Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 47: Hurricanes at Capitals, January 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals enter their final week of the “first half” – the week preceding the All-Star Game break – looking to continue their successful 2017 year to date as they host the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night at Verizon Center.

The Caps take an 11-0-2 record over their last 13 games into the contest after coming from two goals down to beat the Dallas Stars, 4-3, on Saturday night.  The Hurricanes will be trying to snap a three-game losing streak in which they have scored just four goals while allowing 14.  That is a very bad recipe to bring to Washington against a Caps team that has scored 58 goals in its last dozen games.  It is a departure from the offense that scored 26 goals over a six-game span before the drought hit.  Still, the Hurricanes find themselves just two points out of a playoff spot going into Sunday’s games. 

Jeff Skinner is, to no one’s surprise, the leading point-getter on the club so far this season (17-18-35), on a pace to record his third 50-plus point finish in his past four seasons.  On January 13th, Skinner had two goals and an assist in a 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres to become the 15th player in franchise history to reach the 300-point mark with the club.  Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, he does not have a point in four games since reaching that plateau.  Skinner is 11-11-22, plus-1, in 31 career games against the Caps.

It is a mark of the turnover on the club that the next two top scorers are names that might not be household names in the long rivalry between these teams.  Victor Rask was a second-round draft pick by the Hurricanes in the 2011 entry draft.   After spending two years in Canadian juniors and parts of two seasons with the Hurricanes’ farm team in Charlotte in the AHL, he joined the parent club in 2014-2015.  His progress over his two and a half NHL seasons has been steady.  After going 11-22-33 in 80 games in his rookie season, he went 21-27-48 last season.  With a 13-19-32 scoring line so far this season, Rask is on a pace to continue his progress in scoring numbers (projected 23-34-57).  He has gone cold of late, though, going without a point in his last four games.  That might not be all that it seems, though, since the Hurricanes are just 12-9-3 in the 24 games in which he has a point this season.  In ten career games against the Caps, Rask is 1-4-5, even.

Sebastien Aho is third in scoring for the Hurricanes so far this season (12-13-25).  His 25 points ranks seventh among league rookies, and his 12 goals ranks third among the rookie cohort, trailing only Patrik Laine (21) and Auston Matthews (22).  He has picked up his goal scoring pace of late with nine goals in his last 21 games, a 35-goal pace per 82 games.  Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, his scoring has not been an accompaniment to winning.  Carolina is just 7-8-4 in games in which Aho recorded a point so far this season.  He has been quite successful against the Caps, though, going 2-3-5, plus-3, in two games against Washington.

1.  One-goal games are common for Carolina this season.  They have played to 27 such decisions so far this season (11-9-7).  Only Chicago (30) and San Jose (28) have more one-goal games.  Unfortunately, a lot of one-goal decisions have not translated into a lot of one-goal wins.  The Hurricanes have the fifth-worst winning percentage in one-goal decisions (.407).

2.  Out-shooting opponents seems not to benefit the Hurricanes.  Carolina is 10-16-3 when out-shooting opponents, 9-2-4 when they are out-shot.

3.  Scoring first doesn’t seem to matter to Carolina, either.  The Hurricanes are 9-6-4 when scoring first, their .474 winning percentage ranking 27th in the league.   When allowing the first goal they are 12-12-3, their .444 winning percentage being tied for sixth-best in the league.

4.  Carolina is the least penalized team in the league in minutes per game (5:57).  Only 14 times in 46 games have they logged more penalty minutes than their opponents, and they have been shorthanded fewer times (115) than any team in the league this season.

5.  Carolina has under-performed their possession numbers so far.  Although they are just 19th in the league’s standings point rankings, they are sixth in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (51.55 percent).  Perhaps being ranked 24th in goals-for percentage at fives is one reason they have under-performed their possession numbers (numbers from

1.  Washington is 10-2-0 this season at home when scoring at least one power play goal, 8-3-1 at home when they don’t.  On the other hand, they are 12-3-1 when shutting out an opponent’s power play on home ice, 6-2-0 when they don’t.

2.  Only two teams have has more shorthanded situations faced on home ice this season than the Caps (83) – St. Louis (96) and Calgary (94).

3.  The Caps have allowed just 60 5-on-5 goals this season, by far the fewest in the league (Minnesota has allowed 69).

4.  If Washington scores a power play goal against Carolina, it would tie a season-high five straight games with at least one power play goal, accomplished in Games 26-30 in mid-December.

