March 6 vs. Dallas Stars at Verizon Center
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Dallas Stars 26-29-10
Washington Capitals 44-13-7
The Capitals close out a three-game homestand on Monday night against the Dallas Stars, kicking off a stretch in which Washington will face Western Conference opponents in each of its next six games and in 11 of its next 13.
Washington will be aiming for a 16th straight victory on home ice when the Stars visit the District on Monday, but it will be doing so against a traditionally difficult opponent in Dallas. The Capitals have dropped five straight games (0-4-1) to the Stars in D.C., getting outscored by a combined 20-9 in the process. The Caps' last home ice triumph over the Stars came more than a decade ago; it was a 4-3 win on Nov. 30, 2006.
Since the Stars moved south to Dallas from Minnesota in 1993, the Capitals are 3-10-1 at home against Dallas, and the Stars have outscored the Caps by a combined total of 53-30.
The Capitals have also struggled mightily against the Stars in Dallas during that span, but Washington ended a lengthy drought in Big D with a 4-3 overtime win over the Stars there on Jan. 21. The Caps come into Monday's game with a modest three-game winning streak. In each of those three victories, a key cog has returned to the Washington lineup and made his presence felt immediately after a short absence because of injury.
Video: Beagle, Grubauer power the Caps past the Stars in OT
Most recently, the Caps got right wing T.J. Oshie back in the lineup after a four-game absence on Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Oshie skated 19:19 in Washington's 2-1 overtime win over the Flyers, and it was Oshie's net-front screen on the four-on-three power play in overtime that enabled Nicklas Backstrom to slip a shot into the short side of the cage for a 2-1 overtime victory.
"I felt good," said Oshie after the game. "Honestly, I thought I was going to be a little more tired and my legs weren't really going to be under me, but I felt great. I felt from the drop of the puck that my legs were going. My hands weren't really catching up, but by the end they started feeling a little bit better."
Oshie skated almost two minutes more than his nightly average of 17:34 in his return to the lineup.
Brooks Orpik returned from a three-game absence on Thursday against New Jersey and the Caps got Matt Niskanen back on Tuesday in New York after he had missed the previous two games. Both Orpik and Niskanen were out with lower body ailments.
Going into Sunday's slate of NHL activity, the Caps led the NHL with 147 five-on-five goals. But Washington has managed just one even-strength tally in its last two games, and has scored 13 even-strength goals in eight games since returning from its bye week.
Nevertheless, the Caps have won five of their last six games. They were due for a market correction in the lamp-lighting department, but they've kept the standings points coming with a combination of sturdy goaltending, timely power-play goals, strong penalty killing and a suffocating defense that has become a foundational support for the Capitals.
Empty-net goals aside, the Caps have surrendered just nine even-strength goals in their last eight games. At the 64-game mark of the season, the Caps own a remarkable plus-66 goal differential (147-81) at five-on-five.
"In terms of possession and generating scoring chances," says Niskanen, "I think we're playing our best five-on-five hockey since I've been here. At times we've been good at controlling the puck on the cycle or really stifling defensively. But in terms of attacking and making things happen, this is the best five-on-five we've played since I've been here."
Caps goalie Braden Holtby earned his 34th win of the season on Saturday over the Flyers, and he is now 19-2-2 this season when starting on exactly one day's rest. He stopped 30 of 31 shots in Saturday's victory, including all seven he faced during six Philadelphia power plays in the game.
"I thought we were good in a lot of areas," says Holtby of the Capitals' penalty killing outfit. "In order to be successful against [the Flyers], you've got to limit their zone time, and we did that for the majority of the time. When they get in zone, they have some options and some dangerous players. We limited that, and I think that's a big reason why we were successful."
Dallas was a 109-point team last season, winning the Central Division and finishing with the top seed playoff berth in the Western Conference. After ousting Minnesota in the first round, the Stars succumbed to St. Louis in a seven-game second round series. The Stars were expected to be among the top teams in the West again this season, but it hasn't worked out that way.
The Stars lost veteran defensemen Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski to free agency last summer, and though they added defenseman Dan Hamhuis to their roster in the same fashion, the Stars are 28th in the NHL in goals against (3.20 per game) this season and they're dead last (73.5%) in penalty killing.
Dallas comes into Monday night's game with four wins in its last six games (4-2-0). The Stars earned a 2-1 win over the Panthers in Florida on Saturday in the first game of their two-game road trip. But the Stars' current warm spell followed an extended cold snap in which they won only six of 22 contests (6-13-3). That prolonged skid caused Dallas to tumble out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference; the Stars are in 11th place in the Conference, six points back of the final playoff berth with just 17 games to play.
Coming into Monday's game with Washington, the Stars' blueline is nearly as green as their uniforms. Hamhuis has played in 935 NHL games, but the other five defensemen who dressed for Dallas on Saturday in Florida have combined for a total of just 530 career games in the league, led by John Klingberg's 204.