The Capitals haven’t made many trips to Dallas over the years, and that’s probably a good thing. Washington’s first visit to Texas in nearly three years turned out the same way the last one did, with the Capitals on the short end of a 2-1 score and bemoaning a goal they scored that ended up not counting.
For the first time this season, Washington struck first and also held its first lead of the first frame in 2013-14. Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas went to the box for tripping Caps forward Brooks Laich at 3:25 of the first, and Washington went up 1-0 just 61 seconds later.
Marcus Johansson funneled the puck out to Mike Green at center point. Green dished to Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, in his power play “office” at the left dot. Ovechkin’s one-timer beat Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen to the short side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 4:26 of the first.
The goal was the 375th of Ovechkin’s NHL career, and it came in his 604th career game in the league.
Dallas evened the score less than four minutes later. The Stars moved the puck from the right point along the wall to Stars pivot Tyler Seguin, who was stationed behind the Washington net on the far side of the ice. Seguin picked up his first point in a Dallas uniform with a slick backhand pass to veteran winger Erik Cole in front. Three Caps were in front, but they were unable to converge on the winger. He had sufficient time and space to fire a wrist shot that beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby and made it a 1-1 game at 8:01.
Eight minutes into the second, it appeared for a moment that Washington had gone on top. Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, parked at the top of the Dallas paint, essentially bunted the puck into the cage, then pushed Lehtonen into the net after making contact with the puck. A short conference and a video review later, the goal was waived off and the score remained 1-1.
“Obviously when you have the benefit of replay,” explains Caps coach Adam Oates, “I think it should have been a goal based on the replay. But the referees are trying to do the best they can.
“I thought once the puck goes in there, you’re allowed to go after it. I didn’t think Backy interfered with him; I thought he touched the puck first and then the goalie. Obviously the goalie embellished a little.
“[The officials] did their best. The [referee] thought he was interfered with. You’ve got to be able to survive that stuff. It’s a tough time. You want the goal but it happens. Hopefully over the course of the season, it goes the same for everybody.”
Just over four minutes later, the Stars went on top. Caps winger Martin Erat lost control of the puck along the left wing half-wall in the offensive zone. The Stars quickly collected it and started off on a 3-on-2 transition rush. Ex-Cap Cody Eakin and rookie winger Alex Chiasson played catch as they entered the Washington zone, with Eakin taking a shot from the right dot. Holtby made the stop, but the rebound kicked right out to Chiasson in the slot and he was able to bury it before Holtby recovered fully from making the initial stop.
The Caps weren’t able to generate much in the way of sustained offensive zone pressure or cycle shifts, and were rarely able to tax the Dallas defense much. Although they outshot the Stars 26-21 on the night, chances were fairly even and the Caps didn’t test Lehtonen as much as they would have liked.
“Through three games,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich, “I don’t think we’ve really established our cycle game. I think it’s been a lot of rushing up the ice and chipping the puck in with speed, but sort of one and done, and not getting second and third opportunities. I thought in the third we did that a couple of times. It really makes us look fast and makes them look slow. But we’ve got to start getting some offense from zone time rather than waiting for the rush or the power play.”
Oates was willing to give the Stars some credit for strong play in their own end, but also noted that the Caps’ propensity for turning the puck over in their own end of the ice frequently left them with less energy for forechecking and cycling.
“You’ve got to give them some credit,” says Oates of the Stars. “I think it just wears on you when you turn it over too much on the shift. Then you finally get in there and you don’t have enough juice to win battles. Every team plays good defensively. You’ve just got to wait your turn and wear them out.”
Less Than Even – The Caps have been outscored 10-3 at even strength this season. They’ve hurt themselves with turnovers in five-on-five situations, and they haven’t been as strong a puck possession team as they’re capable of being.
“Every team is so much better defensively in the zone,” says Oates. “You’ve got to keep trying to figure out ways to get more. We had a couple of chances, if we get that second goal, maybe a third goal – we had three 2-on-1s, two crossbars – maybe if we get one more they open up a little bit and they press and you get more chances. You’ve got to be willing to grind it out 5-on-5.”
Three of Ovechkin’s four goals have come on the power play. He, Mikhail Grabovski and rookie defenseman Connor Carrick own Washington’s three even-strength goals this season.
“Five-on-five, we just have to do simple play,” says The caps’ captain. “Sometimes it just works well and sometimes it doesn’t work. We made lots of turnovers in our zone and especially in the neutral zone. When we play well and when we play our game it works.
“Tonight we get the lead and play well and have good chances, but after that we just stopped playing and made a stupid decision in our zone and it cost us.”
Laich believes the offense will come once the chemistry on the various forward lines begins to gel a bit more.
“I thought for the better part we cleaned up our game,” remarks Laich. “There weren’t as many blatant turnovers there. Our 5-on-5 offense is going to come from playing as a team, playing as five-man units. We’re still working that stuff out; it’s still early in the season.
“I had a chance to hit [linemate Troy Brouwer] with five minutes left there and instead of putting it in his wheelhouse I just put it six inches ahead of him where he can’t crank a one-timer. Little stuff like that that we are just missing on, later on in the season really results in goals when those things are airtight. We just have to sharpen up a little bit and bind a way to get it done.”
Leader Of The Pack – Ovechkin is all alone atop the NHL leader board in points (six), goals (four), power play goals (three) and shots on goal (24). He stands a decent chance of being named one of the league’s three stars for the first week of the 2013-14 campaign.
