WASHINGTON, D.C. — After two major losses last week that saw them outscored 11-2, the Washington Capitals took matters into their own hands. The players took part in closed-door players-only meetings, where they took a long look at their current play and what they need to do to get back on track with a playoff spot still not fully guaranteed and the postseason looming.
T.J. Oshie found a lot of positivity in those closed-door meetings, which will be put to the test as the Capitals host the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
“We’ve talked about our identity and how we have to play… we’re not playing our brand of hockey. We’re not playing to our identity. I don’t think any amount of coaching would get you out of that,” Oshie said. “That comes down to the guys on the ice the players playing a certain way being prepared a certain way. So we’ve been talking as a group as players and just getting some thoughts out there on what things need to change. So I think we got a pretty good handle on it.”
Washington held an optional morning skate on Wednesday prior to their 7:30 p.m. ET showdown against the Bolts, who have won five of their last six games and are on a six-game point streak. The Capitals, meanwhile, will be looking to avoid a third-straight loss and try to gain more traction in the Wild Card race, as they sit just 11 points in front of the New York Islanders.
Head coach Peter Laviolette is changing things up between the pipes as he looks for one of his young netminders to take full control of the crease before the playoffs.
READ MORE ON WHN: A Closer Look At The Capitals’ Players-Only Meetings
Vitek Vanecek had appeared to win the No. 1 job back in March, leading general manager Brian MacLellan to stand pat given his stellar play between the pipes. However, his play has taken a bit of a nosedive. He has a .862 save percentage and 4.45 GAA in his last four games and has allowed at least three goals in each game to boot. His SV% has also been under .800 over the last two starts.
Laviolette will go with Ilya Samsonov against Tampa, giving the 25-year-old a major opportunity to try and reclaim the crease. Samsonov last played on March 28, when he came in relief for Vitek Vanecek in a 6-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The 25-year-old netminder last started on March 25 against Buffalo, stopping 20 of 23 shots (.870 save percentage) en route to a 4-3 shootout victory. Through 36 games this season, Samsonov is 19-9-4 with a .899 SV% and 2.95 GAA.
Washington didn’t run rushes at its optional morning skate, but the team did see new combinations back on Tuesday. Here are what the lines looked like:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Conor Sheary
Anthony Mantha-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson
Marcus Johansson-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Johan Larsson-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway
Martin Fehervary-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Justin Schultz
Connor McMichael and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby were rotating in as the extra forwards. Matt Irwin and Michal Kempny were the extra defensemen.
When it comes to players to watch, keep an eye on Alex Ovechkin. The 36-year-old is one point away from 1,400 career NHL points and passed Jari Kurri for the 21st-most points in NHL history with an assist on Sunday. He also has points in three of his last four games. Also look out for Garnet Hathaway, who tied his single-season career-high in goals (11) back on Sunday.
As for the Lightning, watch for Steven Stamkos, who is on a seven-game point streak and has 12 points over that span, including goals in three of his last four games. Brayden Point also has points in six of his last seven games.