The Washington Capitals came into tonight’s game with a chance to be the top team in the NHL and blew it right from the start. The team’s unwillingness to play defense and their propensity for trying to make too many fancy plays (including 3rd liners) made the Caps an easy target for the high-flying Stars. Dallas used their team speed and some astute coaching moves to gain the upper hand, but the Caps did the rest, giving the game away with bad penalties and poor zone coverage, allowing the Stars to score almost at will for large chunks of the hockey game.
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The Stars got off to a hot start, drawing a power play five minutes in that was generated by good offensive zone pressure. Michal Neuvirth, making his second start in three games, stood tall for the hosts on their penalty kill with some excellent saves Dallas’ high-powered man advantage. The deadlock would not last long, however, as Michael Ryder tipped a long point drive past Michal Neuvirth just past the ten minute mark to give the Stars an early advantage, thanks to a Jeff Schultz giveaway, one of many on the night. Washington continued to play flat as the period wore on, giving the opposition a ton of scoring chances and odd-man rushes off bad giveaways and defensive zone play.
Dallas finally gave the Caps a chance at a spark by taking a penalty with just under five minutes left in the frame, and Alexander Semin made them pay only 40 seconds in with a rocket one timer past Lehtonen to even the score. Credit the nifty assist to Nicklas Backstrom, who took a skittering pass around the boards and, in one motion, collected the puck and passed behind his back out of the corner to Semin, who was waiting in the right circle. But Dallas came right back, as Ryder put another one past Neuvirth a short time later to break the tie off a scrum in front of goal with two and a half minutes left in the opening period.
Washington’s start in the second period was equally poor, allowing the Stars constant pressure on their net. That sub-par effort continued a little over four minutes in as John Erskine was called for a boarding penalty after a blind centering pass from Jason Chimera sprung their breakout. Erskine, playing his 400th NHL game against his first NHL team, went for a shoulder check on Trevor Daley, but instead Daley ducked and Erskine got his arm up into Daley’s head and drove him into the boards. No matter, the Stars’ power play was negated soon after when Ryder took a penalty of his own, clipping Dennis Wideman as he crossed the blue line.
After some firewagon hockey in which both teams traded chances, the Capitals finally managed to put the pressure on the Stars and tie the game. Marcus Johansson won a faceoff clean to his left winger, Cody Eakin, who bump-setted the puck back to John Carlson at the point. Using the forward as a screen, Carlson one-timed a slap shot off of Lehtonen’s pad into the back of the cage.
Alex Semin almost gave the Caps the lead later in the period, but he fired his slap shot off the post, thus ending the Caps chances at winning the game. Dennis Wideman flung the puck over the glass with 1:36 to go in the second, and the Caps got to the locker room tied. The Stars wouldn’t wait long to take the lead back, though.
Hard-nosed winger Adam Burish, the kind of player who shoots first and asks questions later, quickly drove the net on a faceoff just as the powerplay was expiring. Brenden Morrow got the puck to the front of the net, and Burish shook off Nick Backstrom to bury the puck for the eventual game-winner, just 24 seconds into the period. With the wind out of their sails, the Caps mailed in the rest of the game and the fans went home early. The Stars tacked on two more goals in quick succession at 7:33 and 8:05 for the final margin. The next goal came with Semin in the box for his second tripping minor of the game, Sheldon Souray uncorked his patented slap-shot, producing a monster rebound for Jamie Benn to knock home. just 32 second later, Roman Hamrlik was caught pinching deep in the Dallas zone and John Carlson couldn’t keep Eric Nystrom from rifling the puck past Neuvirth on a partial breakaway. The Caps got two late powerplays, but couldn’t get anything going.
Two bright spots on the night were the play of Cody Eakin and Michal Neuvirth. Eakin continues to make smart, confident plays, but his ability to control the puck in tight spaces in high pressure moments makes you think he’s got ice water running through his veins, very impressive for a kid in his 3rd NHL game. Michal Neuvirth also put forth a solid outing, but was unfortunately let down by his forwards and defense, who got lured into playing back and forth hockey and not covering their men.