Well here we are at the end of this grueling road trip. A grueling road trip on which they have managed to get (so far) a total of 2 out of an available 10 points. A grueling road trip that has cost them Ben Bishop, Marc Methot, Brett Ritchie, and Jason Spezza. A grueling road trip that has lost them their wild card spot.
So let’s play that hockey, eh?
The pre-game good news: Curtis McKenzie made it up from Cedar Park in time for puck drop, so the Stars weren’t forced to ice 11 forwards and 7 defensemen. Also the Stars ended their road trip in Washington against the Capitals, who they have a winning record against (10-0-3) over the last 13 games.
It’s not much, but it’s a lot these days. Or it was, before the game. That’s why it’s the pre-game good news. There’s no post-game good news.
The lines were on a bit of a blender. Tyler Pitlick and Radek Faksa have both had a productive road trip, so Ken Hitchcock spread the scoring wealth among the lines. This is what they looked like at the beginning of the game:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Remi Elie
Mattias Janmark-Radek Faksa-Alexander Radulov
Antoine Roussel-Devin Shore-Tyler Pitlick
Curtis McKenzie-Jason Dickinson-Gemel Smith
And these forward lines ended up being pretty effective, actually.
The Janmark-Faksa-Radulov line in particular generated a lot of momentum, especially later in the game. Ultimately, the shots were never there, and they were easily flummoxed by pressure from the Capitals. But let’s begin at the beginning.
The first period felt like a microcosm of everything the Stars have going against them right now. Through fifteen minutes of play, the Stars had two hots on goal. Julius Honka, though he is in the lineup with Methot still out, is still playing sheltered minutes, giving John Klingberg, top scoring defenseman in the NHL, and partner Esa Lindell mostly defensive starts.
Alexander Radulov took an unfortunate and dangerous boarding penalty against Michal Kempny.
Alex Radulov boards Michal Kempny. Caps to the PP. pic.twitter.com/vQrslrmqjc— Ian Oland (@ianoland) March 20, 2018
The kind of obviously illegal and dangerous play you’d like to not see your team make.
For all the frustrations of the first 3⁄4 of the first period, it certainly had a bang up finish. Nicklas Backstrom took a tripping penalty against Klingberg, and on the ensuing power play, Radulov and Seguin connected for a beautiful one timer over Braden Holtby’s glove. But the Stars are going to have to start generating plays at 5v5 if they want any kind of continued success.
And then this happened to close out the first, which was worrisome for Tyler Seguin and would start the second period on the power play:
Tyler Seguin hurting after this DSP hit. The hit forced the Caps bench door open. The back of Seguin's left leg slammed into the corner of the boards. Ouch. pic.twitter.com/sAaYmZHElq— Ian Oland (@ianoland) March 20, 2018
A heck of a lot happened in the second, so let’s just dive in. The Stars weren’t able to capitalize on the time left over from Devante Smith-Pelly’s penalty. And then, when Gemel Smith drew a penalty from Alexander Ovechkin, the Stars had such a bad power play that Lehtonen was their most effective player on the ice. Your goalie should never be your best player on the power play, friends.
Immediately following the power play, some poor rebound control on the other end left TJ Oshie with a close in chance against Lehtonen. And then, a 1:25 later, Matt Niskanen shot from the top of the zone and through whatever means you believe, ended up in the back of the net. Lehtonen immediately cried foul, that Brett Connolly had made contact on a high stick, which appeared to be the case in multiple replays. Goal review did not agree with this assessment, and it was deemed a good goal.
Kempny ended up in the box for an interference call on Roussel, putting the Stars on their fourth power play of the game. It was a better attempt than the last one, but they didn’t score with the advantage. No, they waited to score five seconds later, when the Capitals were back up to full strength, just to make the earlier doom and gloom about scoring 5v5 look silly. The goal was first credited to Klingberg, but upon review later was awarded to Radulov, who got a piece of it near the net.
Of note: the goal came at the end of a two minute shift for Klingberg, he’d been on the ice for the entire power play. When it was credited to him, Honka had the second assist, but he was knocked off the goal when it switched to Radulov.
The Stars neglected to count to five and took a bench minor for too many men, which was served by Radulov. On the second face off of the power play, the Stars (as so many teams have done before them) left Alexander Ovechkin with enough room and time to build a mansion at the point.
Alex Ovechkin gets his 44th goal of the season. Look how easy this was for Washington off the face-off. pic.twitter.com/mnnBgpXsMC— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) March 21, 2018
And then, in the last two minutes of the period, Jamie Benn had one of those breakaways that remind you decisively why he’s one of the top wingers in the NHL:
That one deserves the full video and not just a tweeted gif.
After a lot of back and forth between the Stars and Capitals for the third, a lot of puck battling, a lot of “this could really go either way,” Lehtonen chooses to deflect and clear the puck instead of sit on the rebound. And he clears it right at John Carlson, who has no trouble putting it in the back of the net.
With 1:58 left in the game, Radulov took a high sticking penalty against Dmitry Orlov. The Stars were not able to score shorthanded, even after they managed to push the puck out of their zone and Lehtonen raced to the bench.
Out of a possible 12 points, the Stars pulled just two. They’ll be back in Dallas on Friday night for the Boston Bruins.