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Caps and Stars try to stay hot

by John Kreiser /

CAPITALS (18-6-2) at STARS (14-8-1)

TV -- CSN-DC; FS-Southwest

Last 10 -- Washington 6-2-2; Dallas 6-3-1

Season series -- It's the only meeting of the season between the two teams, who don't see a lot of each other. Dallas won 4-3 in a shootout at Washington on March 8 in their last meeting; the Caps won the last meeting at the American Airlines Center, 6-5 in overtime on Oct. 25, 2008.

Big story -- Who needs Alex Ovechkin? The Caps are doing just fine even though Ovi hasn't been filling the net. He's gone eight games without a goal, but has 7 goals in his last four games -- all of which were Washington victories. Despite Ovechkin's "slow" start (10 goals and 33 points in 26 games), the Caps come to Dallas on top of the overall standings after Wednesday's 4-1 victory at St. Louis.

Team Scope:

Capitals -- While Ovechkin has struggled to score, the Caps have gotten a lift from the return of Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov. He's been in goal for all four wins during the current streak and outplayed the Caps' playoff nemesis, Jaroslav Halak, by making 37 saves in the victory at St. Louis.

"I don't concentrate on the winning streak," the 22-year-old goalie said through an interpreter after the win. "I've been working as hard as I can and that's what I've been doing since I got back."

Stars -- The Caps aren't the only team riding a four-game winning streak. Dallas enters the game on a four-game run that includes Monday's 4-1 win at Carolina. The Stars are the surprise leaders of the Pacific Division.

As was the case when Pittsburgh came to town last month, playing the Caps should be a good barometer for a team from which little was expected before the season.

"You like it when you get a chance to play against top teams," coach Marc Crawford said Wednesday. "They're attention-getting teams. Whether it's the individual stars that they have or that they're top teams in the league, they all point to the fact that it's a real good club. We really want to really challenge ourselves to be at the right form and right style of play that will allow us to win the game. We don't care how we win but you'd like to win correctly."

Who's hot -- Varlamov has allowed just five goals on 115 shots during the winning streak. … Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen has won his last three starts while surrendering just four goals on 81 shots. Forward Jamie Benn has goals in three consecutive games and has put up five points in that span.

Injury report -- Both teams are healthy.

Stat pack -- Dallas is 7-2-0 against the East. The Caps were the first Eastern team to beat St. Louis, which had been 7-0-0 against teams from the other conference.

Puck drop -- The Caps have big hopes for newly acquired defenseman Scott Hannan, who came from Colorado in a trade for Tomas Fleischmann on Tuesday. He skated at practice but was scratched in St. Louis but is expected to make his debut with Washington on Thursday.

"I think I'll be able to fit in pretty good as far as any system," he told the Washington Post. "We used to play a system similar in San Jose at times, in Colorado it was a little bit different ... but I can learn quickly."

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