Big D comes to D.C. to try and take a W out of VC. That’s right, Caps fans…the Dallas Stars come to town for their only visit of the 2011-2012 season to Verizon Center, looking keep the Caps from leap-frogging them to the top spot in the league’s winning percentage rankings. The Stars are currently on top with a .769 points percentage to the Caps’ .750. Here is how the teams stack up so far in the young season…
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Even though the Stars come to town on a three-game winning streak, they might be ripe for the taking. In their first nine games they allowed more than two goals only once. But in their last four they have allowed three or more twice, including a 5-3 loss to Los Angeles and a 7-6 overtime win over Colorado. It’s a team that has shown some cracks in that sturdy defensive façade, and as we’ve seen with the Caps from time to time, the signal of a winning streak coming to an end usually comes a few games before that streak ends.
1. Loui Eriksson was named the league’s second star for last week, and he is hardly a fluke. The 26-year old winger has improved his point totals in each of his five previous seasons, setting a personal best of 73 points last season. He is on a 50-goal, 94-point pace at the moment and is riding a four game points streak (3-5-8). He is 1-2-3, even, in four career games against the Caps.
2. Beware on the power play. The Stars are tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals (three). One of those shorthanded goals comes from a familiar face…at least a face familiar to Hershey Bear fans. Defenseman Sheldon Souray, who skated in 40 regular season and six playoff games for the Bears last season after being banished from Edmonton, potted a shorthanded goal against New Jersey on October 29th. Souray has gotten off to a flying start – 4-8-12, plus-10, in 13 games so far. He comes into this game on a three-game streak of two-point games, and he has three goals in his last five games. In 29 career games against the Caps he is 5-12-17, minus-1.
3. When Ken Hitchcock was patrolling behind the Stars’ bench, Dallas was known as a suffocating team on defense, his teams more often than not holding teams to fewer than 25 shots on goal a game. The stinginess continued when Dave Tippett took over as head coach of the Stars. It became something that defined Dallas’ style of play. So far this season the Stars rank 29th in shots against. Only Nashville has allowed more than the 33.2 shots per game allowed by the Stars. It makes the performance of goaltender Kari Lehtonen rather remarkable. 10-1-0, 2.14, .936 in 11 games while facing an average of 33.5 shots per 60 minutes. But the heavy workload might be wearing on Lehtonen. In his last four games he is 3-1-0, but with a 3.20 goals against average and a .902 save percentage. He is 10-6-2, 2.80, .919, with one shutout in his career against the Caps.
4. Chances are this will not be a blowout for either team. In 13 games so far the Stars have one win of three or more goals and one loss by the same margin. Only two teams – Minnesota and Edmonton – have fewer decisions by three or more goals.
5. This could turn on special teams in this respect. Only three teams have allowed more than the 11 4-on-5 goals Dallas has allowed. While Dallas has a fairly efficient penalty kill (83.3 percent), only Ottawa has faced more shorthanded situations (66 in 13 games).
1. A win tonight will tie the Caps with the 1991-1992 team as the fastest to ten wins. That 1991-1992 team beat Toronto, 4-0, to go to 10-3-0.
2. Nicklas Backstrom is 5-13-18, plus-2 through 12 games. In 2009-2010, when he finished the season with a career best 33-68-101, he was 3-13-16, plus-6 through his first 12 games.
3. The Caps are currently 6-1-0 when allowing the first goal, 3-2-0 when they score first.
4. Roman Hamrlik has 154 goals in his career. Only one of them has come against Dallas in 38 career games played against the Stars.
5. No team has more three-or-more goal wins so far this season than do the Caps (four). Only three teams have more one-goal wins than the five that the Caps have…Dallas happens to be one of them (six).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Dallas: Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn has progressed nicely as a budding power forward for the Stars. He posted 22-goal seasons in each of his first two seasons, and he is currently tied for the team lead in points (4-11-15). Benn has no points in two career games against the Caps, but he has seen a number of the Caps before. Benn was the leading scorer for Dallas’ affiliate in the AHL – the Texas Stars – in the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs. But he ran into a stone wall when his Stars faced Hershey in the Calder Cup final. He had only one assist in six games as Hershey won the championship in six games. There might be some scores to settle.
Washington: Troy Brouwer
Troy Brouwer has five goals and ten points in 12 regular season games against Dallas. He does not have more goals or more points against any other team in the league over his career. He has goal in two of his last three games and points in three of his last four (2-2-4).
1. Force the action. Between the Stars giving up a lot of shots, taking a lot of penalties (second highest number of minors in the league), and Lehtonen slipping of late (assuming he gets the call), the Caps can take advantage of a high-tempo sort of game.
2. Get busy early. Washington is fourth in the league in first period goals scored, while only one team (Edmonton) has allowed fewer first period goals than the six allowed by the Stars. If the Caps can solve the Stars early, it could spell trouble for the visitors, who have allowed more than twice as many goals in the third period (14) as in the first (six). And the Caps are third in the league in third period goals scored.
3. Beware the blue line. Sheldon Souray has those four goals and 12 points for Dallas, but as a group the top four defensemen for the Stars have nine goals and 26 points (compare that to eight goals and 27 points for the Caps’ top four). Five of those goals have come on the power play.
In the end, this is the start of a rough patch for Dallas – at Washington, at Pittsburgh, and at Detroit (the latter two being back to back). It will be a test of Dallas’ discipline to avoid looking at this week as one big tough piece, to take the games one at a time and avoid looking ahead. The Caps were embarrassed a bit in their last game – a loss to an Islander team that scored five goals for the first time in four weeks. That should provide some measure of motivation to bring their “A” game against a formidable opponent.
Caps 4 – Stars 2