Caps (23-12-5, 51 points) vs. Lightning (23-11-5, 51 points)

What » Game #41

Where » Verizon Center

When » 7 p.m.


Radio » WFED-1500 AM

First place is on the line tonight as the Caps host Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not sure we thought that would be happening on Jan. 4 – the exact midpoint of the long NHL regular season - but here we are.

Sidney Crosby was running away with the NHL scoring race. Then Stamkos caught fire again over the holidays. He didn’t have a point in a New Year’s Day win over the Rangers, but the previous five games had a combined five goals and four assists. The Caps could have all of their defensemen available for the first time since trading for Scott Hannan in late November. Tom Poti skated again and said he hopes to play tonight. Evidence points that way. Bruce Boudreau said Poti was “close” and John Erskine skated with the expected scratches. Tyler Sloan and D.J. King also did extra work after practice.        

“Stamkos might be the best skater in the entire league – besides Chimmer,” said Caps defenseman John Carlson, adding a compliment to speedy teammate Jason Chimera.

So they better be ready. Players insist there will be no letdown after the Winter Classic. There shouldn’t be with the top spot in the division on the line – even if it is only early January. Looks like Semyon Varlamov gets the start again in goal. Hard to argue with that after he’s won three games in a row, including a shutout last week against Montreal, and was named the NHL’s first star of the week.

Washington expects to see Dwayne Roloson in goal for Tampa Bay. The 41-year-old veteran was acquired by the Lightning over the weekend to secure their shaky goalie situation. In 13 games against the Caps during his career Roloson is 6-4 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. Boudreau not so fondly remembered Roloson bouncing his Lowell team from the AHL playoffs in 2001. At the time he was a 31-year-old playing for Worcesterand had 102 NHL games to his name spread over four seasons.  

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