Shot Down In Dallas -- For the last 47 years or so, the city of Dallas has been a bit on the inhospitable side to visitors from D.C. The Washington Capitals are no exception.
The Caps absorbed a 2-1 loss to the Stars on Thursday in Dallas in a game in which they almost certainly deserved a better fate.
Coming on the heels of a 4-1 win on Wednesday in St. Louis – another notoriously difficult place for the Caps to play – Thursday’s loss was a painful one. Especially since the Caps believed they’d tied the game up on a John Carlson shot with 7.6 seconds remaining in regulation.
Carlson’s shot went in the net, no question about that. Dallas defenseman Karlis Skrastins went tumbling into Stars goaltender Andrew Raycroft, but referee Dan O’Rourke apparently ruled that Caps captain Alex Ovechkin was in the paint.
Never mind that Ovechkin didn’t impede with Skrastins or Raycroft.
We’ll let Caps coach Bruce Boudreau take it from here.
“What do you want me to say that I can’t get fined for?” says the fuming Caps bench boss. “If you look at the frigging call, Ovi doesn’t touch the guy. Their guy [Skrastins] slides into the goalie and takes him out of the play. The one ref is telling me Ovi is in the paint. Well, I want to know when that rule changed where you can’t be in the paint. If you don’t touch anybody, if you don’t interfere with anybody, when that rule [changed]. Why the two refs aren’t consulting each other …
“You want to know why I voted for a coach’s challenge? There it is. It cost us two points. It’s a bad call. Refs make bad calls, but at that time of the game when you’re down one, you better be sure something is happening instead of wanting to make that call, let alone the calls in the second period.”
Ah, the second period. That’s when the complexion of the game changed.
Washington was taking it to the Stars pretty good at even strength, which is how the entire first period was played. The Caps outshot Dallas 14-7 and had the better of the play. Ovechkin was whistled for a roughing call at the 20-minute mark of the first for responding to an Adam Burish hit on Caps rookie Marcus Johansson in neutral ice. That gave the Stars a power play to start the second period.
Washington killed that penalty and then got a power play of its own immediately after. Dallas killed that one off, and right around that time of the game the Caps enjoyed a 20-8 advantage in shots on goal.
That’s when the Stars, who were four for their last 40 on the power play at the time, received three man-advantage chances in a span of just 5:18. Even a good penalty killing team facing a mediocre power play is going to have trouble snuffing out three man-advantage chances in that tight of a span, and that’s especially true when the penalty killing team is playing its second game in as many nights.
Sure enough, the Stars’ Mike Ribeiro slammed home a rebound of a Brad Richards shot with 43 seconds left on an interference call to Washington blueliner Scott Hannan, the third of those three minor penalties against the Capitals. That gave the Stars a 1-0 lead, and they tightened up with that narrow advantage.
“When they got a lead, they played a little different,” says Boudreau. “They’re a good team. It’s tough. I thought we played really good. I thought we outplayed them pretty well for a team that had three power plays to their five and, you know.”
“It’s pretty tough, but the penalty killing guys do a good job,” says Ovechkin. “We had in the second period too many penalty kills but it was only one side of the whistle.
“They have too many power plays. We don’t.”
The call that really rankled Boudreau was an interference call on Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz. Schultz pushed Stars forward Steve Ott into the boards, but the puck was near the feet of the two men at the time. And Ott had just cracked Schultz’s stick with a slash.
“I want to know – and I hope I get a call on this thing – what the actual rule is for breaking a guy’s stick with a slash,” says Boudreau. “I’ve seen breaking the stick called [a slash], I’ve seen breaking the stick no call, I’ve heard every different excuse in the book. But unless we’re all the same page as officials and coaches and management in the league, then we’re going to question it every game. Because every game it’s different.
“Before Schultz got his call for interference – which the guy had the puck and he pushed him [so] I don’t get it in the first place – Ott breaks Schultz’s stick [with a slash] and there’s no call. Yet we do it with one hand on the stick and a blade will break, then they’ll call that. There’s no defined rule and I think it’s got to be a defined rule so we don’t have coaches arguing every stinking game about this.”
Mike Knuble tied the game for the Caps at 1-1 on a power play midway through the third. But Dallas regained the lead 20 seconds later on a fluky goal.
Stars forward Brandon Segal – who came up on the short side of a first-period fight with Washington’s Matt Hendricks – launched a rolling puck that dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and dodged its way past Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth to put Dallas back on top.
“It was one of those knuckleball goals,” says Boudreau. “Michal will stop that 100 times out of 100 if it was just a direct shot, but it was knuckleballing and it changed course on him. There was nothing much he could do. It hit the right spot at the right time, and when you hit a puck that’s rolling on its side, it’s a tough thing for goalies to find. He couldn’t find it.”
That wasn’t what broke the Caps in this one, it was O’Rourke’s puzzling call in the game’s final seconds.
“Obviously we tie the game up,” says Boudreau. “I lose my mind because they make a bad call and they don’t want to take any accountability that they might have made a bad call because nobody talked about it.”
