Last week I asked a friend who works in the business what he thought of the Dallas Stars, and he said theyre faster than you think and they work like dogs, theyre extremely tough to beat. With that advanced scouting report in mind I can say, now that I have seen the Stars firsthand, that I agree with that assessment.
First-year Dallas Coach Glen Gulutzan has his team playing a very committed brand of hockey, while the Capitals are questioning their commitment-level after consecutive losses to the Islanders and Stars.
Hockey players refer to the one-on-one puck battles to gauge their clubs willingness to compete. Judging by comments from the coaching staff and from the players, the Caps were not pleased with the way they battled in the second half of the Islander game, and were not happy at all with their work rate tonight.
Give some credit to the Stars, who play well beyond the expected level of a club with a payroll thats the second-lowest in the league.
I am not sure what gets into Michael Ryder when he faces the Caps, but he sure looks like a 50-goal scorer whenever hes in town. It was Ryder who cashed in twice in the first period, once on a high-slot deflection and once on a sneaky short-side move around Michal Neuvirth.
The Caps received a first-period power-play goal from Alex Semin, who was set up beautifully in point-blank range by Nicklas Backstrom. Semins night stared pretty well, but a pair of troublesome penalties committed by the highly-skilled winger made this a Jekyll and Hyde night for him.
Neuvirth was at his best in the second period keeping Dallas off the board. Ryder and his linemates Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson were buzzing around all night. I think very highly of Benn. He has one of the games most amazing shooting releases, and at age 22 he has a very bright future, especially now that he gets top-line minutes with Brad Richards residing in New York.
The Caps tied the score at 2-2 in the middle frame. Marcus Johansson won a draw cleanly, Cody Eakin flashed into the circle in a heart-beat and poked a pass back to John Carlson, who ripped a shot between the blocker arm and body of Kari Lehtonen.
Lehtonen leads the NHL in wins as of tonight, and he is finally living up to his massive amount of potential. He has all the talent in the world (Bob Hartley, his former Head Coach in Atlanta, has said that Lehtonens butterfly style is on par with Patrick Roy, whom he coached in Colorado) and now his off-ice dedication is catching up to this skill.
The third period would be decisive in this one and by all accounts it appeared as if Dallas wanted it more. The frame began with Dallas having some carry-over power-play time from period two. Just as the Caps returned to even strength, Adam Burish loosened himself from Backstrom (winning a one-on-one battle) and put a slick deke on Neuvirth from the top of the crease. It was 3-2 Stars.
About seven minutes later Dallas took this game by the throat. Jamie Benn found himself all alone for a long-side rebound off Neuvirth and pumped a shot into the wide open cage for a power-play goal (with Semin in the penalty box) at 7:33 of the third.
Only 32 seconds later, the Stars supplied the death blow, as Eric Nystrom made a sharp-looking, airborne finish of a one-on-one move. He roofed a snap shot over Neuvirths glove to make it 5-2.
In the post-game media scrum veteran winger Mike Knuble offered some commentary that you will surely see played out on Geico Sportsnet Central and CSNWashington.com. Mike is always a very candid speaker about the team, in good times and in bad, and tonight he let loose while he was still smoldering after a frustrating loss.
The Caps will have two days to get back in the right frame of mind for a home and home set with the Devils this weekend. In that 48-hour period there will be a bunch of guys demanding that they re-focus on the hard work that led them to a strong start this fall. Theyll need to adjust their sense of urgency which has been lacking over the last two outings.
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