3 Keys: Capitals vs. Lightning, round-robin Cup Qualifiers

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Capitals vs. Lightning

4 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS, SUN, NBCSWA

 

John Carlson is a game-time decision for the Washington Capitals in their first game of the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, on Monday.

Carlson, a finalist for Norris Trophy, awarded to the player voted the best defenseman in the NHL, practiced the past two days after leaving in the third period of a 3-2 exhibition win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday.

As part of the NHL Return to Play Plan, a team is not permitted to disclose player injury or illness information.

Lightning forward Steven Stamkos did not practice Sunday and is unlikely to play; he has been recovering from a lower-body injury he aggravated before training camp. He was a full participant in practice Monday and Friday. Defenseman Victor Hedman is expected to play after joining Tampa Bay in Toronto on Friday. Also a finalist for the Norris Trophy, Hedman remained in Tampa to tend to a personal matter and was working out on his own until he could travel.

The Capitals won all three games against the Lightning during the regular season, but they haven’t played each other since Washington’s 3-1 home victory on Dec. 21.

The round-robin, which includes the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, will set the top four seeds in the East for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Here are 3 keys for the Capitals-Lightning round-robin game:

 

1. Palat on the top line

Without Stamkos, Ondrej Palat (three assists) joined Brayden Point (two goals, two assists) and Nikita Kucherov (two goals, one assist) on Tampa Bay’s top line, and they combined for 10 points in a 5-0 exhibition win against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday. Point and Kucherov have played together all season, and Palat said playing a simple game made it easy for him to fit in.

“I’m trying to go in the corners and win battles for them and get them the puck,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to do. … It’s easy to play with those guys.”

 

2. Holtby must step up

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby struggled this season, finishing with a 3.11 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage in 48 games (47 starts), each the worst of his 10 NHL seasons. But with rookie goalie Ilya Samsonov out for the season because of an injury, the Capitals will have to rely on Holtby. He is a proven playoff performer; his 2.09 GAA in the postseason is the best among active goalies with at least 30 games played, and his .928 save percentage is third, behind Craig Anderson (.929, Ottawa Senators) and Ben Bishop (.929, Dallas Stars). Holtby was 2-0-0 with a .935 save percentage against the Lightning during the regular season.

 

3. Gudas could fill in for Carlson

Carlson led NHL defensemen with 75 points (15 goals, 60 assists) in 69 games and has led Capitals defensemen in average ice time per game for four straight seasons, including 24:38 this season. Among Washington’s extra defenseman on the postseason roster, the only one with postseason experience is Radko Gudas, a right-handed shot like Carlson. Gudas clearly can’t match Carlson’s offensive game, but he could make the Capitals harder to play against. Gudas was plus-15 in 63 games this season.

 

Capitals projected lineup

Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson

Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie

Carl HagelinLars EllerIlya Kovalchuk

Richard PanikNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny — John Carlson

Brenden DillonDmitry Orlov

Jonas SiegenthalerNick Jensen

Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek

Scratched: Travis Boyd, Philippe Maillet, Beck Malenstyn, Connor McMichael, Brian Pinho, Daniel Sprong, Alexander Alexeyev, Martin Fehervary, Radko Gudas, Tyler Lewington, Pheonix Copley

Unfit to play: None

 

Lightning projected lineup

Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Nikita Kucherov

Alex KillornAnthony CirelliTyler Johnson

Barclay GoodrowYanni GourdeBlake Coleman

Pat MaroonMitchell StephensCedric Paquette

Victor Hedman — Zach Bogosian

Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak

Mikhail SergachevKevin Shattenkirk

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Mathieu Joseph, Steven Stamkos, Carter Verhaeghe, Alexander Volkov, Braydon Coburn, Jan Rutta, Luke Schenn, Scott Wedgewood

Unfit to play: None

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