Stanley Cup hangover.
It’s a typical hockey fan criticism leveled at the reigning Stanley Cup Champion if they have a slow start to the next season. The idea is that all the long playoff series and the partying from winning the Stanley Cup over the summer somehow saps energy from the collective team, causing them to come out of the gate without much fire.
The Washington Capitals definitely partied this summer. With a 5-4-2 record to start the season, the Capitals find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture right now. But bringing back all of the talent that won the Stanley Cup probably means that they’ll find their stride eventually. In a competitive Metropolitan Division, they’re just a handful of points out of first place with fewer games played.
It seems likely the Capitals will return to the playoffs, and will shed that Stanley Cup hangover moniker sooner rather than later.
The Dallas Stars, on the other hand, just want to get there at all. After missing the playoffs the last two seasons, the Stars are trying to force the issue and get into the postseason. With a new coach and new system, their start is not dissimilar to the Capitals. They’re 7-5-0 on the season and also just a few points out of the playoff picture currently.
Both teams have been absolutely on fire when it comes to the power play, though Dallas has cooled off of late. The Capitals have the best man advantage in the league (36.1%) and Dallas ranks 12th (25%). Dallas will hold the advantage on the penalty kill (86.5%, ranking 6th in the league versus the 73.8%, 24th ranked PK of the Capitals) but they really should not try their luck too often having that match up against the fire power play of the other team.
What’s the biggest difference between these two teams that seem to be so alike so far this year?
Dallas plays in the Central Division, one with a clear-cut winner emerging already. It’s likely that they’ll have to fight and claw their way down to the end of the season to even make it in. A slower start is much tougher to overcome in this division.
The Stars have finally started to find their way on the road, riding a two-game winning streak and stringing together a few less-than-pretty wins. They’re finding ways to win when their top players aren’t scoring.
Continuing to do so tonight against a middling Capitals team will continue moving the Stars up the ranks of the Central Division, where every point is monumental at the end of the season.
Dallas Stars Lineup
With Alexander Radulov back in Dallas and looking to miss at least the next three road games, the lines for Dallas get put back into the blender. After the pulse setting is done doing its thing, it appears that the starting lines will look like this tonight:
Devin Shore - Tyler Seguin - Mattias Janmark
Jamie Benn - Jason Spezza - Valeri Nichushkin
Blake Comeau - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Gemel Smith - Jason Dickinson - Brett Ritchie
Note that head coach Jim Montgomery often starts with lines one way but can and will change them in game, depending on how things are going. It looks like he’s trying to spark Seguin’s goal scoring by putting Shore and Janmark on his wings — both of those guys have been making great plays and hitting the back of the net of late. Seguin is riding a nine-game goalless streak heading into tonight’s contest.
It appears as though the Dillon Heatherington recall from yesterday was more than injury insurance with Connor Carrick hitting IR thanks to a blocked shot in the Detroit Red Wings game. Marc Methot is not expected to be in tonight as he is day-to-day with lower body soreness that the team has been managing since the beginning of training camp. That means Heatherington will make his season debut tonight on the third pairing, causing a little mix up on the defensive pairings:
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Dillon Heatherington - Julius Honka
Ben Bishop will get the start in net as expected. Per Montgomery prior to the team’s meeting with the Montreal Canadiens, this was to be Bishop’s start while Anton Khudobin will get the start versus the Boston Bruins on Monday night against his team from last season.
Washington Capitals Lineup
Alexander Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jakub Vrana
Andre Burakovsky - Nicklas Backstrom - TJ Oshie
Dmitrij Jaskin - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Nic Dowd - Devante Smith-Pelly
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Michael Kempny - John Carlson
Christian Djoos - Madison Bowey
Braden Holtby will get the start tonight.
FUN FACT: Neither of the goaltenders starting tonight have a good record versus the other team. Dallas has beaten the Capitals more often than not over the last several seasons, especially on their own ice. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues — or if the blistering hot power play of the Capitals sinks the Stars early.