Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, Lightning’s Steven Stamkos off to strong starts


The Washington Capitals will be looking for a better outcome than their first meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning when they clash again Monday in Florida.

In their first matchup in the nation’s capital, Tampa Bay won 2-1 in overtime when Steven Stamkos raced down one-on-one against defenseman John Carlson and zipped the game-winning goal past Washington goalie Vitek Vanecek with 15 seconds left in the five-minute session.

If Monday’s game resembles that Oct. 16 contest, it will have the appearance of a postseason meeting between heavyweights, with physical play and good netminding keeping scoring at a minimum.

Nearly three weeks into the new campaign, the Eastern Conference powers have leaned on their stars in the absence of major contributors. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Stamkos — both captains and playing north of 30 years of age — have had resurgent starts to their seasons.

Good thing for the Capitals and Lightning that their superstars are on top of their games early.

Washington has played without standout center Nicklas Backstrom from the start, but Ovechkin, 36, has picked up the slack — scoring goals in four straight games and a point in all eight.

The streak is his longest to start since his rookie season of 2005-06 — the campaign in which he claimed the Calder Trophy awarded to the league’s top first-year player.

Ovechkin has nine goals and six assists — his most recent tally an empty-netter Friday to wrap up the Capitals’ 2-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Washington coach Peter Laviolette has not been shocked by Ovechkin’s play.

“Everything was just a little bit off last year,” Laviolette said after Ovechkin pumped in the lone goal in the overtime setback two weeks ago against Tampa Bay. “Still had a good year last year, but you can see the jump, and this year it just looks like he’s moving better.”

Forward T.J. Oshie (foot) is week-to-week, and Daniel Sprong likely will draw back into the lineup in his place.

After a slow start, the Lightning have been buoyed by the rejuvenated play of Stamkos, who at 31 is showing the form that won him the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal-scorer — sharing the honor with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby in 2009-10 and winning it outright in 2011-12.

In the season’s first eight games, Stamkos has totaled 12 points (five goals, seven assists), helping to offset the production drop-off with right wing Nikita Kucherov out 8 to 10 weeks for an unspecified injury incurred against Washington.

Stamkos boosted Tampa Bay’s lagging power play Thursday in the club’s 5-1 rout of visiting Arizona by banking in a marker on the Lightning’s second power play.

Usually one of the league’s most dangerous power-play units, Tampa Bay had been undergoing a power outage over five-plus games — scoreless in 15 straight man advantages, including 11 consecutive in front of its blue-clad fans.

“We talked about getting momentum — whether we scored or not,” Stamkos told Bally Sports Sun after Thursday’s rout. “Just generate some chances, especially since we lost (Kucherov) on that power play.

“It was nice to get one. We were in a little rut there. It definitely gives you a little pop in your step when you can get one.”

–Field Level Media

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