Washington Capitals (9-3-0) vs. Dallas Stars (10-3-0)
Location: Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 PM
TV: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!)
Familiar Faces of Former Caps: Krys Barch (1998 Draft Pick)
Former Stars: Jeff Halpern (140 GP, 2006-08), John Erskine (107 GP, 2001-06)
Our Bloguin Partner: Stars of Big D
The Washington Capitals, owners of the second-best winning percentage in the league (.750), take to the ice tonight to become #1. Tonight's battle pits the top-two teams in the NHL against each other, and it should be an excellent match-up. The Capitals are the second-highest scoring team in the league (3.92 GPG) behind the Flyers, they have the 4th best powerplay (25%), and they have the best winning percentage in the league when their opponent scores first (.857), better than their percentage when they score first (.600). The Caps are strong on all 4 lines, on defense, and in goal, and are an excellent match for the Stars.
Few people thought the Dallas Stars would be a better team without #1 center Brad Richards or Stanley Cup0winning coach Marc Crawford behind the bench, but they are. The Stars, who missed the playoffs last season by 1 point, have surged out of the gate and sit atop the Western Conference standings. Led by young Finnish goalie Kari Lehtonen, the Stars are 8th in the NHL in goals against average (2.38). Lehtonen is 10-1 with a 2.14 GAA and a .936 save percentage. The #2 overall draft pick in 2002, Lehtonen has the talent and the experience (he got Atlanta to the playoffs!) to take the Stars all the way. With Mike Ribeiro replacing Richards' offense and head coach Glen Gulutzan making all the right calls behind the bench, the Stars are a force to be reckoned with.
Three Things To Watch For:
Hip, Hip, Souray!: In one of the big quirks of the salary cap-era in the NHL, All-Star defenseman Sheldon Souray spent last season in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, where he was teammates with Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, and Jay Beagle. The Oilers bought out the last year of his massive contract this offseason, and the Dallas Stars snatched him up. Souray has paid immediate dividends, scoring 4 goals and 8 points with his cannon slap-shot from the point that has been clocked at over 100 miles per hour. Souray will be a menace on the back end tonight, so the Cas need to be sure to keep covered or Souray will be well on his way to another 20-goal season.
Bäck On Top: It should be no surprise that Caps C Nicklas Backstrom was named NHL's 3rd star of the week with 6 points in 3 games. Backis potted 2 clutch goals on Tuesday night against Anaheim, then posted a goal and an assist against Carolina and 2 assists on Long Island. With four 2-point games in a row, Mean Lars looks to extend that sreak to five tonight with more slick passing and shooting. With Alex Ovechkin popping out of the defensive coverage with regularity and Backstrom's history of success against Lehtonen (3 goals, 11 points in 9 games), there's no reason to think he can't pile up the points tonight.
Loui, Loui: Stars LW Loui Eriksson has been a consistent scorer over the past 3 seasons, averaging 31 goals and 69 points. This season, the slick Swede has taken his scoring to a whole new level. With 8 goals and 15 points in his first 13 games, Eriksson is likely to put forth a 40-goal, 80 point season. He certainly has the talent, as he has been a scorer at every level he has played at. Eriksson has also been hot lately, earning NHL.com's 2nd Star of the Week after posting 6 points in his last 2 games, and he has 8 in his last 4, so the Caps defense needs to know where #21 is on the ice at all times.