Alex Ovechkin

Capitals get a point in loss to Flyers, prepare for huge homestand


One could say that the Washington Capitals started holding their breath from the moment Alex Ovechkin gave them a 1-0 lead just 26 seconds into tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Capitals managed to hang on through next three periods and overtime, only allowing Claude Giroux’s game-tying goal before ultimately succumbing to Philly in the shootout.

Either way, the Capitals can now exhale after a challenging road trip. Really, Washington’s five-game road trip (2-2-1) might be a good barometer of whether or not a given Caps fan is a glass-half-full type, too.

The good news

On the bright side, the Capitals bounced back from a tough loss to the Jets in Winnipeg to salvage what looked like a four-game losing streak waiting to happen. Sure, they lost a rough game against the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2, but then they beat the Red Wings in Detroit and squeezed a charity point out of tonight’s game against red-hot Ilya Bryzgalov and the always-tough Philadelphia Flyers.

Oh yeah, Ovechkin’s 33rd goal already eclipses his tally total from last season, so that’s a plus, too.

Negative side

Of course, there’s also the missed opportunities. Losing to the Jets will burn if they can’t win their last meeting against Winnipeg and negative types might question Washington’s “killer instinct.” Did they settle for overtime instead of trying to go for the jugular in regulation?

To some, it’ll be hard to shake the feeling that the Capitals are content to “back in” to the playoffs – if that works, that is.

What lies ahead

By getting through that gauntlet with their playoff status currently intact, they’re in line to put themselves in a comfortable position – but they’ll need to win some big games.

That starts tomorrow, as the Capitals face the Jets in Washington. From there they need to kick the Minnesota when they’re down and then beat another bubble contender in the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday to wrap-up a huge three-game homestand.

After that, they’ll travel to Boston to face the Bruins, host the Montreal Canadiens, face the Lightning in Tampa Bay, play a home game against the Florida Panthers and then finish the season against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The odds

Sports Club Stats indicates that the Capitals took a baby step toward the playoffs with this win. Their playoff odds jumped 1.9 percent to 74.8 while Buffalo is down 1.1 percent to 22.9 and Winnipeg slips .3 percent to just 9.2.

Naturally, those upcoming games between both teams could drastically change the picture. The big plus side for the Capitals is that those matches will take place in Washington, but they’re still going to need to come up big with the spotlight shining on them more than any regular season contests in recent memory.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.