The Washington Capitals were looking for a few noteworthy achievements when they battled the Dallas Stars on Saturday night in the heart of Texas. They were looking to sweep their three-game road trip through the Central Division before heading home. They were looking for their sixth consecutive win. And, they were looking to end an eight-game losing streak to the Stars (0-7-1), not having beaten the Stars since a 6-5 overtime win in Dallas on October 25, 2008.
In a game where some offensive fireworks might have been expected from the top two scoring offenses in the league, the first 20 minutes passes without a score. Then the Caps went stupid. Dallas scored four times in the second period, starting just 1:55 in on Mattias Janmark’s 11th goal of the season off a bad Caps turnover inside the Dallas blue line that became a 2-on-1 break.
Not quite five minutes later, Jamie Benn doubled the lead when he took a feed in the low slot from Patrick Eaves, fanned on his first attempt, then flipped the puck over goalie Braden Holtby, who dropped to defend the first shot.
In the second half of the period, it was Tyler Seguin’s show. His first goal came on a play started by defenseman Patrik Nemeth, who banged a loose puck off the glass from his own zone and down the ice. The puck eluded Nicklas Backstrom, and Seguin gathered it up. He broke into the Caps’ zone with Eaves and Jamie Benn joining him. Seguin held the puck, then ripped a shot between Holtby’s pads to make it 3-0 at the 14:01 mark.
Seguin put the Stars up 4-0 in the last minute of the second period. A shot by John Klingberg was turned aside by Holtby, but the goaltender could not control the rebound that darted to his right. Seguin was in perfect position to slam the loose puck past Holtby’s right pad, and things looked grim for the visitors going to the locker room.
Philipp Grubauer replaced Holtby in the third period, and the Caps finally woke up. The two things might not have had anything to do with one another, but wake up the skaters did. They started a comeback with a goal by Alex Ovechkin just over four minutes into the period. With Benn in the penalty box for interference, the Caps worked the puck around the top of the offensive zone, John Carlson laying out a pass to Ovechkin in the left wing circle for a one-timer. The shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen cleanly, and the shutout was ruined.
Avoiding the shutout was the first order of business, but not the last. Just over three minutes later, Justin Williams got the Caps within a pair when he stepped out from behind the goal line to the right of Lehtonen and snapped a shot into the top of the net on the long side.
Then it was Andre Burakovsky getting the Caps to within a goal. It was a bit of a broken play but also one of superb eye-hand-foot coordination on Burakovsky’s part. Evgeny Kuznetsov gained the offensive zone and slammed on the brakes just inside the blue line along the right wing wall. He spied Burakovsky heading to the net on the other side and led him with a pass. Ales Hemsky got a stick on it, but it then hit Burakovsky in the shins. He settled the puck on his stick, and as Lehtonen was trying to sweep the puck off his blade, Burakovsky flipped it over Lehtonen’s stick and into the top of the net to make it 4-3 at 13:54.
That would be as close as the Caps would get, though, Tom Wilson getting achingly close to tying the game with 36 seconds left as he hit the goalpost. The Caps skated off with their ninth consecutive loss to the Stars, 4-3.
-- How long has it been since the Caps beat the Stars? Not only are none of the Caps’ goal scorers from their last win against Dallas with the Caps, only one of them is still in the NHL. Sergei Fedorov had a pair of goals in that game. Tyler Sloan had one, as did Alexander Semin, who had the overtime game-winner. Tomas Fleischmann had the other two, he now of the Montreal Canadiens. It gets worse. The Caps have not beaten the Stars in regulation time in Dallas since (sit down for this) October 17, 1995, a 4-3 win. Anyone remember Mike Eagles or Stefan Ustorf? They scored goals along with Dale Hunter and Mark Tinordi. Jim Carey got the win in goal. Since then, the Caps are 2-12-0 in Dallas, both wins in overtime.
-- The Caps are the 30th and last team to lose their tenth game in regulation time this season. Dallas was the last team before the Caps to do it, back on January 5th, 39 days ago.
-- Alex Ovechkin did not have a shot on goal in the first 40 minutes, but then had five shots on goal in the first 12:40 of the third period, including his 35th goal of the season.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a pair of assists making it an even dozen multi-assist games this season. He now has 16 multi-point games. Only Jamie Benn (17), Tyler Seguin (who had his 20th in this game), and Patrick Kane (20) have more multi-point games this season (pending results from other contests).
-- Someday, Mike Richards will get his first point as a Capital. Until then, he’s got faceoffs in his favor. He was 6-for-6 in this game and is at 55.1 percent in his 11 games with the club.
-- Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 25 shots. It was the third straight game in which he allowed three or more goals, the first time that has happened this season and the first time it happened to him since he allowed four goals in three consecutive games, January 16-27 last season.
-- John Carlson had an assist on Ovechkin’s power play goal, giving him points in each of his last three games.
-- Nate Schmidt had an assist on Justin Williams’ goal, breaking a six-game streak without a point.
-- Stan Galiev lives in some transdimensional state, neither entirely on the ice or on the bench. He skated just seven shifts on Saturday night for a total of 4:52 in ice time. It was his lightest ice time workload of the season (15 games).
-- The Caps allowed a power play goal for the third straight game and fourth in their last five contests. Since the games postponed at the end of January, the Caps are just 26-for-33 (78.8 percent).
In the end…
The Caps made things respectable, and they almost squeaked at least a point out of this game, but the underlying numbers tell a grim story. Dallas out attempted the Caps at 5-on-5 by a 50-40 margin for the game and had 30-19 edge in scoring chances (numbers from war-on-ice.com). As a team, they might have had their worst period of the season in the middle 20 minutes. Maybe it was a wake-up call after a few games in which there were some unsettling aspects creeping into their play. Even with the third-period comeback, there is the concern about the Caps facing a team with as solid a possession game as the Stars. They will get to test whether or not lessons have been learned when they return home on Tuesday to face the league’s top possession team, the Los Angeles Kings.