Ovechkin didn’t want to discuss it.
“Well, I just saw the replay,” he says. “And you know, no comment about it.
“We dominated them in the first period. After that, they have in the second period too many power plays. They just controlled the game in the second period. In the third period, we bounced back. We scored a goal, but the referee didn’t recognize it.”
The Caps outshot the Stars 31-15 on the night at even strength.
With its 2-1 loss at the hands of the Stars at American Airlines Center in Big D on Thursday, Washington is now 3-10 in its 13 visits here. Of those three wins, only one came in regulation; that was a 4-3 triumph on Oct. 17, 1995.
Extra-Man Disparity – The Capitals have had 90 power play chances this season, tied for 21st in the NHL. They’ve been shorthanded 115 times, second most in the league. That’s a fairly sizable disparity for a team that spends so much time with the puck in the attack zone.
“It wears a lot,” says Boudreau when asked about the effect of killing so many consecutive calls in such short order in Thursday’s game. “It takes a team that is I think outplaying them fairly good at that point and takes them out of the game, because they have to play defense for six or eight minutes. Of course it is going to switch momentum very quickly.”
Tonight’s game marks the eighth time in the Caps’ last dozen games that it has had fewer power play chances than its opponent. The Caps have had 34 extra-man chances to the opposition’s 50 in those 12 contests.
Missing The Mark – Raycroft showed a tendency to drift beyond the paint in making some saves early in the game, a tendency that can put a goaltender in some difficulty if he leaves any rebounds in bad spots. Washington had plenty of chances to throw pucks in his direction and create such rebound chances, but too many of those shots missed their mark.
The Capitals fired 82 shots to the Stars’ 48 on the night, but 22 of Washington’s bids were blocked and 22 more missed the net altogether.
We asked Boudreau about that afterwards.
“We were trying to pick corners,” he says. “Guys that are holding their sticks too tight because they haven’t scored a goal [in a while] are trying to be cute and pick spots.”
No. 9 For No. 8 – Ovechkin has now gone nine straight games without scoring a goal, matching the longest such drought of his NHL career.
The Caps’ captain went nine games without a goal early in the 2008-09 season, firing 38 shots on goal during that span. He has 41 shots on goal in his last nine games during his current dry spell.
Ovechkin could have ended the drought on Wednesday in St. Louis with an easy empty-netter at game’s end, but unselfishly passed to teammate Nicklas Backstrom for the goal instead.
During his nine games without a goal, Ovechkin has recorded eight assists. He had half a dozen helpers during his ’08-09 drought.
Defensive Debut – Hannan played his first game as a Capital, logging 19:02 on 21 shifts, dishing three hits and blocking four shots. He skated 4:50 while Washington was shorthanded, tops on the team.
“I think he did his job,” observes Boudreau of his new defenseman. “He’s a good shutdown, stay-at-home [defenseman]. You’re not going to get 20 goals out of him, but he blocks shots, he does what he’s supposed to. I thought he played a good game.”
Tonight’s game was the 776th of Hannan’s NHL career and his first for an Eastern Conference club.
“It was good,” says the veteran defenseman. “I felt good out there. I tried to get into it as quick as I could. It’s a good team here.
“It was a tough game to lose. We had a lot of chances in the first. I thought we were all over them. We could have buried a few, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. We get behind the eight-ball there with a couple penalties, and we were close there at the end.”
Been A While – The last time the Caps authored road wins on successive nights against Western Conference opponents was Feb. 9-10, 2001, when they took successive 4-3 wins at Anaheim and Los Angeles, respectively. Those two wins came in the midst of a remarkably successful 5-0-1 trip that also took the Capitals to Colorado, Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal.
Common Conquests – Each team came into Thursday’s contest with a four-game winning streak. The Caps beat Carolina twice and St. Louis once during their four-game run while Dallas downed St. Louis twice and Carolina once to account for three of the wins in their four-game streak.
Ray Of Hope – Raycroft was a bit of a surprise starter for the Stars on Thursday. With just four appearances in the Stars’ first 23 games, he entered the night as one of the league’s least used backups. He also began the evening with a career record of 5-3-1 (including a shutout) to go along with a 2.16 GAA and a .916 save pct. against the Capitals.
Get Them To Sign On The Line Which Is Dotted – Washington announced on Thursday that it has signed defenseman Brett Flemming to a three-year, entry level deal. Flemming, who was Washington’s fifth-round choice in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, is currently playing for Mississauga of the OHL.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin and Knuble paced the Caps with five shots on goal each … Eric Fehr teed up 13 shots in just 12:12 of ice time, but five were blocked and four missed the net … Mike Green led all skaters on both sides with 26:50 in ice time. He also led all skaters on both sides with five missed shots … Jason Chimera and Schultz led the Caps with four hits each. Brenden Morrow and Ott each had six for the Stars … Hannan’s four blocked shots topped the Caps. Skrastins led Dallas with five.
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