5.  The Caps have the second-best Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (adjusted for score, zone, and venue) in the league at 53.13 percent, trailing only Boston (55.34 percent).  Their goals-for percentage is right in line with that, tops in the league at 63.86 percent, well ahead of Minnesota (60.12 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Lee Stempniak

Lee Stempniak is one of those many foot soldiers in the NHL who carve out a career by having enough versatility to make himself attractive to any number of teams.  Carolina is the tenth franchise for which he has played in a career covering 12 seasons and 836 regular season games.  For six of franchises he skated for, he logged fewer than a season’s worth of games, including the 46 games played to date for Carolina.  It is not unreasonable to think that before the end of this season he will find his way to his 11th city in his NHL career, depending on whether the Hurricanes can sustain their challenge for a playoff spot as the trading deadline approaches.  What he is not is a good luck charm.  Carolina is just 3-4-1 in the eight games in which he recorded a goal this season.  In 21 career games against the Caps, Stempniak is 4-9-13, minus-1.

Washington:  Matt Niskanen

You might not always see him or notice him on the ice, but he’s there more often than any other Capital.  Since he arrived in Washington in the 2014-2015 season, no Capital has recorded more games with at least 22 minutes of ice time than Matt Niskanen (150 games to John Carlson’s 137 games).  His ice time has only increased in recent games, especially with John Carlson on the shelf with an injury.  Niskanen has been over 22 minutes in 11 of his last 13 games and averaged almost 24 minutes a game over that span.  On top of that, Niskanen is on a pace to challenge his career high in points (46), recorded with Pittsburgh in 2013-2014.  With 19 even strength points in 45 games, he would seem good bet to top his career best in points at evens (31 in 2013-2014).  He comes into this games with multi-point games in three of his last four games (2-5-7, plus-2).  What Niskanen does not have is a goal against the Hurricanes in his career.  He is 0-10-10, plus-2, in 27 career games against Carolina.

In the end…

This will be the 104th meeting of these two teams since the Hurricanes took up residence in Carolina after their incarnation as the Hartford Whalers.  The Caps hold a 57-31-8 record (with seven ties) in that span.  Almost half of those wins were of the one-goal variety, though (28).  This season the teams split two games in Raleigh, the Caps losing a 5-1 decision on November 12th, then winning a 4-3 trick shot decision on December 16th.  The Hurricanes have hardly been an easy mark, despite their rank in the standings.  However, the Caps do have the second-best home record in the league (18-5-1), trailing only Pittsburgh (20-2-2), and they are 7-0-1 in their last eight home games.   This will be the Caps only home game in a seven-game stretch that started last Monday in Pittsburgh and ends in Brooklyn against the Islanders on January 31st.  Get home cooking while it’s available.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 15

If Week 14 was a dominating week, Week 15 was a knock-down, drag-out, up-and-down sort of week that harkened back the 1980’s for goal scoring and, by week’s end, fisticuffs.  What it had in common with the previous week was wins as the Caps finished the week with the league’s best record.

Record: 3-0-1

The Caps finished Week 15 with an 11-0-2 record in their last 13 games after going 3-0-1 for the week.  Four game weeks do not seem to be a problem for the Caps, at least so far.  In five four-game weeks so far, Washington is a combined 16-3-1, only Week 7’s 2-2-0 record keeping them from having won every four-game week to date.   And if you haven’t noticed, in their two-and-a-half years under Barry Trotz as head coach, the Caps have the best record in the league (132-53-25), 16 standings points better than the New York Rangers (128-65-17). 

The blemish on the week was an 8-7 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in one of the strangest games in recent memory, the Caps allowing as many goals in that game as they had in their previous seven games combined. But even with that, the Caps earned a standings point after falling behind by a goal twice in the contest.

Offense:  5.75/game (season: 3.22 /game; rank: 5th)

Four games, 23 goals.  Consecutive games with seven or more goals for the first time in almost 24 years.  It is part of an amazing run by the Caps in which they have scored 58 goals in their last dozen contests (4.83 per game).  How amazing is that?  The 58 goals in 12 games is more than half of the total goals scored over the entire season to date by the Arizona Coyotes (98 in 46 games) and the Colorado Avalanche (89 in 44 games).

The odd part about the offense in Week 15 is that perhaps fewer Capitals have goals than one might expect. Eleven Caps share the 23 goals, led by Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky with four apiece.  Williams, who had goals in each of the first three game of the week, has been on a roll for the past six weeks.  Since December 7th, he has 14 goals in 22 games, a 52-goal pace.  Meanwhile, Burakovsky became the first player in Capitals history to score the game’s first goal in four consecutive games.  Five other Caps had multi-goal weeks: T.J. Oshie (3), Matt Niskanen (2), Jay Beagle (2), Brett Connolly (2), and Lars Eller (2).

