Dallas has dropped three straight to start the season, marking its worst start since it moved to Texas in 1993. When they were still known as the Minnesota North Stars, they went 0-4-0 at the outset of the 1988-89 season, which was the rookie season for Hockey Hall of Famer and No. 1 overall draft pick (in 1988) Mike Modano.
All three Dallas losses have come by a single goal, and the Stars are plagued with a raft of injuries as they come into Washington. With several regulars on the sidelines, Dallas has a bit of a patchwork lineup that includes a fourth line comprised entirely of players seeking their first NHL goal.
Over the years, the Caps have struggled mightily against Dallas. Even with the Stars not operating at full strength tonight, Washington will need to be aware of the Dallas defense, which loves to jump up into the attack. In John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell, the Stars feature a trio of defensemen who totaled 10 or more goals and 30 or more points last season.
"A really dangerous team," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of the Stars. "They've kind of been a little bit snakebit through their first few games, but watching the games, they're dangerous. They're real dangerous. The moves they made this summer many would say are the best moves of any team in the transactions they made, so it's a dangerous opponent tonight.
"I think we've got to be at our best, and there is room for improvement in our game for certain. We're going to have to be going on all cylinders tonight to keep up with their firepower, and chase down their defense that are very active. It will be quite a challenge tonight."
Video: Todd Reirden | October 8
As one of Washington's top two-way forwards, Caps center Lars Eller laid out for us what he'll be looking to do away from the puck against the dangerous Dallas defense.
"I think you have to be mindful of them not beating you up the ice, when you're coming back on the backcheck, after being on offense," says Eller. "And if you lose the puck, you've got to be ahead of your defenseman coming back, if you're the fourth or fifth guy. And then you've just got to have awareness all the time. Even in zone they like to jump in, so you've got to be looking over your shoulder the whole time, knowing where your guy is. I think awareness is the biggest thing."
Sometime To Return - Having served his three-game NHL suspension, Evgeny Kuznetsov makes his 2019-20 debut for Washington tonight. Kuznetsov will start off in the middle of the Caps' third line with Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik.
"I've talked a lot with him over the last little while," says Reirden, "and now it's time for him to play. I want him to enjoy being back out there and being with the team. He obviously is an elite player in the league, and for him to do the things that he does, he needs to get back playing and enjoying the game of hockey, and moving forward in his life."
Lewie, Lewie - Caps defenseman Tyler Lewington will make his 2019-20 season debut tonight as well. Lewington, a seventh-round (204th overall) pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, made his NHL debut last December, getting into consecutive road Saturday night road games against the Senators in Ottawa. In the second of those games, Lewington recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick - a goal, an assist and a fight - and he will be making his first NHL appearance since that Dec. 29, 2018 game tonight.
"I'm definitely excited," says Lewington. "I think anytime you're playing a game in the National Hockey League, it's a big deal. I think it's still surreal for me, and so every game is exciting."
Over the course of four pro seasons, Lewington has played 240 games at the AHL level. The 24-year-old Edmonton native has been a mainstay on defense for AHL Hershey the last few seasons, and is now looking to carve out a mark for himself at the next level. He had a strong preseason showing this fall in making the Caps' opening night roster for the first time in his career.
This past summer, we had a chance to get the thoughts of Steve Richmond - Washington's director of player development - on Lewington. Here's what "The General" said:
"I've been saying ever since we've drafted him not to count this kid out. I don't care how many years he has been a pro. When Todd came here, he told us that he reminded him of the guy in Vegas [Deryk Engelland]. You get him, you work with him, and when his entry level [contract] is up, you qualify him. And then you qualify him again, and you qualify him again and you keep working with him. He is unique, and it's hard to find guys who play as hard as he does every night. And he has done it every night for four years now.
