Hockey Night in Hockey Bay
TAMPA BAY — I’m high atop the St. Pete Times Forum more than an hour before the Caps are set to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning here. The weather here is muggy and balmy, but we’ll be flying into sub-freezing Detroit as soon as this game is over.
It will be interesting to see how the Caps respond here tonight. I thought last night’s was the most frustrating and disappointing in a series of frustrating and disappointing losses this season. Maxim Afinogenov’s goal late in the second seemed to turn the tide in favor of the Sabres, but had Washington cashed in on a couple of glorious chances earlier, it wouldn’t have made such a difference. All four of Buffalo’s goals (prior to the empty-netter) could have been avoided, and Buffalo looked as beatable as I’ve seen them against the Caps in recent memory.
Now, the Caps come into a hornet’s nest. The Lightning is smarting from a 9-6 home ice spanking at the hands of the Calgary Flames here on Thursday night, and they’re bound to come out flying here this evening. Tampa Bay is one of the best three teams on home ice this season, and Detroit — the Caps’ next stop on this short trip — is the best home ice team in the league.
Instead of bringing a four-game winning streak on the road and feeling pretty good about themselves, the Caps will need to play extremely well to avoid a three-game losing streak that would wipe out the three home ice wins last week. And, a win last night would have pulled the Caps within seven points of the struggling Carolina Hurricanes atop the Southeast Division standings.
This one tonight is big, needless to say.
Some lineup tweaks, and Brent Johnson will be in goal for the Capitals. Matt Pettinger returns to the left side of a line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Michael Nylander will center Tomas Fleischmann (who is back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch last night) and Alexander Semin. The checking unit of Dave Steckel between Quintin Laing and Matt Bradley will remain intact. And Viktor Kozlov will center Donald Brashear and Brooks Laich. The defense pairs will be the same as they were last night against Buffalo.