December 2 vs. Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center
Time: 8:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (18-6-2)
Dallas Stars (14-8-1)
A night after a 4-1 win over the Blues in St. Louis, the Caps close out a quick two-game trip with a visit to Dallas and a Thursday night date with the Stars. Wednesday’s win over the Blues pushed the Capitals’ road record to 6-5-1 on the season.
Semyon Varlamov’s 37-save performance in the Washington nets propelled the Caps to Wednesday’s win over the Blues. Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and an assist to pace the Capitals’ attack.
The win was Washington’s fourth in a row and the fourth in succession for Varlamov. The Capitals have now pieced together three winning streaks of four or more games in length this season.
For the second time in his career and the first time in more than a year, Varlamov has started four straight games for Washington. He is 4-0 with a 1.23 GAA and a .957 save pct. in those four games, and he has been named one of the game’s three stars in all four contests.
Varlamov’s run of successive starts is likely to come to an end on Thursday in Dallas. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who leads the Capitals with a dozen wins, is slated to start for the Caps against the Stars.
Neuvirth’s most recent start was a 5-4 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center on Nov. 20. Prior to that loss against Philly, Neuvirth had won his previous half-dozen decisions in a row. He is tied for third in the league with a dozen victories on the season.
Thursday’s game is also expected to mark the debut of newly acquired defenseman Scott Hannan in a Capitals’ uniform. The Caps obtained Hannan from Colorado in exchange for Tomas Fleischmann on Tuesday.
For the second time in 2010-11, Washington has allowed two or fewer goals in four straight games. The last time the Capitals had a longer streak of that type was a run of six straight games in which they surrendered no more than two goals in a game from Jan. 23-Feb. 2. That streak came in the midst of Washington’s franchise record 14-game winning streak last season.
The Capitals come into Thursday’s game in Dallas ranked among the NHL’s top 10 in virtually every major statistical category. Washington is third in the league in goals per game (3.38), ninth in goals against (2.62), second in power play efficiency (24.4%), eighth in penalty killing (85.3%), tenth in shots on goal per game (31.6), tenth in fewest shots against per game (29.6) and tenth in the league in face-off pct. (51.6).
In four games against Western Conference foes this season, the Capitals have fared well. They’re 3-1 against the opposite conference, and they’ve surrendered a total of seven goals in those four games. No Western Conference club has scored more than two goals against the Caps since the Blue Jackets won a 3-2 decision at Columbus on April 3.
Washington is making its first visit to Big D since a 6-5 overtime win here over the Stars on Oct. 25, 2008. Caps defenseman Tyler Sloan netted his first NHL goal in that game, Alexander Semin supplied the game-winner and Sergei Fedorov established a career record for most goals by a Russian-born player.
The Caps have had their share of trouble in the state of Texas over the years. Semin’s overtime winner gave the Caps their first road win over Dallas since a 3-2 overtime triumph on Dec. 29, 2001. The last time Washington authored a regulation win on the road against the Stars was a 4-3 victory on Oct. 17, 1995.
The Stars sit atop the NHL’s Pacific Division standings, and they stand second overall in the ultra-competitive Western Conference standings.
Like the Capitals, the Stars are winners of four straight games. It’s the second such streak for the Stars this season; they won four straight games at the outset of the 2010-11 campaign. Like the Capitals, Dallas has allowed two or fewer goals in each of its last four games. The Stars have had three winning streaks of at least three games this season, the first time they’ve accomplished that modest achievement since 2007-08.
Like the Capitals, the Stars feature a mostly homegrown defense. While Washington boasts four first-round blueliners – Jeff Schultz, Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson – who were drafted and developed by the Capitals, Dallas has four rearguards who were taken in the first or second round of the NHL Entry Draft and who were developed in the Stars’ system.
Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric (who is currently injured) are the first-rounders while Trevor Daley and Nicklas Grossman were chosen in the second round. Fistric is the player who was chosen 28th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, right between Schultz (27th) and Green (29th).
Coming off a 4-1 road win over the Hurricanes in Carolina on Monday, Dallas is 8-3-1 on home ice this season. The Stars have surrendered 29 goals in their 12 home games, an average of 2.42 per contest.
The Stars have gained at least a point in each of their last seven home games (6-0-1). This represents the Stars’ best home run in nearly two years. Dallas went 7-0-1 in an eight-game stretch from Dec. 31, 2008 to Feb. 8, 2009.
The Stars’ attack has been limited to fewer than 30 shots on goal in eight of the team’s last 10 games.
Dallas is a perfect 10-for-10 on the penalty kill in its last five games. The Stars are 1-for-15 on the power play during the same span.
Over their last 17 games, the Stars are 52-for-61 on the penalty kill for a kill rate of 85.2%.