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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning, already tested plenty on defense while allowing eight goals in splitting two games with the Florida Panthers, have a much bigger challenge ahead Monday night at Amalie Arena.
The Washington Capitals (2-0-0) come to town, led by star Alex Ovechkin, who has scored seven goals in the team’s first two games. Ovechkin registered hat tricks against the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators.
No other player in the league notched more than four goals in the first week of the season, and Ovechkin has scored more goals than 21 NHL teams.
“Ultimately, in this league, if you want to be a playoff team, you can’t be giving up four goals a night, and that’s what we’re doing right now,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after Tampa Bay’s loss to the Panthers on Saturday.
“If it wasn’t for the heroic play of our goaltending, it could have been worse. Learn from this, and if players want to continue to play the way they want to play, it’s going to be tough for us.”
The Lightning (1-1-0) are carrying eight defensemen to open the season, which means two are inactive each night as they figure out the best combinations. Andrej Sustr and Jake Dotchin are both minus-2 after two games, Anton Stralman, who is plus-3, ranks second behind All-Star Victor Hedman in ice time.
Tampa Bay scored eight goals in its first two games, getting two goals each from Brayden Point, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. Star Steven Stamkos is still seeking his first goal of the season, though he has three assists.
“They definitely would be the favorite for me in the other division,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Sunday of the Lightning. “They had a horrible season in terms of injuries and never could pile up a long winning streak until really the end, and it was a little too late.
“I think they’re a hell of a hockey team. They’ve got skill on all their lines, an all-world defenseman on the back end. They have good goaltending, they have speed, they have skill, a lot of good elements.”
In addition to the offense Washington is receiving from Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov has seven assists and is at plus-6 in a promising start.
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby has a 2.40 goals-against average and is averaging 33 saves per game.
Perhaps the Lightning can catch the Capitals looking ahead to their Wednesday game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a rematch of last year’s seven-game, second-round series that ended Washington’s season.
“A quality opponent brings the best out of you,” Trotz said. “I think playing those top teams, it definitely helps your game, no question.”
Cooper said the Lightning were fortunate to get two points out of their split with the Panthers. According to the coach, Tampa Bay must play better, especially on the defensive end, to live up to its expectations.
“We know our recipe for success,” he said. “It works for us in spurts. We just have to do it consistently, and we just didn’t do that (Saturday).”