The Dallas Stars continue to show their fast start is no fluke.
The Stars improved to an NHL-best 11-3-0 on Thursday night by beating the Capitals 5-2, handing Washington its first home loss in seven games this season. The Stars have won four in a row overall and have lost just once in regulation in their last 20 meetings against Washington.
"It's a good measuring stick for us," coach Glen Gulutzan said of beating the Caps. "We're trying to gauge ourselves against the League, coming into Washington and then going to Pittsburgh and Detroit. We feel this is going to be a real good measuring stick. Tonight we liked our game and I think it gives us confidence moving forward."
The Stars, who've missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, lead the NHL with 22 points and have beaten Carolina and Washington by 5-2 scores to start a four-game trip that continues with games against the Penguins on Friday and the Red Wings on Saturday.
"We knew this trip was a big trip for us," said forward Michael Ryder, who scored twice in the first period. "We wanted to make sure we got off to a good start the last game, and we did that. Tonight we wanted to make sure we kept it going. We knew we were playing a good team and we had to come out strong. We did that and we kept going for a full 60 minutes. We came up with the win."
Adam Burish broke a 2-2 tie by scoring 24 seconds into the third period. Jamie Benn added a goal and two assists for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen improved to 11-1-0 this season by making 30 saves.
Washington, coming off a 5-3 loss to the Islanders on Saturday, fell to 9-4-0.
"We were fortunate to be tied at the end of two (periods), I thought," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We talked about playing one good period, and the first 15-20 seconds they scored a goal. We lost a lot of battles in the third periods in the last two games. The compete level wasn't as high as we'd like it to be."
Burish's backhander past Michal Neuvirth off Brenden Morrow's pass from the left boards broke a 2-2 tie, and Benn fired home a long power-play rebound at 7:33 that made it 4-2. Eric Nystrom added some insurance 32 seconds later with his third goal in three games, a nice individual effort in which he deked defenseman John Carlson, cut from the right wing into the slot and zipped a 15-foot wrister past Neuvirth.
"We've been sloppy as a group," Caps forward Mike Knuble said of his team's defensive coverage. "You give up four, five, six (goals) a night, that's a tough way to win. We're just not bearing down in the third (period) as much as we should."
Lehtonen was as happy with the Stars' performance in front of him as Knuble was displeased with the Caps' play.
"It was really nice to see how we outworked them in the third. It was fairly easy for me," Lehtonen said. "I think I had two saves at the halfway mark (of the third) and we had scored three goals already. That made it easier for me."
Ryder opened the scoring 10:32 into the game by deflecting Trevor Daley's shot behind Neuvirth. Alexander Semin tied it at 15:43 with a 15-foot one-timer from the right circle that beat Lehtonen cleanly, ending a seven-game goal drought.
Ryder put Dallas back in front at 17:16 when he took a pass from Benn to the left of Neuvirth, got the goaltender to come off his post and reached back to tuck the puck into the vacated net.
Carlson teed up a slapper and blew it past Lehtonen at 15:56 of the second period to get the Caps even going into the third period, before the Stars blew the game open.
"This was against an elite team and I am sure there were a lot of people watching to see how we did against a great team like Washington," Lehtonen said. "It was nice to get a good victory."
Knuble was puzzled at his team's performance, particularly after the late second-period goal that tied the game.
"It befuddles you because this group can be so good and so complete," he said. "Then we come out and play an incomplete game. We turned it into a 20-minute game, and we were outclassed in the third (period). That's a couple of times it happened. It's a mystery. This is a veteran group; that shouldn't happen to this group."