They typically only face each other once a season, so a match-up between the Dallas Stars and the Washington Capitals is not one of the marquee rivalries in the NHL. Not like the salad days of the great Redskins and Cowboys teams over in the NFL. But coming into last night’s game, these two teams sported the best records in the league. Unfortunately, what promised to be fireworks turned to fizzle as the the Caps came undone in the third period. The Stars simply out-worked the Caps en route to a 5-2 victory in Washington.
The Stars scored first on a shot tipped by Michael Ryder halfway through the first. The Caps responded with a blast from Alexander Semin on the power play. Nicklas Backstrom made a no-look backhand pass to set up the one-timer by Semin to even the score at 1-1. Backstrom makes it look so easy.
But Ryder struck again with a nifty move to tuck the puck around the post behind a sprawling Michal Neuvirth to make it 2-1.
The Caps fought back in the second period. Late in the frame Marcus Johansson won an offensive zone faceoff and Cody Eakin crisply passed it back to John Carlson at the point. Carlson beat Dallas net minder Kari Lehtonen with a blast over the glove side to even the score at 2-2.
The wheels came off for the Caps in the third period as the Stars scored 24 seconds in, then struck twice more around the eight minute mark to make it 5-2. The Caps failed to mount any serious challenge even with a couple of power plays down the stretch. “We were fortunate to be tied at the end of the first two periods,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “We talked about playing one good period [third period]. In the first 15 or 20 seconds [in the third period] they scored a goal. We’ve lost a lot of battles in the third periods [in] the last two games. The compete level wasn’t as great as we’d like it to be.”
- Michal Neuvirth looked good and bailed out the team during long stretches when the Caps were being out-hustled and out-played.
- Cody Eakin is for real. The 20-year old rookie has speed, good hands, and can find his way around the rink.
- John Erskine has come back strong. He is no Mike Green (see below), but he is getting the job done defensively.
- After winning their first seven games of the season, the Caps have gone 2-4 in their past six games.
- What does it take to get this team fired-up? These Caps typically play to the level of their opponent. This year they have been on fire for the Penguins, Flyers, and Red Wings. But they were flat against the lowly Islanders and Senators. And they have underestimated the Western conference teams, losing to the Oilers, Canuck and Stars.
- Coach Bruce Boudreau got greedy after the first Caps goal. Instead of sticking with his checking line against the Stars top line, he went with the Johansson line for a defensive zone faceoff. It was a total mismatch and the Stars looked like they were on a power play. Goal followed quickly. Momentum gone.
- The Caps numerous defensive breakdowns. Boudreau has switched around his defensive pairs since Mike Green has been injured. The new combination of Karl Alzner and Jeff Shultz is a great shut down combo, but at the cost of mismatching Carlson with Roman Hamrlik. The later were -3 for the evening.
This weekend sees a home-and-home series with the New Jersey Devils. The Caps play in the New Jersey Friday night and then host the Devils at the Verizon Center on Saturday at 7pm.