The Capitals' bid to extend their home winning streak to 16 straight games failed on Monday night as they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Dallas Stars at Verizon Center. Winners of five of their previous six overall coming into Monday's game, the Caps were undone by a slow start that left them in a three-goal hole before the six-minute mark of the second period.
Being down three so early in the contest forced Caps coach Barry Trotz to shorten his bench more than he's done at any time in recent memory, taking Washington away from the rolling four-line attack that's been so effective over the last 40 games or so.
Video: WSH Recap: Backstrom, Oshie score in 4-2 loss
"We were chasing the game a little bit," says Trotz, "so I was using more of what I'll say are our offensive guys a little bit more than [Jay] Beagle's line. But Beags' line was really good, as it usually is. They drew a couple of penalties and allowed us to go on the power play a couple of times."
After surrendering three goals on 11 shots in about 26 minutes of work, Caps goalie Braden Holtby was pulled in favor of Philipp Grubuaer in the second period. Grubauer was spotless the rest of the way, and the Caps pulled their game together, but weren't able to score enough goals to avoid their first regulation loss at home in more than two months, since Dec. 17.
"Grubi came in and did a real good job," says Trotz. "I was just trying to change the momentum a little bit in taking Holts out. I didn't think we were playing that hard in front of him."
Video: Coach Trotz after 4-2 loss to the Stars
The Caps poured 44 shots at Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen - including 14 of them during four Washington power play opportunities - and Lehtonen left his fair share of rebounds out in the slot, too. But the Caps weren't quite able to get to any of the loose change in front.
"Sometimes we get so much puck possession in the [offensive] zone," begins Caps right wing T.J. Oshie, "and we're supporting each other so well that sometimes we forget that someone's got to be at the net. We've got to get guys there.
"At times, their guys did a good job of boxing us out, and other times the puck was just bouncing out there. It was bouncing all over the ice. We had a couple of plays that I think could have ended up in goals, but the puck just kept bouncing. Sometimes it goes that way, sometimes it doesn't."
And sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't. The Caps didn't win on this night. They didn't extend their home winning streak to 16 straight games, and Holtby didn't extend his string of decisions without a regulation loss to 22 straight. All that said, it was a remarkable run while it lasted.
The Capitals won 10 straight games by two or more goals during the streak, and they also tied a 46-year-old NHL record by scoring five or more goals in 11 straight home wins during the streak. The Caps outscored the opposition by a combined total of 67-21 during the 15-game run, and pitched half a dozen shutouts.
Washington's previous record for consecutive home victories was 13, set in 2009-10. Ironically enough, that one also died at the hands of the Stars when Dallas earned a 4-3 overtime win over the Capitals on March 8, 2010, almost seven years earlier to the day.
Video: Caps players talk after a 4-2 loss against Dallas
Dallas Domination - The Stars were one of the elite teams in the league last season; they finished first in the Western Conference with 109 points. But this season, the Stars are unlikely to make the playoffs. Yet it doesn't seem to matter much whether the Caps or Stars are in the midst of an up or down cycle. Since the Stars moved south to Dallas from Minnesota at the outset of the 1993-94 season, Washington has had a hell of a tough time against the Stars regardless of location.
Monday's loss is the sixth in succession for the Caps against the Stars here in the District; Washington's last win over Dallas in D.C. came on Nov. 30, 2006. The last time the Caps limited the Stars to fewer than three goals in a game in Washington was on Nov. 17, 1999, but even that night the Caps were forced to settle for a 2-2 tie.
The Caps are now 3-10-2 against the Stars at home and 4-12-1 against the Stars on the road (7-22-3 overall) since the franchise moved to Dallas. Only three of Washington's seven victories over the Stars during that span have come in regulation; those wins were achieved in 1995, 1996 and 2006.
"I don't know," says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, when asked why Washington has had so much trouble with Dallas over the years. "I honestly don't know. They've got a lot of good offense, and sometimes you have teams that you really enjoy playing against, and maybe we're one of those teams for them, and they've got guys that come to play against us. I don't really know the reason for it."
Last Hill To Conquer - Holtby has 183 career victories in the NHL, but he is still seeking his first win against Dallas. The Stars are the only team Holtby has yet to defeat in his career; he is now 0-4-0 with a 4.78 GAA and an .837 save pct. in five career starts against Dallas.
Longtime Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig had a similar issue with the Stars over the course of his own excellent NHL career. Kolzig won 303 games during his career, but only one of those victories came against the Stars. In a dozen career appearances against Dallas, Kolzig was 1-9-1 with a 3.46 GAA and an .873 save pct.
Offense From The Defense - Caps defensemen earned three helpers on the two goals Washington managed to score in Monday's game. Kevin Shattenkirk and Brooks Orpik earned the assists on Nicklas Backstrom's 21st goal of the season in the second period, and Alzner picked up the primary helper on Oshie's goal in the third.
Washington blueliners have now accumulated 143 points (20 goals, 123 assists) in 65 games this season for an average of 2.2 points per game. That point production rate is tied for the second best of any group of Washington defensemen in the last two-plus decades.
Since the 1993-94 Caps rearguard corps averaged 2.43 points per game over what was an 84-game season in those days, only the 2014-15 team (2.22) and the 2009-10 club (2.2) have equaled or surpassed the rate of this year's model.
By The Numbers - Matt Niskanen led the Caps with exactly 23 minutes of ice time on Monday … Alex Ovechkin led Washington with nine shots on net, 14 shot attempts and four hits … Alzner led the Capitals with five blocked shots … Oshie won six of eight face-offs (75%), Backstrom won 13 of 18 draws (72%) and Beagle won seven of 10 (70%).