Green and Johansson are among a group of five players with a league-leading four assists on the young season.
Back In The Saddle – Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy saw his first action of 2013-14 after sitting out the first two games as a healthy scratch. He skated 15:25 on the night, recording a shot on goal and a hit.
“It felt real good,” says Oleksy. “I felt better as the game went on with decision-making and getting the legs back. No matter how hard you practice or how hard you bag skate, it’s not like game situations. It felt better as it went on. Obviously the timing started to come back as the game went on.”
The Last Time -- It has been nearly three years since the Caps have visited Dallas, a place that has proven to be a difficult place for them over the years. Washington will be playing once a season in Dallas starting with the 2013-14 season, but this big barn in Big D has been a tough place for the Caps on their infrequent visits in the two decades since the Stars moved down from Minnesota.
Washington’s last visit here was on Dec. 2, 2010, and it came a night after a 4-1 win over the Blues in St. Louis. The Caps absorbed a 2-1 setback to the Stars here that night, a loss that started Washington’s eight-game losing streak (0-6-2) in the month leading up to the Caps’ 2011 Winter Classic appearance against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
Mike Knuble scored the Caps’ lone goal in the game. Mike Ribeiro and Brandon Segal tallied for Dallas; Segal scored the game-winner 20 seconds after Knuble tied it on the power play midway through the third. (Segal is now a member of the Caps’ organization; he’s with the AHL Hershey Bears.)
Caps defenseman John Carlson scored with 7.6 seconds remaining, but the goal was waived off by referee Dan O’Rourke. O’Rourke ruled that Caps captain Alex Ovechkin interfered with Stars goalie Andrew Raycroft.
Bruce Boudreau was the Caps’ bench boss at the time, and he went off, incurring an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the waning seconds. Boudreau remained livid in his postgame address to the media.
“What do you want me to say that I can’t get fined for?” said Boudreau after the game. “If you look at the frigging call, Ovi doesn’t touch the guy. Their guy [Skrastins] slides into the goalie and takes him out of the play. The one ref is telling me Ovi is in the paint. Well, I want to know when that rule changed where you can’t be in the paint. If you don’t touch anybody, if you don’t interfere with anybody, when that rule [changed]. Why the two refs aren’t consulting each other …
“You want to know why I voted for a coach’s challenge? There it is. It cost us two points. It’s a bad call. Refs make bad calls, but at that time of the game when you’re down one, you better be sure something is happening instead of wanting to make that call, let alone the calls in the second period.”
So yeah, that game didn’t go so well.
Washington’s last win in Dallas came nearly five years ago, on Oct. 25, 2008. Alexander Semin supplied the game-winner in overtime in a 6-5 barnburner. Caps utilityman Tyler Sloan netted his first NHL goal in that game.
The Capitals’ last regulation win in Dallas came on Oct. 17, 1995. Mike Eagles, former Star Mark Tinordi, Stefan Ustorf and Dale Hunter scored in support of Jim Carey in goal in that one. Ustorf’s goal was the first of his NHL career.
Rolling Four Lines, Three Pairs – Oates has stated an intention to roll four lines, but circumstances have prevented him from doing so thus far in the early going. Dallas coach Lindy Ruff, who earned his first win as the Stars’ bench boss on Saturday, rolled his four lines quite nicely against Washington on Saturday.
Seguin led all Stars forwards with 18:08 in ice time on the night. Center Vernon Fiddler was low man in ice time among the team’s 12 forwards with 12:06 for the game.
Alex Goligoski topped the Stars’ defense with 20:50 on the night, and the least used Dallas defenseman was Jordie Benn at 17:33. There was a gap of just 6:02 separating the Stars’ dozen forwards and just 3:17 separating their six defensemen.
Contrast that with Washington, which had a gap of 15:47 between Ovechkin (22:05) and fourth-line rookie winger Tom Wilson (6:18). The blueline gap was 14;24 between Mike Green (27:05) and Carrick (12:41).
Shooting Star – Chiasson’s goal was his second in as many games this season and his eighth in just nine career NHL games. He has nine points (eight goals, one assist) in those nine contests in the NHL. Chiasson has needed just 19 shots to net those eight goals.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears opened their 2013-14 season by hosting the Adirondack Phantoms at the Giant Center on Saturday. The Bears fell 4-3 in overtime.
The Bears dug a 2-0 hole for themselves in the first frame, surrendering two even-strength goals in the first four minutes. But the Bears roared back with three goals in the middle frame, including a pair of shorthanded tallies.
Defenseman Nate Schmidt scored the Bears’ first goal of the season with a solo assist from Peter LeBlanc just 49 seconds into the second period. Just before the midpoint of the middle frame, Bears center Michael Latta – who opened the season with the Capitals in Chicago – tied the game at 2-2 with an unassisted shorthanded strike. Latta set up a Derek Whitmore shorthanded goal at 14:39 of the second that gave Hershey a 3-2 lead.
Brandon Alderson evened the game at 3-3 on an Adirondack power play at 8:25 of the third and Braondon Manning won it for the Flyers at 3:22 of the extra session.
Philipp Grubauer stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced in the Hershey nets. The Bears earned a single standings point by virtue of the overtime setback.
Hershey is idle until next Saturday when it faces the Penguins in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Bears’ next home game is not until Sat. Oct. 26 when they host Hartford.