Caps Hope to Recharge Against Bolts
Nov. 28 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum
Time: 7:30 pm
Radio: WTNT 570 AMWashington Capitals (8-9-6)Tampa Bay Lightning (13-10-1)
Washington heads to Florida on Tuesday for the first of its four visits to Tampa Bay this season. The Caps are without a win in their last six games (0-4-2), the team?s longest drought since last March when it went 0-5-2 from Mar. 10-22.
The Capitals came out of that dry spell in fine fashion, going 7-3-3 in their next 13 games (10 of which were on the road) to close out the 2005-06 campaign. Four of the seven wins came against playoff bound teams, and two were against eventual Cup winner Carolina.
The Caps are without a point in their last three games, the first time they?ve gone three games without a point since Mar. 12-16. Washington?s only four-game stretch without a point came from Feb. 4-11, as the team went into its Olympic break.
After dropping home games to Atlanta and Toronto on Wednesday and Friday, respectively, Washington suffered a 4-1 setback to the Islanders in New York on Saturday. The Caps have been outscored 24-9 during their last six games, and they have not managed an even strength goal in their last 154:57.
The stretch of schedule ahead is particularly rugged, but that?s not what concerns Caps coach Glen Hanlon.
?I?m not so concerned about who we play,? he says. ?I?m more concerned about finding some scoring and getting our special teams back to where they are respectable again. We haven?t scored an even strength goal now in three games, and [Alex Ovechkin] is the only one who is scoring. We have to get some scoring.
The Caps have had exactly one power play goal in each of their last seven games, but have clicked on just 17.5% of their manpower advantage opportunities during that time. That?s just a shade above the team?s season average in that department. The penalty killing has also been problematic (28 for 37, 75.6%) during the current losing streak.
While the Caps can take some heart in the fact that they came out of a similar rut last season against some good teams, they also acknowledge that this season and this team are different.
?The mental makeup of our team is different from last year,? says goaltender Olie Kolzig. ?Last year we were a pretty fragile team, I think. Not a lot was expected of us. This year, I think we realize we?re an up and coming team and we?re going to go through bumps in the road like this. Every team does, other than maybe Buffalo and Anaheim.?
?This stretch keeps me up at night more than the other one did,? says Hanlon, ?because there is more emphasis on winning [now]. They?re trying to find ways to win every single night. Last year, winning was a by-product of hard work. We want to win any way we can here; if it?s Olie or [Brent Johnson] making 40 saves or if it?s our special teams scoring two goals, even if we?re not as diligent at other details, we?ll take it. We?re looking for wins here.?
The Caps believe they played well enough to win in Saturday?s loss to the Islanders. They don?t allow themselves to look ahead at Buffalo and Anaheim ? the league?s top two teams ? looming on their upcoming schedule.
?You worry about Tampa Bay [Tuesday] night and then after that game you deal with the next opponent,? declares Kolzig. ?I think that?s what we did last year. If we worried about who we were playing in segments, then you?re playing mind games with yourself. You?re putting way too much pressure on yourself to win the game at hand because you?re thinking, ?If we don?t win this game, there is no way we?re going to win the next game because look who we?re playing.? We have to worry about the matter at hand and that?s Tampa Bay [on Tuesday] night.?
Two weeks ago, the Caps were on a high, having won two straight to push their record to a season-best 8-5-4. They believe they can turn it around as quickly.
?It can turn around in an instant,? says Caps captain Chris Clark. ?It can turn around in a shift. That could be the difference in that game and it can get us on a roll. And three weeks from now, everybody will forget about what?s going on now.?
Washington now stands 18th in the NHL in power play prowess with a 16.1% success rate. The Capitals are 24th in the NHL in penalty killing with a kill rate of 80.9%.
The Lightning comes into Tuesday?s game with a three-game winning streak, its third such streak of the season. Tampa Bay is 7-6 on home ice in 2006-07. The Bolts are in third place in the Southeast Division, five points behind front-running Atlanta and five points ahead of fourth-place Washington.
Tampa Bay spent a lot of money to keep the core of its 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship team together last year, but it did not have enough money left to keep netminder Nikolai Khabibulin. The Lightning went with a tandem of Sean Burke and John Grahame last season, and the results were significantly less than what the team expected.
Over the summer, the Lightning dealt sharp-shooting winger Freddie Modin to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for goaltender Marc Denis. The Lightning expected Denis to be the team?s No. 1 netminder, and it inked veteran Swedish goaltender Johan Holmqvist to duel with Burke for the backup role. Holmqvist won the job, and Burke was sent to AHL Springfield.
The 28-year-old Holmqvist is on a roll right now, and he has wrested the top job from Denis. Drafted by the Rangers in 1997, Holmqvist played in four NHL contests over parts of three seasons with the Blueshirts. Denis has been mediocre, posting a 5-7 record with a 3.29 goals against average and an .878 save pct. Denis?s dismal performance opened the door for Holmqvist, and he has been a revelation. Holmqvist has won eight of his last nine starts, posting a 2.41 goals against average and a .914 save pct. in the process.
Denis?s last win was more than a month ago, on Oct. 26. The Lightning is riding Holmqvist?s hot hand and has won seven of its last 10 games.
Going into Monday?s light slate of NHL activity, the Lightning ranked 12th in the league with a 17.6% power play success rate. Tampa Bay is 4-for-14 (28.6%) with the extra man during the course of its current three-game winning streak. The Bolts are dead last in the league in penalty killing. They?ve killed off only 73.8% of their shorthanded situations this season. Tampa Bay has gone shorthanded a total of only four times in its last two games, and has killed off all four.