WASHINGTON – With the Washington Capitals down three goals about midway through the third period against a Dallas Stars team that had outworked the Capitals for the vast majority of the game, Capitals forward Matt Hendricks tried to give his squad a lift by dropping the gloves against Dallas’ Jake Dowell.
The lone burst of energy out of the Capitals (9-4-0, 18 points) in the lackluster third period did nothing to lift the team against the Stars, owners of the most points in the NHL (11-3-0, 22 points), as Dallas defeated Washington, 5-2, in front of an announced 18,506 at Verizon Center.
The Capitals entered the third period tied at two with goals coming from forward Alexander Semin and defenseman John Carlson, but came unglued in the third period. Washington’s deficiencies throughout the first two periods – which included losing one-on-one battles, struggling with the Stars’ speed and defensive breakdowns – were not fixed and the scoreboard then began to reflect the stark difference in play between the two squads.
Dallas scored three goals in the first 8:05 of the third period, starting with a goal by forward Adam Burish on a power play that had 24 seconds of carry-over time from the previous frame. The next two goals were scored by forward Jamie Benn (who also had two assists) on the power play and forward Eric Nystrom.
“It befuddles you because this group can be so good and so complete and then we come out and play an incomplete game,” Capitals forward Mike Knuble said. “Bottom line, we turned it into a 20-minute game – again. We’re in a good spot at home and we’re outclassed in the third.”
Dallas used their speed and quickness to dictate the pace of play from the opening face-off. The Capitals failed to win one-on-one battles and their energy level wasn’t at the necessary level to keep up with the speedy Stars throughout the full 60 minutes.
“We were fortunate to be tied at the end of two, I thought,” Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We talked about playing one good period in the third period. In the first 15 seconds or 20 seconds, they score a goal. We were talking about we lost a lot of battles. The last two third periods of the last two games, the compete level wasn’t as great as we’d like it to be.”
Boudreau felt that the first and second goals – both scored by forward Michael Ryder – were the direct result of being outworked in the defensive end.
“The second goal was definitely d-zone coverage and losing battles. But the first goal, it was the same thing,” Boudreau said. “It was getting knocked off the puck by other guys and we have to get stronger in that department and we have to start winning those battles.
“You can look at when we were winning the first seven games, we were winning all these battles. And we’ve lost four out of six. For three of them, it’s because you’re losing the battles.”
For the Stars’ part, the one-on-one battles that they won combined with the speed and quickness they displayed throughout the cast was too much for the Capitals to handle in their own end. The Stars pumped 36 shots on Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth, creating scoring chances through the use of a lot of quick and crisp passing.
“I thought they moved the puck well and they skated really well, but we didn’t slow them down at all,” Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “We didn’t really get too physical, we didn’t take away passes, we didn’t close it up in the neutral zone and we allowed them to come through with all that speed and that makes it tough.”
The Capitals, overwhelmed by the Stars’ speed and outworked by the Stars throughout, were left with Hendricks’ brief fight with Dowell as one of the lone bursts of energy in the third period.
“If he can’t get us a boost with scoring a goal or getting a hit, then he gets involved physically or gets involved any way he can,” Wideman said of Hendricks. “We needed to be playing a lot better than that before that, but it was good to see him get in there.”