampa Bay, extending his winning streak against the Bolts to three games. But it was merely the latest in a series of streaks, good and bad, he has had against this team:

  • March 30, 2019 – December 21, 2019: 3-0-0, 2.30, .918
  • February 20, 2018 – March 20, 2019: 0-2-1, 4.40, .838
  • December 9, 2014 – March 18, 2017: 6-0-1, 1.99, .935, one shutout
  • March 7, 2011 – November 1, 2014: 3-2-1, 3.48, .891, one shutout
  • Overall: 12-4-3 (two no decisions), 2.86, .905, two shutouts

Even in the Stanley Cup run in 2018, when he faced the Lightning in the postseason for the only time in his career to date, he was streaky, stopping 52 of 56 shots (.929 save percentage) in two wins, then stopping only 54 of 64 shots (.844) in three losses, before stopping all 53 shots he faced in two shutouts to clinch the series. So, which Holtby shows up against the Lightning on Monday?

3. Ilya could kill ya, Tampa. Ilya Kovalchuk comes into Monday’s game against the Lightning with 442 career regular season goals. Of that total, 35 of them have been recorded against the Lightning. Only the Carolina Hurricanes have been victimized more frequently by Kovalchuk (37 goals). He has recorded at least 100 shots on goal against 13 teams in his career, and his 16.4 percent shooting efficiency against the Lightning is topped only by his 20.1 percent efficiency against the Ottawa Senators. Kovalchuk had only one goal on 18 shots (5.6 percent) in seven games with the Caps leading up to the pause, but he serves as something of a wild card here. Making it even more of an unknown is the fact that Kovalchuk has faced the Lightning only twice since March 2013, more than seven years ago, coming up empty both times as a Los Angeles King in the 2018-2019 season. Is there enough “memory” in his game to make things difficult for the Lightning?

The “sauce”… Where’s Alex? One could look at Alex Ovechkin failing to record a goal against Tampa Bay in either of the last two meetings this season and think, “hey, it happens.” Yes, it does, just not to Ovechkin. At least not often. The blank sheets a week apart in December were the first time he went consecutive games against the Lightning in the same season without scoring a goal since he was blanked on January 9th and April 13th of the 2013-2014 season (those were the first two of a three-game goalless streak that was extended the following November in the 2014-2015 season).

After that three-game goalless streak and before Ovechkin was blanked in the last two games this season against Tampa Bay, he had 13 goals in 15 games against the Bolts (and that included an instance of consecutive games without one). Ovechkin has nine goals in 11 career regular season games against Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy and another four in seven postseason games against Vasilevskiy.

Ovechkin looked as if he hadn’t missed a beat, let alone 140 days of hockey, when he potted a pair of goals against Carolina in the Caps’ 3-2 exhibition win on Wednesday. That game did not count, though. This one does. And he has made life very difficult for Tampa Bay in games that count. Caps fans might have asked “where’s Alex” in the last two games against the Lightning this season. For Tampa Bay, that question has an entirely different meaning for this game. They will need to know where Ovechkin is at all times.