It was a two-point effort by the Stars tonight. They jumped out to a two goal lead and had the top team in the league scrambling to get it back to even.
Dallas would walk away disappointed, though, after the same issues that have plagued this team all season reared their ugly heads for yet another time: penalty killing and complete breakdown in 3-on-3 overtime.
It’s 48 games into an 82 game season, and the Stars don’t seem to be improving in those key areas. The 5-on-5 play of late has been on point. They’re getting goal scoring more often than not. The goaltending at even strength has actually been tops in the league since the start of January.
But you’d be hard pressed to see any of those positives as the Stars fall to 3-6-2 in their last 11 games. It’s about to be judgement day in Big D: are you sellers at the deadline? Or do you feel that you’re just one piece and a win streak away from contention?
The effort has been there but the execution – and subsequent reward – has not. At this point, I’d lean more towards the Stars missing the playoffs this year as they’re running out of games to put together a win streak of meaning in the standings.
The opening of the game seemed to be tilted in favor of the Capitals. They had a few forays into the offensive zone that caused some heartburn among Stars fans. Several in attendance must have been watching the recent string of games, as they gave Kari Lehtonen a bit of a Bronx cheer when he made a save on the first shot he faced. (It hasn’t always been a given that those shots would be saved of late…)
Washington was eventually rewarded, as Andre Burakovsky would find the back of the net after three Stars players decided to just stare at the puck on the ice instead of trying to play it anywhere. It was a defensive lapse that was the equivalent of someone farting in the middle of a meeting and everyone going still so as not to be accused of cutting the cheese.
Not long after, the Stars would be gifted with the first power play of the game on a delay of game penalty. After about 40 seconds had passed, Daniel Winnik committed another delay of game to give the Stars a 5-on-3 power play. The Stars did not even look all that dangerous on the 5-on-3. They didn’t get enough movement on the man advantage to draw the Capitals’ penalty killers out of their triangle formation in front of Grubauer. They protected the slot area perfectly.
They’d still manage to get the equalizer thanks to a Jordie Benn point shot that deflected in off of Adam Cracknell’s stick in front of Grubauer. The Capitals did not take kindly to that. Tom Wilson threw down with Brett Ritchie (who got a bloody nose for his efforts), Winnik threw down with Antoine Roussel, and Justin Williams and Curtis McKenzie exchanged slashes in the course of just about one minute of play. For as much ire as the two teams had against one another, you’d think that these two teams were divisional foes rather than conference opponents who only see each other twice a season now.
It’d be easy to look at the box score from the first period and think that Dallas absolutely dominated Washington – after all, they had a 15-9 advantage in that stat. However, the Capitals looked a lot more dangerous than their shot total indicates. They were often able to slice through the Dallas defense and get right in the high scoring areas (like the slot) with ease.
The Stars seemed to get better as the game went along. Whereas in the first period the Stars had a tough time getting through the neutral zone because of weak passes and turnovers, the second frame was marked by crisper passing and a better transition through the neutral zone.
Additionally, they started to win some puck battles. They came out of scrums along the boards with the puck more often. Sustained pressure in the offensive zone was more prominent.
Then, Dallas leading goal scorer Patrick Eaves punched through for the lead. The swagger in Dallas’ step started to appear. Then Jamie Benn scored on the power play (for real). The refs initially waived the goal off because of goaltender interference. The Stars challenged that ruling, and the replay showed that both Benn and Eaves were about five feet from Grubauer in both directions and therefore, literally could not have interfered with him. The goal was ruled good and the Stars would ride that two goal lead into the third period.
You know how they say that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity? Well, the Stars went insane in the third period.
Several penalties for hi-sticking later and the Capitals had managed to tie the game at three aside. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the penalty kill allowed the opposing team back into the game even when they probably should not have been anymore. It’s like your car radio playing the most obnoxious song you can think of on repeat, and you don’t know how to get it to change the song so your options are listening to that every time you drive or silence.
After the Capitals had managed to tie the game up, the rest of the period was played fairly evenly. The Stars had some good chances to get the go-ahead goal but didn’t bury them. Washington had a wide open net and couldn’t corral the puck enough to stuff it home.
Which meant our favorite time of all was coming up next…
Should I even bother describing what happened in overtime? The Stars were done in by their own defensive positioning miscues and their number one defenseman taking out his own goaltender to allow Jay Beagle to score the game winner just 19 seconds into the extra time.
Maybe the Stars need to practice 3-on-3 defending more often….