It has been a week since the Washington Capitals played a meaningful game. Now that the annual All-Star Break is over, the Caps return to the ice to begin what should be a meaningful three-game road trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Last Tuesday, the shorthanded Caps, missing Alex Ovechkin (suspension), Nicklas Backstrom (head injury) and Mike Green (abdominal surgery) for the first time since all three entered the NHL, defeated the Boston Bruins 5-3 behind Mathieu Perreault's first career hat trick. The win put the Caps on top of the Southeast Division due to tiebreakers with the Florida Panthers, who are tied with the Caps at 55 points. Washington will once again be without the aforementioned players until at least Saturday, when Ovechkin is eligible to return from his three-game suspension.
Meanwhile, the Lightning entered the break on a streak of their own, winning four straight games to pull themselves within nine points of both the Caps and Panthers. After coming within one game of the Stanley Cup Final last season, the 21-23-4 Lightning have failed to live up to expectations and being decimated by injuries does not help matters. Yet, Tampa Bay might be healthier Tuesday after Victor Hedman (concussion), Ryan Shannon (knee) and Tom Pyatt (lower body) practiced without no-contact jerseys.
The Caps are 2-0 against the Lightning this season, but have yet to visit Tampa Bay Times Forum since losing Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals there last season. Tampa Bay swept Washington out of the postseason with those two victories.