The Washington Capitals finally get the 2013 NHL season started on Saturday night when they travel to Tampa Bay to take on the division rival Lightning. If Washington hopes to start the season on a high note, there a few keys to the game that must be followed.
This has become a heated rivalry after Tampa swept the Caps in the second round of the 2010-11 playoffs. Last season, the two teams tied in their regular-season series.
This will be the first of four regular-season matchups in 2013.
In a shortened season, it's important to get off to a fast start. For that to happen, the Capitals must pay attention to the following keys to come out victorious against their division foe.
1. Stop Steven Stamkos
Center Steven Stamkos has proven himself to be one of the top scorers in the game. Last season he finished second in the NHL with 97 points, including 60 goals and 37 assists. His goal total was the best in the league, 10 ahead of the next highest scorer, Evgeni Malkin.
In six games against Washington last year, he netted five goals and three assists, including a game-winner in their last meeting of the year.
Washington is going to have to be alert anytime No. 91 steps onto the ice. He is a proven scorer who can carry the team on his shoulders, and must be slowed in order for the Caps to have a shot in this one.
2. Take Advantage on the Power Play
This is an obvious one, but Washington could find great success against Tampa Bay on the power play. Last season, the Lightning ranked 26th in the league on the penalty kill, only staving off 79.2 percent of the power plays they faced.
That stat plays right into the strength of Washington. Over the past few years, the Capitals have been one of the top teams with the man advantage.
Last season, they fell off a bit, finishing in the middle of the pack with a 16.7 power-play success rate. Though recent struggles have crept up, this is still a dangerous team with an extra skater.
The likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green have all contributed to the power-play success of the Caps.
Nothing changes a game like a timely power-play opportunity. When that chance is given against Tampa Bay, Washington will need to make the most of it in order to be successful.
3. Braden Holtby Must Start Strong
A solid team starts with a solid goaltender. Braden Holtby, who emerged at the end of last season as the Capitals' main goalie, needs to have a good start to 2013. The Lightning present a tough test for the young netminder, as they were one of the top scoring teams in the league last season, averaging 2.83 goals a game.
In 21 career regular-season games (18 starts), Holtby has put up an impressive 14-4 record with an equally impressive 2.02 goals against average. But it was in last year's playoffs where he really made a name for himself.
In 14 postseason games, Holtby went 7-7 and posted a ridiculous 1.95 GAA.
He will definitely need to be a key contributor in 2013 if Washington hopes to make a long postseason run.
Holtby can prove he's the guy by stepping up against the Lightning and getting the Caps a victory in the season opener.