For the second straight night, the Capitals clawed their way back to tie the game. For the second straight night they gave up two third period goals. For the second straight night, the Capitals lost a one-goal game.
On Saturday night, it was a 5-4 loss to the Dallas Stars, leaving the Capitals without a point on their short two-game road trip. Dallas got started early, courtesy of a power play when Nicklas Backstrom was sent off for holding just 100 seconds into the game. Dallas broke down the Capitals’ penalty killers at the Washington blue line, and Jason Spezza was able to fling a pass cross ice to Tyler Seguin who was all alone. Seguin cut in and beat goalie Justin Peters to start the scoring.
Dallas scored again in the first period, this one coming late in the period when Erik Cole deflected a Jyrki Jokipakka drive to make it 2-0, Stars, at the first intermission. When the Stars took a 3-0 lead barely four minutes into the second period on a goal by Spezza converted what was a 3-on-1 break for the Stars after a turnover by the Caps at the Dallas blue line, it looked as if it would be an early end to the competitive portion of the evening.
Just 1:17 after the Spezza goal, Eric Fehr started the Caps’ comeback. It started when Brooks Laich chipped the puck up the wall and out of the defensive zone. Joel Ward picked up the puck in the neutral zone and headed up ice. Fehr darted in from the weak side and was in position to receive a nice saucer pass from Ward. Taking just an instant to settle the puck, Fehr snapped it past goalie Kari Lehtonen to get the Caps on the board.
The Caps made it 3-2 just after a power play expired 16 minutes into the period. The Stars let Matt Niskanen skate out of the Caps’ end and all the way into the Dallas end before he was challenged. When finally challenged by two Stars, Niskanen nudged the puck to his left where Andre Burakovsky was gliding in. Burakovsky took one step and rifled a shot over Lehtonen’s glove to make it 3-2 at the second intermission.
Washington made it all the way back just 21 seconds into the third period when an Antoine Roussel shot from the left point was blocked by Nicklas Backstrom. The puck caromed into the neutral zone where Alex Ovechkin picked it up in stride. Ovechkin skated in alone on Lehtonen, deked him to the ice, and tucked the puck inside the near post past Lehtonen’s left pad to tie the game at three apiece.
That would be the high point of the game for the Caps. Dallas scored two goals 16 seconds apart, Roussel making up for the Ovechkin goal with his 11th of the year when he got up from being knocked down by Backstrom, headed to the net, and put in a loose puck from the edge of the crease. Jamie Benn gave the Stars some insurance 16 seconds later when he converted a Tyler Seguin pass off a 3-on-2 rush.
Dallas would need that insurance. Backstrom got the Caps back within a goal with 3:26 left in the contest. After pinning the Stars in their own end, Ovechkin circled out on the left side and snapped a pass to the middle that Backstrom one-timed past Lehtonen. That would be as close as the Caps would get, though, falling to the Stars by a 5-4 margin.
-- The second consecutive loss was the first time the Caps lost consecutive games since losing to Toronto and Vancouver in the last game of November and the first game of December.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist to give him his second straight multi-point game. It was his 14th multi-point game of the season and third time he did it in consecutive games.
-- How is this for a first period… outshoot the opponent, 8-7… out-hit the opponent, 13-7... win 17 of 24 faceoffs (including 13 of the first 15). Dallas had a pretty good first period. Oh, you say that was the Caps? Oh…
-- Speaking of faceoffs, Eric Fehr was a monster in the circle. He won 15 of 16 draws. It made Backstrom’s 15-for-23 look almost pitiful by comparison.
-- It won’t happen often, but Joel Ward led the team in shots for the game (seven) and attempts (eight, tied with Alex Ovechkin).
-- Ovechkin’s goal (his 25th of the season) made it 11 goals in his last 14 games. He is two goals behind Dallas’ Tyler Seguin for the league lead. And that brings this to mind. Ovechkin is 25-16-41, plus-12, with five game-winning goals. The New York Rangers’ Rick Nash is 26-15-41, plus-15, with four game-winning goals. A week ago, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks was touting Nash as a Hart Trophy (MVP) winner. Does that mean Ovechkin should be a finalist?
-- Andre Burakovsky broke a six-game goalless streak with his tally in the second period. He had four shots on goal, a season (and career) high in a single game. It was only his second multi-shot contest in his last 14 games.
-- Speaking of four shots on goal, that was the total that Mike Green had for the game. He did not find the back of the net on any of them. It continued a disturbing trend for Green. He has one goal on 69 shots (1.4 percent) over his last 32 games.
-- When Brooks Orpik found himself on ice for the first three Dallas goals, he had been on ice for eight consecutive goals by opponents, dating back to the second period of the Caps’ 2-1 win over Colorado last Monday.
-- Justin Peters allowed five goals on 26 shots in his first appearance since November 29th and first start since November 15th. In his last five appearances Peters is 1-3-0 (one no-decision), 4.48, .836. Caps fans might note that Philipp Grubauer returned to action for the Hershey Bears on Saturday night after missing almost three weeks to injury, allowing four goals on 25 shots in a 5-4 overtime win over the Albany Devils. One wonders if (when) he will get a seat on the bench (or a start) with the Caps.
In the end…
What is particularly disappointing about the loss is that a win would have meant the Caps being tied with Pittsburgh in standings points in the Metropolitan Division and, had they won without benefit of trick shots, wins in regulation and overtime. However, the little things that had been creeping into the Caps’ game over the last several outings came out against the Stars, most notably too many defensive breakdowns that resulted in 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 situations in front of their goaltender. In that respect, it was not all on Justin Peters for Dallas scoring five goals. Nevertheless, one does not like to see a comeback from three goals down or scoring four goals in a game go to waste, especially by giving up two goals less than 20 seconds apart after tying the game, taking almost all of the air out of the Caps’ rising balloon of momentum. It was only the second time this season that the Caps scored four or more goals in regulation time and lost in regulation, the other being a 6-5 loss to Arizona on November 2nd (Peters was in net for that game as well).
That the Caps are 12-2-1 when scoring four or more goals speaks to the unusual nature of this game. But here is the thing. Look at those three losses. Peters started two of them (both regulation losses) and relieved Braden Holtby in one (a 6-5 shootout loss to San Jose on October 14th). In two of those games (San Jose and Dallas), the Caps fell behind by 3-0 scores (Holtby allowed the three goals against San Jose) before mounting furious comebacks. On the one hand, it is hard to count the Caps out of games, even when they fall behind by more than one goal. On the other, they cannot afford to have Braden Holtby tearing off 20-25 consecutive game streaks because their backup goalie is getting lit up like a Christmas tree. Right now, based on Saturday’s result, this might be the biggest issue the Caps have.