Niskanen led the team in overall scoring (2-5-7), one of 17 skaters to record points in Week 15.  Niskanen’s five assists tied for the team lead in helpers with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.  For Ovechkin it was a bit of an odd week.  The five assists increased his season total by a full third (to 20), and with assists in the first three games of the week extended his streak to four (stopped by Dallas in the last game of the week).  It was his longest streak of helpers since he had assists in Games 55-58 last season in late February.

Then there was Jay Beagle.  With two goals and an assist, the Caps won all three games in which he recorded a point.  None of this should surprise Beagle fans.  At the end of the week, the Caps were 31-5-1 in the 37 career games in which Beagle scored a goal, 61-6-7 in the 74 career games in which he recorded a point.

Defense: 3.50/game (season: 2.09 /game; rank: 1st)

Week 15 was not as bad as it looked.  Maybe it’s just a Pittsburgh thing, but consider that by week’s end the Caps had allowed 30 or more shots on goal 15 times this season.  Three of those instances came against the Penguins, including 37 shots in the 8-7 overtime loss to the Pens on Monday.  No team has hit the 30-shot mark against the Caps more times this season.  The Pens mauled the Caps defense at fives when it came to shot attempts, recording 57 in just under 48 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, an attempt rate of 1.20 per minute.  It was not the worst Corsi-for the Caps had for the week, but it was a dismal 40.6 percent (numbers from

In one of the odd convergences of numbers, the Caps had their worst Corsi-for at fives for the week against St. Louis (36.2 percent).  But this is deceptive, to a point.  It was not a product of the Blues taking advantage of a porous Caps defense to launch shot attempts at the Washington net.  Quite the contrary, the Caps’ defense held the Blues to the lowest attempts per minute of the week (0.81).  It was that the offense couldn’t generate much, or didn’t after building a big lead early. The Caps averaged just 0.46 attempts per minute on offense. 

The other two games were much closer affairs when it came to shot attempts, the Caps enjoying a slight edge in both, 40-39 at fives against Philadelphia in the first game of the week and 42-41 over Dallas in the last game of the week.

Goaltending:  3.49 / .884 (season: 2.01 / .928 / 8 SO)

It would be hard for the Caps’ tandem of Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer to put together the same sort of week they did (well, that Holtby did) in Week 14. They didn’t, although the week started off as if they might.  Grubauer recorded his second shutout of the season, blanking the Philadelphia Flyers on 24 shots in the 5-0 win last Sunday.  And things looked even better when Braden Holtby stopped all 11 shots he faced in the first period of Monday night’s game in Pittsburgh.  After that, though, the week went south quickly.

Holtby allowed five goals on 15 shots in the second period against the Penguins, and Grubauer allowed one on the only shot he saw to make it six goals on 16 shots in the second period of that game.  Starting with that period, the pair finished the week allowing 14 goals on 86 shots, a .837 save percentage.  The save percentages by period tell the same story.  For the week, the Caps duo had a combined first period save percentage of .980, followed by .773 in the second period, .903 in the third, and .500 in overtime.  The concern was Holtby’s trend through the periods – 1.000 in the first period, .739 in the second period, and .667 in the third (albeit on only six shots faced). 

As for Grubauer, the first period goal he allowed against Dallas to close the week was the first time since Holtby allowed three goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 3rd that a Caps goalie allowed a first period goal,.  They went eight straight games without allowing a first period strike.  In those eight games, Holtby and Grubauer turned aside a combined 81 first period shots without a goal scored.

Power Play: 5-for-10 / 50.0 percent (season: 20.3 percent; rank: 14th)

Following up a 50 percent week with another 50 percent week, it is tempting to think that the power play is healthy again.  These are, after all, the only weeks so far this season in which the Caps finished 50 percent with the man advantage.  But if anything, the Caps’ power play this season has been streaky; they were 1-for-25 (4.0 percent) in the three weeks preceding this recent run and 13-for-46 in the four weeks preceding that (28.3 percent).  It was not as if the Caps were facing the best of the best in penalty killing, though.  Philadelphia (20th), Pittsburgh (24th), and Dallas (29th) finished the week in the bottom half or bottom half of the league penalty killing rankings.  Only St. Louis could be said to be a good penalty killing team of the week’s group of opponents (8th).

The Caps did spread things around on the power play.  Four players – T.J. Oshie (2), Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky, and Justin Williams – scored the goals; eight different players recorded power play points.   Ovechkin’s goal was the 204th power play goal of his career, tying him with Wayne Gretzky for 15th place on the all-time list.  His next strike will tie him with Joe Sakic for 14th place.

The power play was effective (5-for-10 in opportunities and 5-for-14 shooting in 15:14 of power play ice time), but it also allowed opponents shorthanded shots on goal in each game, five in all.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-13 / 84.6 percent (season: 86.0 percent; rank: 3rd)

The penalty killers had a good week, even if the overall penalty killing percentage dropped a bit.  What made it better was the quality of opponent.  Three of the four opponents finished the week as top-ten power plays – Pittsburgh (23.2 percent), St. Louis (22.1), and Philadelphia (21.8).  The Caps were 6-for 7 against that group (85.7 percent). 

