With all due respect to the Jets/Predators meeting in Nashville, and maybe even the Lightning/Golden Knights clash in Vegas, the game of the night Tuesday in the National Hockey League comes in Dallas as the Capitals and Stars square off.
Even though the Caps have perennially been among the best teams in the NHL over the past five years (including first-overall finishes in the regular season standings the last two years), Dallas has dominated Washington in recent action. The Stars are 9-0-1 against the Capitals in the last 10 meetings, something you can be sure the Caps are aware of as they go into Big D tonight.
Let’s take a closer look at both of these teams to see if Dallas will continue its recent mastery of the Capitals or whether Washington can break the streak tonight.
Many expected the Caps to take a step back this year after salary cap constraints caused Washington to cut loose key players such as Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.
It was also argued that it was time to blow up the nucleus of a team that has consistently dominated in the regular season, only to flame out in the playoffs each spring, and speculation had superstar winger Alex Ovechkin headed out of town.
But after a slow start, the Capitals are starting to look a lot like their old selves once again – at least when it comes to their record. Washington comes into this one having won seven of its last eight games, and five of those seven wins came by two goals or more.
The offense is in great form, averaging four goals per game during that stretch, and the Caps have limited their opposition to two goals or less in five of their last seven. Washington’s surge has moved the team to 21-12-1 on the year and back into a familiar spot atop the Metropolitan Division, tied with the surprising New Jersey Devils.
However, there are a couple of red flags to consider about Washington’s play if you’re thinking about backing them tonight. First, their puck possession stats (Corsi For %) are ninth-worst in the league, indicating that the Capitals are getting outshot most nights and that their recent winning percentage isn’t really sustainable.
There’s a lot of variance and luck that goes into which team wins one hockey game, but one thing that most analysts agree on is that the more a team controls the puck, the better their chances are of long-term success. Washington was fourth-best in the NHL last year in Corsi For %, so the Caps’ play has in fact dropped off significantly from last year.
The other issue with backing Washington in this spot is the tremendous disparity in the Caps’ performance on the road, compared to at home. Washington is 14-5 this season when playing in its own rink, but just 7-7-1 in its 15 road games.
A .500 record on the road is still nothing to sneeze at in the NHL, but the Caps are getting priced as a short road underdog here tonight based heavily on their recent hot streak. That streak may have more to do with Washington playing six home games in its last eight outings than the Caps suddenly improving their play.
Dallas has been a tough place for any visiting team to win in this season, with the Stars owning a 10-4 record in their own barn. Even though the Stars have lost their last two at home, those losses were forgivable (against the red-hot Predators and the surprising Golden Knights), and they’ve still outscored their visitors by an average of a goal per game. We’re also getting Dallas at a bit of a discounted price here with the Stars having lost five of their last 7.
The Stars were expected to be the most improved team in the NHL this year after adding goaltender Ben Bishop in a trade and signing former coach Ken Hitchcock once again. The early-season record may not indicate that Dallas has lived up to expectations (the Stars currently cling to the second wild-card spot in the West with a mediocre record of 18-14-2), but the Corsi stats suggest that the Stars are playing much better hockey.
Dallas has the sixth-best Corsi For % in the league, and with all the offensive firepower the Stars have up front, I believe it’s only a matter of time before Dallas goes on a winning run of its own.
Look for that run to start tonight. Dallas returns home from a four-game road trip here with plenty of focus to reverse its recent slump (losing five of its last seven), especially with one of the league’s elite teams (reputation-wise, at least) in town.
Meanwhile, the Caps could be a little bit complacent after their hot run of late and probably don’t have that much confidence on the road right now, especially in a rink where they haven’t enjoyed success in a long time.
Add in how each team’s advanced analytics suggest that they’re probable to go in different directions in the near future.
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