Washington concludes a three-game road trip and its 2016-17 Mentors' Trip on Saturday night in Dallas against the Stars. Over the years, the Caps have had more difficulty in this town and in this building than virtually any other.
Video: Niskanen talks with Vogel about the Mentors' Trip
The Caps' last win here was on Oct. 25, 2008, in a 6-5 overtime victory that featured Tyler Sloan's first NHL goal and Sergei Fedorov taking over as the all-time leading scorer among Russian-born players. It's one of just three victories in 16 previous visits for the Capitals in Big D, and the only one of those triumphs achieved in regulation came more than two decades ago (Oct. 17, 1995) in a building (Reunion Arena) that no longer exists.
"We've got to get that off our list," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "I think [Caps forward Andre Burakovsky] was three months old or something like that. There have been four or five presidents, so it's been a long time.
"Yeah, we talk about it. It's something that we have to make sure that we take care of. This group has an opportunity to do that, and so that will be our mission tonight."
Even including home games, the Caps are 4-20-2 in their last 26 meetings with the Stars. For Trotz, the key to victory here tonight lies in his team playing their game and not getting caught up in the Stars' run-and-gun ways.
Video: Coach Trotz previews Saturday's #CapsStars matchup
"The way they play, they're very dangerous offensively," says Trotz. "They've got guys like Benn and Seguin; you can go down the list. Their [defensemen] are very, very active. And they play to stretch you out. They want to get into an end-to-end track meet type of game where you're going to trade chances, and that's not our deal.
"I think what we have to recognize is that we have to make them play our game. Let's not play their game. I think we're a good hockey team when we play our game, and when we play our game I don't think [the Stars] can play our game, so it gives us an advantage. Let's stick to our game, make sure we're doing the right things in terms of the forecheck, make sure we're doing the right things in the neutral zone and taking care of business defensively. If we do that, then we'll have a chance to have success."
Let's Get It Started - Washington has scored the game's first goal in nine straight games, and it has done so in 32 of 45 games this season.
Burakovsky has scored the game's first goal in three straight games, and a member of Washington's bottom six forward group has produced the game's first goal in four straight games.
Bottom Six - Last season, all of Washington's forwards outside of the top six accounted for a grand total of 52 goals in the team's 82 games. Thus far this season, all the forwards outside of the top six have totaled 41 goals in 45 games.
The Capitals are 10-0-2 in their last 12 games, and the team's bottom six has helped fuel that run by scoring 19 goals in those dozen games.
Brett Connolly has scored four goals in his last six games. Lars Eller has three goals and six points in his last five games. Burakovsky has three goals and six points in his last four games. Daniel Winnik has four assists in his last four games. Jay Beagle has three goals and four points in his last four games, and Tom Wilson has a goal and four points in his last four games.
"The first part of the year, we were relying on lines one and four, it seemed like, which isn't usually the case," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "Over the last little bit [Evgeny Kuznetsov] has stepped up and he is playing phenomenal hockey again. That's a big part of our team and a big reason why we've turned it around.
"With Lars' line getting going, I think they're getting some chemistry now. I think Conno is showing what type of player he really is. He's got a lot of skill and great hockey sense, and he is going to be a very valuable player for us down the stretch. Those two are getting Burky the puck, and he's shooting it more, and it's getting better."
Video: Niskanen talks about his 700th game, the Mentors Trip
Continuity Brings Prosperity - Early in the season, Caps' attack was seemingly dormant at times. Washington got timely scoring at times, but mostly relied on a staunch defense to keep a steady diet of standings points trickling through the transom.
More recently, Trotz has settled on 12 forwards and four relatively set lines, and the results have been eye-opening, to say the least. Setting aside a one-game injury absence for T.J. Oshie, the last time the Caps didn't ice their current group of 12 forwards was on Dec. 27 at Brooklyn when Daniel Winnik sat the game out as a healthy scratch.
The Caps are 10-0-2 since losing to the Isles that night, and they've managed five or more goals in eight of their last 11 games. The continuity and chemistry of the team's forward trios has been evident, right from the fourth through the first lines.
"It's obviously tough to come in and adapt to a team at the deadline," says Winnik, acquired nearly 11 months ago in a deal with Toronto. "I've done it I think three times now. And it's hard. I compare it to cramming for an exam; you've got to learn as fast as you possibly can.
"It's nice that since last year I've pretty much played with Tom and Beags and we've developed a great rapport, the three of us on the ice. I think a lot of that has to do with communication with one another. We tell each other when a guy screwed up, or when he's doing great and where we want someone to be. I think at this point we're very comfortable with where our positioning is on the ice and it has translated into offensive success for us."
Video: Karl Alzner talks with Mike Vogel about #CapsStars
In The Nets - Two nights after Braden Holtby earned his 22nd with of the season in St. Louis, Philip Grubauer gets the net for Washington. Grubauer is seeking his ninth win of the season tonight, and if he gets it, he will match his single-season career best win total, achieved last season.
Grubauer is 8-1-2 on the season with two shutouts, a 1.96 GAA and a .927 save pct. Lifetime against the Stars, he is 0-1-0 with a 2.34 GAA and a .927 save pct. in two appearances.
Dallas will counter with Kari Lehtonen, who is 9-13-4 on the season with a 2.83 GAA and a .902 save pct. Lifetime against Washington, Lehtonen is 17-6-2 with a pair of shutouts, a 2.58 GAA and a .922 save pct.
In seven January appearances (five starts), Lehtonen is 0-3-1 with a 3.44 GAA and an .895 save pct. He has not won since Dec. 29 when he defeated Colorado for his third win over the Avalanche in 2016-17. Lehtonen's last victory over a team currently in the playoff picture came more than two months ago, on Nov. 11 against Edmonton.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Stars to look tonight when they take to the ice at American Airlines Center:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 65-Burakovsky
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
74-Carlson (lower body, day-to-day)
21-Roussell, 90-Spezza, 91-Seguin
14-Jamie Benn, 20-Eakin, 18-Eaves
17-Shore, 12-Faksa, 10-Sharp
11-McKenzie, 27-Cracknell, 25-Ritchie
2-Hamhuis, 24-Jordie Benn
47-Oduya (lower body)
83-Hemsky (hip surgery)