It took three seven-game series, but the Washington Capitals finally found out that their second round opponent would be the Tampa Bay Lightning. Led by Hart finalist Martin St. Louis and sharpshooter Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay erased a 3-1 series deficit against Pittsburgh and is sure to bring more offensive juice than Washington’s first-round opponent, the New York Rangers. So how do the Caps dispatch their Southeastern rival and move on to the conference finals?
Not much separates Tampa Bay and Washington offensively at even strength. Each generated about 30 shots on goal per 60 minutes during the regular season and converted on 9 percent of those. The Caps showed more on the defensive side of the puck, keeping opponents to almost half a goal fewer than Tampa did.
|Goals for per 60 min||2.6||2.4|
|Shots for per 60 min||31.5||29.8|
|Goals against per 60 min||2.5||2.1|
|Shots Against per 60 min||27.3||28.2|
Tampa Bay is more than just Martin St. Louis (99 points) and Steven Stamkos (91) though. Four other Lightning regulars (Lecavalier, Gagne, Purcell, and Downie) made their presence felt in the first round against Pittsburgh. The Caps will need Marco Sturm, Eric Fehr, and primary scorer Nicklas Backstrom to turn it up in round two to keep pace.
Offense should also come from the defense. Mike Green has the only goal among Washington’s blueliners in the playoffs so far, but the Lightning netminders have given up more than their fair share of even-strength goals against. This heat map shows where goals have been scored on Tampa’s netminders from all opponents during even strength, while the circles represent Washington goals scored against all opponents. I broke them out by forwards, defensemen and John Erskine, whose goals scored this year coincide with a soft spot in Tampa Bay’s defensive scheme.
Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, and Eric Fehr will have to create lots of traffic in front of the net, while John Carlson, Green, and especially Erskine put up shots on goal from beyond the top of the faceoff circles.
Of course, crashing the net will work as well.
The real test will come when the Lightning’s power play squares off against Washington’s penalty kill. Martin St. Louis has three power-play goals so far in the playoffs, almost equaling his entire regular-season total of four. Stamkos has only one after potting 17 during the regular season, so it is only a matter of time before he starts to get hot. Washington’s penalty kill allowed only one goal against while a man down in the first round, and it took the Rangers 20 power play opportunities to get it.
If the Caps’ penalty-killing corps can continue to clog up the lanes, it should be enough to keep the Lightning’s power play from scoring at will and help move Washington into the Eastern Conference finals.