Why the Capitals will fall to Tampa 

January, 4, 2011

I closed out 2010 with a solid week, correctly picking six of nine last Tuesday. I have to admit, I'd take that just about every week. It's hard to find much difference between the teams on most nights.

I'm hoping I can bring my good prognosticating fortune into the New Year. We'll see. After all, this isn't exactly a science. With five games on tonight's slate, here are the Hradek selections for the first Tuesday of 2011.

Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals

Here's a fight for the top spot in the Southeast Division. And, for the second time this season, the Lightning will play back-to-back games on the road against the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. I'm sure GM Steve Yzerman could do without that kind of scheduling. On Nov. 11 and Nov. 12, those Eastern Conference powers took turns beating the Bolts. The Caps scored a 6-3 win on Nov. 11. The Lightning didn't fare any better when they returned to D.C. on Nov 26 (the Caps lit up the Lightning 6-0). Tonight, newly acquired G Dwayne Roloson, 41, is expected to make his Tampa Bay debut. Perhaps he can be a difference-maker; incumbent goalies Dan Ellis and Mike Smith haven't been very good. The Bolts are giving up more than three goals per game (3.08, fifth-most in the league) despite allowing the fewest shots on goal per game (27.5).

On the flip side, the Capitals return to action after a wet 3-1 outdoor win over the Penguins in the Winter Classic at Heinz Field. The victory ran the Caps' record to 5-0-1 in their past six games. I suspect Caps coach Bruce Boudreau will employ his talented young D pair of John Carlson and Karl Alzner to slow down Lightning stars Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. They did a good job against Sidney Crosby on Saturday evening. Tonight, I think Washington might have to deal with some "Classic" hangover. Human nature tells me the Bolts could be in a more focused frame of mind for this one. I'll take Tampa.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.