The penalty killers were efficient in an somewhat inefficient way.  The Caps allowed just two power play goals on 20 shots in 23:26 of shorthanded ice time (0.85 shots on goal per minute).  And, they scored a shorthanded goal of their own (Lars Eller against Pittsburgh).  But the Caps did spend at least ten minutes killing penalties against Philadelphia (10:00) and Dallas (10:36).  Against Dallas the shorthanded ice time was supplemented with a pair of fighting majors, the first time this season that the Caps recorded more than one fighting major in a game, Tom Wilson and Daniel Winnik going on the record for the Caps.  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.

Faceoffs: 109-for-228 / 47.8 percent (season: 50.4% / rank: 13th)

It was a case of one game making a big difference in a four-game week when it came to faceoffs.  The Caps were 50 percent or better against Philadelphia (51.2 percent), Pittsburgh (50.0) and Dallas ( 50.8), but were well under that threshold against St. Louis (39.7).  They had a devil of a time in the offensive zone against the Blues, going just 4-for-16 in a 25-for-58 effort overall.

That offensive zone performance was one part of a week in which the Caps were under 50 percent in the ends – 42.6 percent in the offensive zone, 45.1 percent in the defensive zone – while finishing over that mark in the neutral zone (53.3 percent).

Jay Beagle was, once more, on the good side of 50 percent for the week, winning 54.3 percent of the 70 draws he took, although that mark was the product of his 61.1 percent success rate in the defensive end.  He was under 50 percent in the offensive zone (42.9) and the neutral zone (48.1).  Evgeny Kuznetsov also finished at 50 percent (19-for-38), falling under 50 percent only in the offensive zone (4-for-10).  Nicklas Backstrom (41.4 percent) and Lars Eller (44.4 percent) finished under 50 percent among the big four, and T.J. Oshie also found himself under that mark among Caps who took at least ten draws (45.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

Except for one big stain on their record, the Caps would have had a borderline spectacular week in goals by period.  They outscored opponents by a 5-1 margin in the first periods of games, that one goal against Dallas being the first time in nine games that they allowed a first period goal.  They won the third periods of games by a 9-3 margin.  Then there was that second period.  In three games not played in Pennsylvania, the Caps held a 5-3 advantage for the week.  However, they lost the second period in Pittsburgh, 6-3, the six goals allowed being more than the total the Caps allowed in any full game played this season (they allowed five goals twice).  The Caps finished the week with the largest first period goal differential in the league (plus-28) and the third largest third period goal differential (plus-20, trailing Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers).  They are the only team in the league with a goal differential of plus-20 in more than one period for the season.  They also have the second-best goal differential in overtime (plus-4, trailing only the Los Angeles Kings).

In the end…

We’ve remarked from time to time that streaks are funny in that you can see the end of them before they actually do end.  Cracks start to appear in game management and execution that result in sluggish offense, leaky defense, questionable decisions, or all three.  Although the Caps finished the week 3-0-1, one might conclude after the four games that such cracks were evident on a club that is on a 13-game points streak.  The offense was not the problem in Week 15, although they might have taken more advantage of a defense-challenged team like Dallas more than they did, even with four goals scored. 

The problem was defense and goaltending, the 14 goals in four games – all of the goals recorded in the last three games of the week – being the canary in the coal mine of this streak.  In the glass-half-filled version of this, almost half of the week’s goals allowed were given up in one period – six goals in the second period of the 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh, five of them in a span of 8:09. 

As the schedule heads into Week 15, the last week before the All-Star Game break, it is tempting to say that the schedule lightens up a bit for the Caps with two of the games against teams not currently playoff eligible – Carolina and New Jersey.  But both the Hurricanes and Devils finished the week just two points out of the playoff mix.  Meanwhile, the third opponent, the Ottawa Senators, might be described as “pesky” or “a pain in the backside” to play against, the Caps beating them by 2-1 and 1-0 margins earlier this season.   It might look easier, but it’s never easy in the NHL, and to keep the streak going into the All-Star Game break, the Caps will have to fight off the urge of looking forward to a few days off.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Andre Burakovsky (4-2-6, plus-5, first goals in all four games to set a club record, six times this season he scored the game’s first goal)
  • Second Star: Matt Niskanen (2-5-7, plus-2, assists on three of Caps’ five power play goals, averaged 24:33 in ice time in four games with John Carlson out of the lineup)
  • Third Star: T.J. Oshie (3-3-6, even, four hits, two blocked shots, two power play goals)

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.