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Last 10: Tampa Bay (3-5-2); Washington (6-2-2)
Season Series: Tonight marks the first of six matches between the Southeast Division rivals. Washington will make two more visits to Tampa Bay on Jan. 12 and Mar. 20, while the Lightning will travel to the Verizon Center on Jan. 31, Mar. 4 and Mar. 12. Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier leads all scorers from both teams with 55 career points against the opposition.
The Big Story: The Bolts are coming off a 4-0 shutout victory over the Islanders this past weekend, which avoided a five-game losing streak. The Lightning look to use the momentum to continue the winning trend before the club hits the road on Friday for Colorado. For Washington, Alex Ovechkin returns tonight for his first game back coming off a two-game suspension.
LIGHTNING – Tonight is the second of three home games before the team departs for Colorado on Friday to begin a six-game road trip that concludes Dec. 21 on Long Island. Tampa Bay’s special teams were just that in the Bolts’ last game against the Islanders. The Lightning converted two of three power play opportunities and killed off all six penalties against them, including an 81-second 5-on-3 chance in the first period. The Lightning defensemen stepped up big as well, with Andrej Meszaros tallying two assists, and Victor Hedman recording his first career NHL goal. Yesterday, the team reassigned center Blair Jones to Norfolk after he was brought up prior to last Friday’s game at New Jersey.
CAPITALS – Washington didn’t miss Alex Ovechkin during his two-game suspension, entering tonight on a five-game win streak. In his absence, the Capitals scored 14 goals without their offensive star while Mike Green assumed the scoring duties, recording four points in Saturday’s 8-2 win in Philadelphia. The performance moved him onto the top of the scoring list among NHL defensemen. Washington is the top scoring team in the NHL, but could run into trouble no matter which Lightning goaltender starts in net tonight. Mike Smith earned a shutout in his last start, stopping 30 shots on 30 against, and Antero Niittymaki is undefeated in his career against Southeast Division opponents.
- Steve Downie and Jeff Halpern enter tonight with points in three consecutive games, including a total of five each in their last seven.
- Ryan Malone has three points in as many games and Vincent Lecavalier has totaled three as well in his last two contests.
- Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom has 10 points in his last four games, while Alexander Semin has tallied six in his last two.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Paul Szczechura (upper body, day-to-day). CAPITALS – Boyd Gordon (back, out two-three weeks), Mike Knuble (finger, out one week), Shaone Morrisonn (upper body, day-to-day) and Quintin Laing (broken jaw, out two-three weeks).
Quotable: “It’s very rewarding. Personally I’ve been working really hard and it seems like I haven’t gotten rewarded for it. More importantly, it’s a big win for our team. It’s important to stay close to the pack this time of year and not separate yourself too far.” – Lightning goaltender Mike Smith after his first shutout of the season, a 4-0 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday.
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