The Washington Capitals played, by far, their worst period of the season in the second frame on Saturday night in Dallas, giving up 17 shots on net and four goals to fall behind 4-0 after 40 minutes.
The Caps went totally against what makes them successful in that middle frame. They tried soft, cross ice passes instead of getting pucks deep. As a result, they could not take advantage of their size and skill down low which provided the super fast Stars with several odd man rushes that they capitalized on.
Braden Holtby did all he could to keep Dallas at bay, but he could not be faulted on all four of the goals against since two were on three on one breaks, one came from in front by one of the best scorers in the NHL in Jamie Benn when he was not covered properly, and the fourth tally was on a two man advantage power play where one of the Capitals penalty killers also lost his stick.
It was as ugly a period as the Caps have played all season long. It all started with a bad decision by the Caps inside their offensive blue line. Instead of dumping a puck down low and creating a two on one advantage situation, the Washington forward chose to go cross ice and Dallas was off to the races. That sequence started what seemed like wave after wave of Capitals turnovers leading to Stars chances.
Shortly after it was 2-0, the Caps Andre Burakovsky had a seemingly open cage to cut the lead to one and the shot was somehow stopped. Moments later the Stars were gifted another three on one when a Caps defenseman tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone and was pick pocketed. That made it 3-0, and then when Washington took two bad offensive zone penalties, the Stars cashed in late to make it 4-0.
Holtby, who deserved much better than the garbage play in front of him to that point, was relieved for the final frame to get Philipp Grubauer some work.
The reaction on twitter from several skeptics within and outside the Caps fan base was somewhat predictable during the second intermission. People were spouting off about how the Caps losing to Dallas, for the second time this season, showed they couldn’t beat the best teams in the NHL and that they weren’t for real.
Are you kidding me?
We can check the ledger with the court reporter, but if I’m not mistaken the team that has won three of the last six Stanley Cups, the Chicago Blackhawks, were defeated by the Caps in their only meeting back in October. But narratives rarely focus on the facts on twitter, especially from the haters and non-believers, so my message after 40 minutes to those who were bailing on the team after one bad period was: “Good riddance and don’t come back.” Washington, win or lose in Dallas, was still going to be the best team in the NHL.
“Best team in the NHL” is what showed up in the third period as the Capitals stormed back like Miracle Max had given them all magic healing pills. Alex Ovechkin started it with a laser from the Ovi spot on the power play to record his league leading 35th tally and get the ball rolling for Washington.
Justin Williams then atoned for his poor play on the first goal and made it 4-2 from in tight with just over 12 minutes to go. Then, after Ovechkin was flat out robbed by Kari Lehtonen (20 saves), Andre Burakovsky buried a sweet feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) to cut the deficit to just one puck with 6:06 left.
For the final six minutes the Caps had numerous chances and it took fortunate stops from “LUCK-onen” on Burakovsky, John Carlson, and Williams to maintain the Stars lead. Finally, with Grubauer pulled for the extra attacker, it took the right goal post on a Tom Wilson shot in the slot and then the linesman getting in the way after a face off win to take Ovechkin off of the puck with 30 seconds left for Dallas to escape with a 4-3 win.
The loss, just Washington’s 10th of the season in regulation, drops them to 40-10-4 (84 points). They still lead the NHL in points and are the best team in the NHL. The Stars have 15 regulation losses and no other club is closer in that department.
Losing was tough for the Caps and the critics will likely be out, especially those who despise Ovechkin and this franchise, but I don’t really care. Washington proved to all watching, and hopefully most importantly to themselves, that when they play their brand of hockey, which is getting pucks in deep on the opponent via proper zone entries, solid puck support, and strong, hard passes, that they are unbeatable.
That’s right; I said the Caps are unbeatable when they play the right way. In the second period, they played the wrong way. They tried the “easy game” where you don’t pay the price physically and mentally that’s necessary to win hockey games. You can’t play that way and beat anyone, let alone one of the top clubs in the Western Conference.
So on Saturday night, the Caps hopefully learned a good lesson or were simply reminded (after all, they’ve won 40 times this season in 54 games) about what is needed to be successful. Sure they received zero points, but when Coach Barry Trotz and his assistants show the team the tape of this one and point out the good and the bad, it will be clear as day as to how they need to play if they want to win the trophy I know they badly want in June.
In February, you can try the “easy game,” it probably won’t work, but when you have a big standings lead and are two months from the playoffs, it doesn’t hurt you in the near term. But playing the way they did in the 3rd period was a great reminder to Ovechkin and company that there is one recipe for success in the NHL and that is for a team to play to their strengths. For the final 20 minutes, it was “heavy hockey” city for Washington and that allowed their skill to take over the game. That’s the way Coach Trotz wants it drawn up and executed. When they do that, they win.
Yes, losing stinks, but on Saturday, the way this one went down might just be a really good thing, long term, for the best team in the NHL.
Notes: the loss halted the Capitals five game winning streak…Washington won the face off battle, 31-27. Mike Richards was 6-0 from the dot…the Caps were only credited with 15 hits, four by Ovechkin. Most of the physical play from Washington came in the final 20 minutes…Dallas was 1 for 4 on the power play while the Caps were 1 for 3…the Caps took their fourth “too many men on the ice” penalty in the last four games. That trend needs to stop, immediately…next up for the Capitals are the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. The Kings will be without forward Marian Gaborik (knee) and goalie Jonathan Quick’s status is up in the air, too. #32 was injured in a win over Boston earlier in the week. There is a very good chance that Brooks Orpik will be back in the lineup for the Caps which likely means that Taylor Chorney will be scratched. Chorney was -2 in this contest and he and Dmitry Orlov were the defensive pair on the ice on both three on one rush goals by Dallas.