One team remains out of 31: the Washington Capitals.
No, we’re not referring to the 2017-18 season. The Capitals are the only new opponent left for the Lightning this season. Tampa Bay has played everyone else at least once.
Washington is in town and Amalie Arena will host a rematch of the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday.
Here are four things to know about the team Tampa Bay hasn’t seen in 10 months.
Ovechkin is still Ovechkin
There’s a reason Alex Ovechkin is the leading active goal scorer by more than 100 goals, and it’s not just because he’s been in the league for 14 years.
Ovechkin is again atop the league with 46 goals and is on pace for his seventh 50-goal season.
The Capitals don’t have the scoring the Lightning does (no one over 80 points and 10 players with double-digit goals), but they have Ovi.
A rising star
Jakub Vrana doesn’t have that kind of name recognition, but he definitely has an impact for the Capitals.
The 23-year-old scored his 20th (and 21st) goal in Tuesday’s loss to Pittsburgh. Vrana has almost doubled his offensive production in his second full year. He has followed his 13 goals, 27 points in 73 games last season with 21 goals and 22 assists this year.
Washington Post beat writer Isabelle Khurshudyan referred to Vrana as arguably the team’s fastest skater and a good complement to Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, the Capitals’ shut-down line.
The Capitals had won seven games in a row before Tuesday’s loss to Pittsburgh.
In the course of that streak, Washington moved past the Islanders into first place in the Metropolitan Division.
On Thursday, the Capitals rebounded with a 5-2 win over Philadelphia. Brett Connolly scored two goals and made an assist in the game. Braden Holtby made 22 saves on 24 shots in the game.
With three games in two weeks, this regular-season series almost has a playoff series feel.
Tom Wilson said as much to Khurshudyan: “Just call it a playoff series, why not?”
Connolly called this a measuring stick game for the Capitals. The Lightning is taking the other route, at least publically.
“We don’t necessarily look at what opponent we’re playing,” Tyler Johnson said. “Right now, all that matters is how we’re playing, what our style is, what we’re accomplishing. I don’t think we really look forward to any opponent or anything like that. It’s all about us.”
Maybe that’s the difference between the public comments from a team that won the last matchup vs. the one downplaying the lasting significance.