(Sports Network) - A pair of Southeast Division rivals will begin their
lockout-shortened season on Saturday, as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the
Washington Capitals .
The Lightning and Capitals split six meetings in 2011-12 and only one of those
contests was decided by more than one goal. The teams each have five wins over
the last 10 encounters, but Washington has dropped three straight and five of
eight at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The Capitals continued a downward trend last season and look to new head coach
Adam Oates to turn things around. Washington has made the playoffs in each of
the past five seasons, but its 42 wins and 92 points recorded in 2011-12 were
the lowest in that span and ended the club's four-season reign as Southeast
Washington general manager George McPhee also shook things up with an
offseason trade, acquiring a skilled veteran from the Dallas Stars in Mike
Ribeiro, who is expected to center the second line. Ribeiro, who cost the Caps
forward Cody Eakin and a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, will be tasked
with providing offense from a line that doesn't contain superstar Alex
Ribeiro had 18 goals and 63 points for the Stars in 2011-12.
Oates' biggest task is finding a way to get Ovechkin back on track after the
club's shift in philosophy to a more defensive style wreaked havoc with his
numbers. The sniper's points total has gone down each season since his 112-
point campaign in 2007-08 and he had just an alarming 65 points a season ago.
Ovechkin did net 38 goals, six more than he did in 2010-11, but it is no
secret that the Capitals are more dangerous when he is netting closer to 50
The Caps enter this season with Braden Holtby as the No. 1 option in net after
he posted a 1.95 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in 14 playoff
games last spring. Holtby was a big reason Washington was able to oust Boston
in the first round before losing in seven games to the New York Rangers.
The Lightning, meanwhile, will try to gain some respect back this season after
missing the playoffs in 2011-12.
After dropping a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals to
end the 2010-11 season, the Lightning were considered a team on the
rise thanks to a 23-point improvement. However, the Bolts took a big step back
last season, going from 103 to 84 points and missing the playoffs for the
fourth time in five seasons. Injuries plagued Tampa Bay for a good chunk of
the season as forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone, defenseman Victor
Hedman and goaltender Mathieu Garon all missed time, while a knee injury
prevented blueliner Mattias Ohlund from suiting up all season.
With Garon having recently turned 35, the Lightning were in the
market for a goaltender of the future and general manager Steve Yzerman hopes
to have acquired just that after trading for Nashville Predators netminder
Anders Lindback. The 24-year-old Swede is a former seventh-round pick, but was
solid in the brief times he filled in for former Vezina Trophy nominee Pekka
Rinne. In 38 career games, including 28 starts, he has gone 16-13-2 with a
2.53 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and two shutouts.
Tampa Bay allowed a league-high 278 goals a season ago, so in addition to
trading for Lindback, the club signed defenseman Matt Carle and Sami Salo to
shore up its two top defensive pairings with Hedman and Eric Brewer.
The Lightning's best weapon is still sniper Steven Stamkos, who tries to build
off a season in which he scored 60 goals. He was only the second player since
the 2005-06 lockout to net 60 goals in a season, joining Ovechkin, who had 65
tallies back in 2007-08.
Tampa Bay had a terrific 25-14-2 mark at home last season, but its playoff
chances were undone by a dismal 13-22-6 record on the road. Washington was
just 16-21-4 as the guest in 2011-12.
The Sports Network