It might have made for a great story – a record-setting goal scored in the third period to tie a tense game on the way to victory. The goal was scored, but the victory was not in the cards as the Washington Capitals lost to the Dallas Stars, 3-2, at Verizon Center on Thursday night.
The goal that tied the game in the third period was Alex Ovechkin’s ninth of the season and 484th of his career, leaving him all alone at the top of the list of Russian-born goal scorers in NHL history. There were familiar and unusual aspects to the score. It did not come off a rush or a one-timer on a power play, two signature Ovechkin methods over the course of his career for lighting the red light. It came from some chaos in front of the Stars’ from which Ovechkin and the Caps benefitted.
Ovechkin started the sequence trying to take advantage of a sluggish Dallas line change. With the Stars still trying to get into defensive position in their own end, Ovechkin threw a shot from the left point toward the net with the aim of having T.J. Oshie redirect it. Oshie did get a stick on the puck, but it was turned aside by goalie Kari Lehtonen. Oshie recovered the puck and sent to across the low slot where is got caught up in a maze of bodies. It found its way to the stick of Nicklas Backstrom, and it was Backstrom’s no-look backhand pass that found Ovechkin on the doorstep to Lehtonen’s right. Ovechkin had only to stuff the puck into the open side of the net, and the record was his, the game now tied at 2-2 with just under 13 minutes left in regulation.
The Caps could not get that third goal, though. Dallas did, a little over four minutes after Ovechkin’s record-setter. It came off a giveaway in front of the Capitals’ net when Jason Chimera collected a loose puck to the right of goalie Philipp Grubauer and tried to move it along to Jay Beagle at the top of the opposite faceoff circle. Jason Spezza stepped in the way, intercepted the pass and snapped a shot past Grubauer, all in the blink of an eye for what would be the game-winning goal in the Stars 3-2 win.
-- Before Ovechkin’s record-setting goal, the Stars sandwiched a pair of goals around a Caps tally. Tyler Seguin scored the game’s first goal 9:28 into the game on a shot from between the circles. The goal was reviewed but upheld. Nicklas Backstrom tied the game when he backhanded a rebound of a Taylor Chorney shot past goalie Kari Lehtonen. The tie lasted into the second period when former Cap Cody Eakin redirected a John Klingberg shot down and past a screened Philipp Grubauer.
-- Ovechkin almost set the record on a more conventional Ovechkin play in the second period. Skating down the right side, he used a defender as a screen and snapped a shot that beat Lehtonen cleanly but hit the inside of the near post and caromed out the other side behind Lehtonen.
-- The goal by Dallas in the first period was the ninth consecutive time the Caps allowed the game’s first goal. The Caps are 5-3-1 in those games.
-- The loss was the Caps’ first loss at home in regulation since dropping a 3-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 28th.
-- The Caps are no fans of the coach’s challenge. Barry Trotz’ challenge of Tyler Seguin’s goal, claiming that Patrick Sharp interfered with Grubauer, was the seventh time the Caps have been a party to a challenge, and for the sixth time they lost.
-- Another almost… Tom Wilson had two chances to score less than five minutes into the second period. He had his first chance – a one-timer off a drop feed from Nicklas Backstrom – turned away by Lehtonen, and then moments later had a loose puck at the top of the Stars’ crease that he was about to stuff in, but he stumbled over Lehtonen’s left pad and pushed the puck wide.
-- Dallas finished the game with 31 shots on goal, breaking a streak of 15 games in which the Caps held opponents to 30 or fewer shots.
-- For the first time this season, the Caps were not awarded a power play opportunity. Dallas was not penalized in this contest. The Caps took only two minor penalties, killing both shorthanded situations.
-- Taylor Chorney recorded his first point as a Capital with his assist on the Backstrom goal. Backstrom recorded a goal and an assist, giving him his fifth multi-poing game this season.
-- Odd thing about this game for Ovechkin was that the absence of power plays meant he skated only 16:11 for the game, his lowest ice time of the season to date and his lowest since skating 16:10 in a 5-3 win in Anaheim last February 15th. He had a four-point game (2-2-4) in that one.
In the end…
It was something of a bittersweet night – a record and a loss – and now it is time to move on with the business of the remaining 64 games of the season. This was something of a test for the Caps, a game in which they get mixed marks. They held a high-scoring team largely in check, but they had a critical mistake late in a game that is not generally characteristic of their play lately. They got solid play once more from Philipp Grubauer in a relief role, the goals being of the sort that would have been challenging for any goaltender to stop.
It was a disappointing start to a five-game home stand, but the next four games line up pretty well for the Caps in terms of schedule (no back-to-backs) and competition. This is the part of the schedule where the sun shines on the Caps. Time to make hay.