Capitals-Lightning Preview

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No team has been better offensively than the Tampa Bay Lightning. It's team defense, however, that may be most responsible for their lofty perch in the Eastern Conference. The Atlantic Division-leading Lightning look to avoid dropping consecutive home games for the first time Tuesday night when they face the Washington Capitals. Because Tampa Bay (18-7-3) averages a league-best 3.46 goals and features 11 players in double-digit scoring, its defense can easily be overlooked. The Lightning, though, rank in the top 10 with a 2.46 goals-against average and are limiting opponents to 27.0 shots per game, the third-best mark in the NHL. "As we get better as a defensive unit, we've watched our goals against drop consistently now for the last three or four weeks because we're playing better defense," coach Jon Cooper told the team's official website. Cooper's team had another solid defensive effort in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Columbus. Tampa Bay limited the Blue Jackets to 20 shots after giving up a combined 35 in a 2-1 shootout loss at Buffalo last Tuesday and a 5-0 victory over the Sabres on Thursday in the completion of the home-and-home set. Saturday's defeat ended a five-game home win streak for the Lightning, who dropped to 11-3-1 at Amalie Arena. They have yet to allow more than three goals in any home game, giving up 30 total. Tampa Bay has lost two straight in regulation just once this season. "We like to say good teams don't lose two in a row," said forward Tyler Johnson, who had a five-game point streak snapped. "So, we really try to emphasize that, try to get motivated to not let that happen." Perhaps the biggest reason behind Tampa's success is Ben Bishop, who ranks second in the NHL in wins (16) and in the top 10 in GAA (2.24). Bishop, though, had lost his first three decisions against Washington with a 4.48 GAA before making 35 saves in a 4-3 home victory Nov. 1. That gave the Capitals (12-10-4) consecutive losses against the Lightning after five straight wins in the series. Washington should enter this matchup filled with confidence after opening a three-game trip with wins over Carolina and New Jersey. Jay Beagle and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 3:25 apart in the second period and Braden Holtby stopped 33 shots in a 4-1 victory over the Devils on Saturday. The Capitals have surrendered two goals in those two games after allowing 10 - both losses - in the previous two. "It's discovering the identity and finding how we're going to have continuous success. You saw it tonight,'' forward Brooks Laich said. ''It was a pretty disciplined, structured game. ''The compete level, the attention to detail, the work ethic has to be in the game every day for us to have success.'' No production from leading scorers Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom usually spells trouble for Washington, but the last two wins have come without any points from the potent duo. That marks the first time since Oct. 13-16, 2008, that the Capitals have won two straight without any points from them. Ovechkin has gone four games without registering a point, one shy of his longest drought of the season. Backstrom has 10 points in his last seven games against Tampa Bay. Holtby has done some of his best work on the road, going 7-3-2 with a 2.02 GAA compared to 3-4-2 with a 2.71 GAA at home.