Preview: Lightning look to tighten up on defense as they visit Capitals

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WASHINGTON — The Tampa Bay Lightning travel to Washington on Tuesday night to face the Capitals in a matchup of division leaders.

That is because the Capitals (34-18-7) inched ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Metropolitan Division lead Monday with a 3-2 win in Buffalo.

Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 35th goal as Washington bounced back from a 7-1 drubbing Saturday in Chicago, a game in which Ovechkin didn’t register a shot on goal.

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“I think the last game I didn’t play my game,” Ovechkin told NHL.com. “I think it was the worst play of my career by myself. I take the blame on it. It was a good response, we got two points.”

It is Ovechkin’s 10th season with 35 of more goals, and he now has 25 at even strength, nine more than he scored all of last season.

John Carlson had a goal and an assist and Philipp Grubauer made 32 saves for the Capitals, who are 4-1-2 in their past seven games.

“We had a good meeting (Sunday),” forward T.J. Oshie told The Washington Post. “I think we touched on a bunch of stuff, as far as mentality, how we want to play the game. … It was just more about how we want to play the game and how determined we want to play it.”

Off the ice Monday, the Capitals made a trade to aid their blue line, sending a 2018 third-round draft pick to Chicago for defenseman Michal Kempny, who could make his debut Tuesday night. The 27-year-old Kempny had one goal and six assists in 31 games with the Blackhawks this season.

Atlantic-Division leading Tampa Bay (39-17-3) is struggling a bit. The Lightning have lost three of four and their lead over surging Boston is down to one point.

On Saturday, Tampa Bay (39-17-3) fired 51 shots at New Jersey goaltender Eddie Lack but dropped a 4-3 decision. Chris Kunitz, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos scored for the Lightning and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 24 saves.

While generating so many shots on goal, the Lightning allowed the Devils too many good scoring chances.

“If we’re not going to pay attention to our own net, give up odd-man rushes, it’s tough for (Vasilevskiy) to bail us out every night,” Stamkos told NHL.com. “There were a lot of positives, but they scored on the chances that we gave them for the most part tonight.”

The problem is not new and the Lightning have been spending extra time on defense in their recent practices.

“You’ve got to defend,” Lightning coach John Cooper told the Tampa Bay Times. “That’s it. You’ve got to defend.

“So often our goalie holds us in and masks some of the issues in the D zone we have. That’s the tough part, because they know (that). But we just have some guys in there that want to push for the next goal, push for the next goal, and oftentimes we just have to be a little bit more patient knowing with our group another (goal) will come at some point, but we just got to take care of our defending.”

Tampa Bay won the teams’ first meeting 4-3 in overtime on Oct. 9 as Brayden Point scored the winner after the Lightning rallied from a 3-1 deficit. T.J. Oshie scored twice for visiting Washington.

On Nov. 24 in Washington, the Capitals won 3-1 behind 25 saves from Grubauer.

Likely Washington starter Braden Holtby is 9-2-2 with a 2.65 goals-against average (GAA) and a .934 save percentage versus Tampa Bay. Ovechkin has torched the Lightning for 42 goals and 42 assists in 65 games.

Vasilevskiy is 1-4 with a 3.58 GAA and .892 save percentage against the Capitals.