Battle of division leaders as Capitals host Stars
Monday, 11.07.2011 / 2:42 PM
Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior WriterSTARS (10-3-0) at CAPITALS (9-3-0)
TV: FS-SW, CSN-MA
Dallas 8-2-0; Washington 7-3-0
This is the only meeting between the clubs this season.
Washington was supposed to be sitting at or near the top of the NHL all season, but Dallas enters Tuesday's game as the surprise leader in the Western Conference. The Stars have 20 points, one more than the Blackhawks.
Dallas has won three straight and four out of its last five. The Stars are finding ways to win even when they give up six goals, as they did this past Friday against Colorado. Fortunately, Loui Eriksson
scored twice, including the winner 3:55 into overtime, to give Dallas a 7-6 victory. The Stars then went out and beat Carolina handily, 5-2, on Sunday.
The Stars got off to a strong start because they relied heavily on the impressive play of goalie Kari Lehtonen
, but it appears now their offense is coming around. They have scored 15 goals during their current three-game winning streak and have 20 goals in their last five games after scoring just 18 over their first eight.
The line of Eriksson, Jamie Benn
and Michael Ryder
combined for 3 goals and 5 assists in Sunday's win. Eriksson has 8 points over the last four games after scoring just 7 in the first nine games. Benn and Ryder each have 5 points in the last two games.
"We got two real cerebral players, they just kind of feed off each other and they think the game so well," coach Glen Gulutzan said of Eriksson and Benn. "You've got two smart guys playing together and they're having a good streak right now."
Washington got back to work Monday after losing to the Islanders, 5-3, on Saturday. The Capitals jumped out to an early lead, but admittedly lost focus on their game plan of forechecking hard and playing strong defense. They blew a 2-0 lead by giving up two goals in the second and three in the third, including an empty-netter to John Tavares.
"In the second period, we wanted to get that third one," Brooks Laich
told reporters following the game. "We thought if we did that, we could really control the game. But we got away from our game plan a little bit. They pushed back, started to outwork us, and that's where it started to turn."
The good news is that Alex Ovechkin
had a strong game against the Islanders and scored his sixth goal of the season. He said after the game that he's been feeling good the last couple of games and his shot is coming back as well.
In addition to Eriksson, Benn and Ryder, Sheldon Souray
has 6 points in the last three games and Stephane Robidas
has 4 points in the last two. … Washington has its own sizzling star in Nicklas Backstrom
, who was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week on Monday for his 3 goals and 3 assists in the Caps' three games last week. Backstrom leads the team with 18 points, including 13 assists.
Washington defenseman Mike Green
(ankle) practiced with the team on Monday, but coach Bruce Boudreau said they will not rush him back. Jay Beagle
(concussion) remains out of the Caps lineup. … Stars forward Steve Ott
has missed two straight games with a lower-body injury.
Dallas is 2-0 against Eastern teams this season after going 11-5-4 against the conference last season. Washington's defensemen are averaging a combined 2.75 points-per-game this season (33 points in 12 games). The blueliners combined to average 1.48 points-per-game last season (121 points in 82 games).
"I don't want to be a liability on the ice," Green told the Washington Post. "And I've only had one really good skate here, so for me to just jump back in wouldn't necessarily be a good thing. If I think I am (a liability) then I don't think I should play. If I don't, then I'll play."