"He went down to the ECHL for a while his first year, but he has always been dedicated to getting better. He is going to get better, and like I said, you never count a guy like that out, and he is great for our organization. Will he play here this year? I don't know. But he might, or he might play here the year after. He is going to play up here because he is going to will himself into the lineup. He knows how he needs to play, and he wants to play that way. It's not because he has to, he wants to play that way. He likes to play that way. He wants to be the most hated guy in the rink. Anytime someone touches one of our guys, he goes bananas. Which is good."
Tonight against Dallas, Lewington will be partnered with fellow righty Radko Gudas. Gudas will man the left side of that pairing.
Video: Rinkside Update | Tyler Lewington
Back Where I Started - With their recent rash of injuries, the Stars have had to call up a pair of second-year pro forwards from their 2016 NHL Draft class - fourth-rounder Rhett Gardner and fifth-rounder Nicholas Caamano - the first of that group to push their way onto the NHL roster for the Stars.
Gardner played collegiate hockey at North Dakota, years after Washington's T.J. Oshie played there. And Caamano played for OHL Plymouth in its last season there before the franchise moved to Flint; Caps winger Tom Wilson played his junior hockey at Plymouth, a few years before Caamano played there as a 15-year-old in 2014-15.
All this got us to wondering. Do NHLers' keep close tabs - or even distant tabs - on their former amateur clubs?
"Rhett Gardner," repeats Oshie, when asked. "Why does that name mean something to me? Is it a baseball player? I do know."
When informed/reminded that they both played for North Dakota, and that he will be playing against Gardner tonight, Oshie lights up.
"Yeah, sorry, the young bucks. I never knew his first name was Rhett, though," says Oshie. "I will definitely make it a point to at some point go and say 'hi.'
"At North Dakota, it used to be - and some of the guys are actually doing it now; and obviously with two kids it's hard for me to make it - a lot of the older guys always came back [to Grand Forks] for the last two weeks of August and skated with the team. So you would kind of bond with all of these young guys coming in, but we haven't done it for a while and I haven't done it for a long time.
"But there is something very brotherhood-like in college and especially at North Dakota where when you play there you automatically feel like you have a connection."
When asked about Caamano, Wilson was similarly stumped.
"No," comes the initial response. But again, the light came on.
"I think he was there only two years after me," says Wilson. "But it's actually in Flint; Plymouth has moved, so it's tough. I stay in touch with the people that I played with when I was there, and the coaching staff, but after I left there, it sucks to say, but it kind of just died out, right? They had a couple of tough years and moved the organization, sold it to somebody else.
"But when I was there, it was always a first-class organization, and it turned out a lot of pros. I think they were pretty high at the time for the amount of guys playing in the NHL; when I first came into the league there were probably like 15 guys or so. That's a testament to [former Whalers coach Mike] Vellucci, who was there a long time, and the organization that it was when I was there."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 8
In The Nets - From midway through the first period of last Wednesday's season opener against St. Louis to early in the third period of Saturday's home opener against Carolina, Braden Holtby stopped 39 straight shots over a span of 97 minutes and 32 seconds in net. He has allowed five goals in his two starts this season, two of them early in the St. Louis game and three of them late against Carolina, with two of the five coming on the power play.
In eight career appearances against Dallas, Holtby is 2-4-1 with a 4.02 GAA and an .870 save pct.
For Dallas, Ben Bishop gets the net against Washington. A Vezina Trophy finalist for the third time in his NHL career last season, Bishop owns a 3-6-2 lifetime mark in a dozen appearances against the Capitals over the years, with a 3.41 GAA and an .890 save pct.
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Stars to look when they hook up on Tuesday night in the District for the first of their two meetings this week:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 18-Stephenson, 21-Hathaway
6-Kempny (lower body)
14-Benn, 91-Seguin, 47-Radulov
13-Janmark, 24-Hintz, 16-Pavelski,
11-Cogliano, 12-Faksa, 38-L'Esperance
17-Caamano, 49-Gardner, 37-Dowling
15-Comeau (lower body)
18-Dickinson (upper body)
40-Hanzal (spinal fusion surgery)