Oct. 5 vs. Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (1-1)
Dallas Stars (0-1)
Washington heads out on the road for the second time this season, making a Saturday night visit to Dallas to take on the Stars. For the Caps, it’s their first trip to Big D in nearly three years, since a 2-1 loss there on Dec. 2, 2010.
The Capitals earned their first won of the season on Thursday night with a 5-4 shootout triumph over the Calgary Flames in Washington’s home opener. The Caps made it tough on themselves, digging a 3-0 first-period hole before staging a comeback and conquering Calgary in the shootout.
Starting netminder Braden Holtby surrendered three goals on 11 shots in 16:22 of work before yielding the net to Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced, earning the victory.
“It happens,” says Holtby of being pulled in the first period. “It’s probably the worst feeling in hockey but at that point in the game it’s the coach’s obligation to make changes to keep the game within reach. It obviously worked [Thursday]. That’s what happens; it’s the nature of the sport. If you don’t perform, you don’t play. It’s as simple as that.”
Alex Ovechkin scored twice, and Washington’s special teams were stellar. The Caps scored two goals – including Nicklas Backstrom’s game-tying tally – on the man-advantage, and they killed off three straight Calgary power plays in a span of less than six minutes early in the third period, a juncture in the game at which they trailed 4-3.
Now Washington will head back out for another one-game road jaunt against another Western Conference foe; the Caps opened the season with a 6-4 loss to the Blackhawks in Chicago on Tuesday. The Caps don’t play a road game against an Eastern Conference opponent until Nov. 1 when they visit the Flyers in Philadelphia.
In 125 minutes of hockey so far this season, Washington has owned a lead for just 2 minutes and 39 seconds. Half of the 10 goals the Capitals have surrendered have been scored in the first period. The Caps will be looking for a better start, and looking to alleviate some pressure and minutes on their top players.
Because the Caps have had to come from behind, Caps coach Adam Oates has had to ride his horses hard while others have found minutes hard to come by.
“A lot of work [Thursday] night and a lot of work for them in Chicago,” says Oates. “Greenie played I think 11 minutes in the third period in Chicago, and then [Thursday] night he played a ton of minutes. I felt that we were actually a little fatigued; it’s unbelievable for the second game of the year, but I thought that we were maybe a little emotionally drained from Chicago. It was a tough game and it took us a long time to get into the game [Thursday] night, too long. I think [the defenesemen] were beat and then Jack [Hillen] getting hurt put more minutes and more strain on them.”
Hillen went down after a hard hit from Calgary center Lance Bouma in the first period. He was helped from the ice and was unable to put any weight on his right leg. For the second straight season, Hillen will be sidelined for several weeks because of an injury sustained in the first week of the season.
“He is at the hospital, scheduled for required surgery [Friday],” says Oates. “I don’t believe it is career threatening. Lower body injury; I still don’t know the full extent of the injury. He is going to be out an extended period of time. Tough break for him, two years in a row.”
Perhaps somewhat fortuitously, the Caps claimed lefty-shooting defenseman Alexander Urbom off waivers from New Jersey about eight hours before Hillen went down. Urbom took the ice with his new teammates at Friday’s optional Caps practice, and he also made the trip with the Capitals to Dallas. But it seems unlikely that he’ll play against the Stars on Saturday.
Washington’s other option is Steve Oleksy, a healthy scratch for the season’s first two games. Oleksy played in each of the last 28 games for the Caps last season, but putting him in would give the Caps four righties and two lefties in the back.
“We’re going to decide in the next little bit if we’re going to throw him in,” states Oates. “Or Steve Oleksy might go in and we might play four right-shot defensemen. I’m going to talk to Calle more [Friday] as we go to Dallas. I haven’t really had a chance to sit down with him and see how he’s feeling.”
Although Holtby has allowed eight goals on 45 shots against in 75 minutes of early season work, Oates is putting him back on the horse. Holtby will start on Saturday against the Stars in Dallas. The 24-year-old goalie has been working on some refinements to his game during camp this fall.
“It’s been a bit of a learning curve just this camp,” says Holtby, “trying to change a few things. Those goals are what is going to make those changes easier, to see what you could do better or what you did good and to make sure it doesn’t happen on a consistent basis.
“I think any changes that you make that you haven’t used your whole life take a little bit of work. It’s not drastic changes; it’s just a little bit of positioning and a little bit of making it so I have a better chance of staying under control in scramble situations and a better chance to make saves, the saves you’re not supposed to make – cross crease and the back door and whatnot – just trying to position your feet in different ways. It’s just one of those things that when you start to struggle you go back to your old ways and then you get into even more trouble.”
Whatever Holtby has been working on seems to have taken root at some level. He was brilliant during the preseason, and made some extremely strong stops – including one of the cross crease variety – in Tuesday’s opener against the Hawks.
“It’s definitely working,” he says. “It’s just ingraining it into your mind to make sure you do it naturally instead of having to think about it. I think the first two games I think I was just thinking a bit too much about what I was doing positionally, and not really thinking the basics of the game as much as I should have. That’s one of the things I am going to work on and make sure I get better the next game. “
Caps center Jay Beagle was back in the lineup against Calgary after sitting out the season opener as a healthy scratch, stalling a streak of 72 straight regular season games played. Beagle centered a line with Martin Erat on the left and rookie Tom Wilson on the right. With the Caps trailing and in comeback mode most of the night, Beagle’s unit didn’t see much action.
Each of Washington’s four lines has some scoring capability, and if the Caps can get in front on the scoreboard Oates might be able to go with his stated intention of rolling all four lines, a la the Boston Bruins. The Beagle line might be able to make some hay going up against the opposition’s fourth line.
“That’s what we talked about last night before the game,” says Beagle. “With Marty’s speed on the left and Willie down low – he’s a strong, big body down there – and I like to think that I can ground it out down low too, and keep it. That’s got to be our bread and butter, just getting it down in their end and abusing their [defense] and abusing their fourth line.
“As soon as we find a rhythm and get going here, we should be able to contribute on the goal front quite a bit. Obviously Marty has a great eye for the kind of stuff. If we can get him the puck, he will be dangerous. It’s a lot of fun to play with him, too, a lot of fun.”
Dallas debuted its new uniforms in its home opener on Thursday night against the Florida Panthers, but the Stars fell 4-2. It was the first game in Dallas for new head coach Lindy Ruff and new general manager Jim Nill. The contest also marked the NHL debut of 18-year-old right wing Valeri Nichuskin, the Stars’ first pick (10th overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Of the Stars that suited up for Washington’s last visit to Dallas nearly three years ago, only four remain: goaltender Kari Lehtonen (who didn’t play in that game), captain Jamie Benn and defensemen Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas.
The Stars overhauled the center ice position over the summer, bringing in Tyler Seguin and Shawn Horcoff in deals with Boston and Edmonton, respectively.
Along with Washington and Chicago, Dallas was one of just three NHL teams to get through the 2013 preseason without suffering a regulation loss. The Stars were 5-0-2.