Fallen Stars – Beating a scuffling Western Conference club on the road might not seem like much of a big deal, but the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night in Dallas was a long time coming for the visitors from Washington.
The Stars moved from Minnesota to Dallas on June 9, 1993, and almost immediately Big D became a tough town for the Capitals. Washington won for the first time in Texas on Oct. 17, 1995. The team’s next win in the Lone Star State came on Dec. 29, 2001. The Caps’ third victory in Dallas was achieved on Oct. 25, 2008.
Three wins in 16 visits over the years, with the last two of those coming in overtime. That’s what the Caps were up against when they made their once-a-season visit to Dallas on Saturday night.
When Andre Burakovsky scored at 2:17 of the first, the Caps owned a rare 1-0 lead over the Stars. In their previous eight games against Dallas – in any location – Washington held a lead for a grand total of three minutes and 35 seconds of the 480 minutes of hockey played between the two teams.
The Burakovsky goal gave the Caps a whopping four minutes and nine seconds of lead time before Stars forward Adam Cracknell scored to tie it up for Dallas. Cracknell’s goal was the first of three Dallas tallies that resulted in the Caps looking up at a 3-1 deficit at the outset of the third period.
Washington was also on the short end of a 5-0 disparity in power play opportunities at that point. The Caps finally got a pair of extra-man opportunities early in the third, and they made good on both to tie the score.
That set the stage for overtime, where an unlikely hero emerged.
Eschewing his usual format of two defensemen and one forward for the extra session, Caps coach Barry Trotz elected to start overtime with forwards Jay Beagle and Evgeny Kuznetsov – a pair of forwards who rarely skate together – and blueliner Matt Niskanen.
Nineteen seconds later, the Caps had their fourth win ever in Texas.
Kuznetsov’s speed and creativity combined to set up Beagle for a prime chance from the top of the paint, and the relentless Washington center scored the first game-winning overtime goal of his NHL career to make winners of the Caps and extend the team’s points streak to 13 straight games (11-0-2)
“Because I thought he was playing good,” says Trotz, when asked why he deployed Beagle in that situation. “I just felt like keeping him out there. He was playing really well, he deserved to be out there. He kept us in the game early, he won a lot of big draws and I just felt that he deserved that opportunity.”
Sawbuck – Beagle’s goal was his 10
th of the season and his 20
th point. Both of those figures match single-season career bests achieved in 2014-15, and he has 36 games remaining with which to improve upon those totals.
The epitome of a self-made player, the 31-year-old Beagle continues to improve his game incrementally.
“It’s something that I’ve been trying to do, but I’m playing with great players,” says Beagle. “Something like where Kuzy (Kuznetsov) gives me a pass like that; [Daniel] Winnik, [Tom Wilson]. I’ve been with them almost all year. We’ve got great chemistry and the lines rolling and it’s unreal playing with them and I can just kind of jump on board.”
Number Nine, Number Nine – Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer was excellent against a skilled and extremely determined Dallas team on Saturday. He made 14 of his 32 saves in the first period to keep the Caps close, and he made a huge save on Stars center Tyler Seguin midway through the third period on a Dallas power play, preserving a 3-3 tie.
With Saturday’s win, Grubauer earned his ninth win of the season, matching his single-season career high established in 2015-16. He is now 9-1-2 on the season.
Start Me Up – Washington scored the game’s first goal for the 10
th straight game on Saturday, and Burakovsky scored the game’s first goal for the fourth consecutive contest.
“I don’t really know what’s going on, but obviously it’s nice,” says Burakovsky. “It’s always a nice thing to help the team and to get a goal. It’s going in the right direction.”
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Burakovsky has tied an NHL record for most consecutive team games scoring the first goal. The feat has been achieved many times, but by only three other players in the last 60 years. Chicago’s Bobby Hull turned the trick in 1969-70, Montreal’s Brian Savage did it in 1995-96 and San Jose’s Jonathan Cheechoo did so most recently in 2007-08.
The 700 Club – Niskanen skated in his 700
th career game on Saturday night in Dallas, doing so against the team that drafted him in the first round (28
th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Niskanen collected three assists in the game, matching his single-game career bests in both points and assists. According to Elias, Niskanen is the first ex-Stars defenseman to record three points in a game against his former team since the club moved south from Minnesota in 1993.
The last former North Stars blueliner to put up three points against his old team was Moe Mantha, who did so for the original Winnipeg Jets franchise on Dec. 26, 1990.
Offense From The Defense – Through the team’s first 46 games this season, Washington defensemen have now amassed a total of 103 points (16 goals, 87 assists). That average of 2.24 points per game is the highest rate of offensive involvement from the team’s defensemen in more than two decades, since the 1993-94 group averaged 2.43 points per game.
Power Surge – The Caps went 2-for-2 on the power play in Saturday’s game, scoring a pair of critical extra-man tallies early in the third period. With those two tallies, the Caps’ power play unit has nudged its way over 20 percent (20.3%) on the season.
Washington has scored at least one power-play goal in four straight games (5-for-10, 60%) and in six of its last seven games (8-for-16, 50%). The only game in which Washington did not score a power play goal in its last seven games, it did not have a single power play opportunity (Jan. 13 vs. Chicago).
Streaking – With a pair of assists on Saturday, Nicklas Backstrom extended his points streak to nine straight games (four goals, 12 assists). He is now one shy of matching his career best points streak of 10 games, a level he has reached twice previously; most recently from Oct. 29-Nov. 11, 2011 (three goals, seven assists).
With 46 points (13 goals, 33 assists) on the season, Backstrom is now tied for sixth in the NHL’s scoring race.
Alex Ovechkin scored his 22
nd goal of the season on a Washington power play in the third period, running his scoring streak to seven games (four goals, eight assists).
Mentors’ Trip – Washington is now 12-5 in Mentors’ Trip games since the beginning of the 2007-08 season.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears absorbed a 5-1 road loss to the Baby Penguins in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday night.
Zach Sanford scored Hershey’s lone goal of the game – his eighth of the season – with help from Christian Djoos and Christian Thomas at 3:46 of the third to spare the Bears from being blanked.
Vitek Vanecek surrendered four goals on just 15 shots in 34 minutes of work before being pulled in favor of Joe Cannata. Cannata stopped 10 of the 11 shots he faced in a relief effort. Vanecek falls to 9-8-5 on the season.
The 19-12-7-2 Bears host Lehigh Valley on Sunday at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays dropped a 4-0 road decision to the Atlanta Gladiators on Saturday night. Stingrays goalie Parker Milner gave up three goals on 27 shots in a losing effort, falling to 17-8-1 on the season.
South Carolina returns home to host the Greenville Swamp Rabbits at North Charleston Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.
By The Numbers – Niskanen led the Capitals with 25:24 in ice time … Karl Alzner led the Caps with 5:24 worth of shorthanded ice time and four blocked shots … Ovechkin led the Capitals with three shots on net and six shot attempts … Beagle won 13 of 21 draws (62%) in the game and Evgeny Kuznetsov won five of eight (63%).