Sunday, January 22, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 46: Washington Capitals 4 - Dallas Stars 3 (OT)

The Washington Capitals descended on Dallas on Saturday night hoping to find something they rarely find in that part of the world – a win.  Washington had not left Dallas with a win of any kind since a 6-5 overtime win in October 2008 and had not won a game in regulation time there since a 4-3 win in October 1995.  The Caps did not win in regulation, but they did scratch out a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win against the Stars on Saturday night.

Washington started the scoring early in the first when Andre Burakovsky picked the puck off Brett Ritchie’s stick between the hash marks and ripped a shot past goalie Kari Lehtonen at the 2:17 mark.

Dallas evened things up four minutes later when Adam Cracknell redirected a Jordie Benn drive up and over the shoulder of goalie Philipp Grubauer.  The teams took that 1-1 score to their respective locker rooms after 20 minutes, and then Dallas took the lead when Patrick Eaves put a rebound of a Patrik Nemeth backhand through Grubauer at the 6:47 mark of the second period.

The Stars opened up a two-goal lead with a late power play strike. After nudging Grubauer out of the way and taking a stand at the post to Grubauer’s left, Jamie Benn swept in a loose puck lying just outside the goal line after a redirect by Eaves hit the pipe.  At the 15:59 mark, it was 3-1.

The two-goal lead…the most dangerous in hockey.  And so it came to pass for the Stars as they took two early penalties in the third period that let the visitors back into the game.  After Curtis McKenzie took a slashing penalty at the 2:15 mark to put the Caps on their first power play, the Caps worked the puck around the perimeter, Matt Niskanen eventually feeding Alex Ovechkin for a one timer from the left wing circle.  Goalie Kari Lehtonen got a piece of it, but not a big enough piece as the puck leaked through and tumbled over the goal line to make it 3-2 at the 3:18 mark.

Then, Antoine Roussel took a high-sticking penalty at the 3:49 mark, to bring out the power play again.  This time, the Caps worked the puck around the right side of the formation, Marcus Johansson feeding Nicklas Backstrom at the right point from the goal line.  Backstrom sent the puck across to Niskanen at the top of the zone, and Niskanen’s one-timer was redirected from between the hash marks by T.J. Oshie to tie the game at the 5:26 mark.

Neither team could solve the other’s netminder in the last 14 minutes and change, leaving things for the five-minute overtime.  The Caps needed just 19 seconds of it to settle things.  It started and ended with a doggone nice sequence.  Jay Beagle won the faceoff to open the extra period, and Evgeny Kuznetsov collected the puck in his own end.  Racing up the right side, he gained the Stars’ zone and curled through the right wing circle.  He wrapped a pass around defenseman Esa Lindell to Beagle coming down the middle.  From the top of the crease, Beagle swept the puck past defenseman John Klingberg and under Lehtonen to end it in the blink of an eye for the 4-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Beagle Magic continues.  The game-winner in overtime was Beagle’s tenth career game-winning goal.  It also makes the Caps 31-5-1 in the 37 career games win which Beagle scored a goal and 61-6-7 in 74 career games in which he recorded a point.

-- Alex Ovechkin scored his 204th career power play goal, tying Wayne Gretzky for 15th all-time in the NHL.  His next power play goal will tie Joe Sakic for 14th place on that list.

-- Andre Burakovsky scored the Caps’ first goal for the fourth consecutive game, the first time a Capital scored the team’s first goal in four straight games in team history.

-- The Caps allowed a first period goal for the first time since the Toronto Maple Leafs scored three first period goals in a 6-5 Caps overtime win on January 3rd.  The Caps had gone eight straight games without allowing a first period goal.

-- Nineteen seconds is not the fastest overtime goal in Caps history.  Not close, really.  But a familiar face was on the wrong end of it.  Alex Ovechkin beat Kari Lehtonen six seconds into overtime to complete a hat trick in a 3-2 win against the Atlanta Thrashers on December 15, 2006...

-- The Caps came into the game with the third-fewest fighting majors in the league.  Dallas was second in the league.  The teams did mix it up twice, Tom Wilson going against Brett Ritchie and Daniel Winnik squaring off against Antoine Roussel.  It was the first time the Caps had more than one fighting major in a game since December 12, 2015, when Wilson and Nate Schmidt were charged in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

-- Matt Niskanen had a three-assist night, his high for the season in both assists and points and the most of both since he had a three-assist night on November 28, 2014, when the Caps beat the New York Islanders, 5-2, at Verizon Center.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists, extending his points streak to nine games (4-12-16).  It was his 12th multi-point game of the season and the 188th of his career, third-highest in Caps history.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov’s assist on Jay Beagle’s game-winning goal made it six games in seven in which he has a point (2-6-8).  Since December 5th, he is 3-21-24, plus-9, in 23 games, over which the Caps are 18-2-3.

-- Philipp Grubauer extended his record to 9-1-2 with the win.  He has allowed more than two goals just four times in 12 appearances this season.  If there is a twinge in that, it is because he has done so in each of his last two outings (three on 11 shots in 26 minutes in the 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on January 16th and three on 35 shots tonight).  That said, a lot of those 32 saves against the Stars were of highlight reel quality.  This could have ended a lot worse for the Caps absent his acrobatics.

In the end…

The Caps are now 11-0-2 in their last 13 games.  This one was not a picture of execution or focus.  The Burakovsky goal aside, the Caps started the game sluggishly and took the better part of two periods to find their legs.  But they still managed to scratch out a win, taking advantage of perhaps the weakest part of the Stars’ game, their penalty killing. 

The schedule takes a bit of a turn from here.  The mentors’ trip now in the rear-view mirror, the Caps return to a series of games against Eastern Conference teams over the next two weeks, mostly on the road (four of their next six games are away from Verizon Center).  This is where the long slow slog of the NHL’s mid-season starts to take hold.  It will be a test of the club’s depth and focus.

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