Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals seemed to hold a decent number of things in common, most notably the fact that both headed into the contest ranked ninth in their respective conferences. Tuesday’s 5-0 Stars win makes a compelling argument that they’re going in very different directions, however.
For at least a brief period of time, Dallas moves to eighth place in the West, although the Phoenix Coyotes can move right back ahead of them by beating the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.
Even so, the Stars hold a game in hand once tonight’s games wrap up and are generally putting themselves in a solid position to make this season’s regular season finale against Phoenix a match for a playoff spot.
The Stars are currently on a three-game winning streak and five of their last six games, beginning an interesting five-game road trip with two victories.
While the Stars get things together, the Capitals are falling apart. They’ve lost four games in a row and five of their last six games. The one bright side is that they were at least taking some points out of this tough stretch; four of their six games went to shootouts, although Washington only won one of them.
It might be tough for Caps fans to find bright sides (whether it’s fair to pin it on him or not, Alex Ovechkin’s oft-mentioned plus/minus sank to -36), but at least they get what could be a breather.
After facing tough Western Conference opponents and the Boston Bruins since March 18, they get a couple East opponents, although they play the next four games on the road. Assuming the margins aren’t too large for both teams, Friday’s road game against the Devils could be a make-or-break contest for the Capitals.
Then again, at this point, every game probably feels at least a little bit like that … and it’s mostly been cracks forming for the Caps lately.
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”
Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).
Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.
Read more about his rise here.
In his fifth NHL game, intriguing Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal (and point).
Let’s be honest, though; Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves plenty of the credit, as he sent a fantastic pass for Vrana’s tap-in tally.
See it for yourself:
Even if that was mostly Kuznetsov, Vrana has been getting his chances so far.
He generated four shots on goal in two separate occasions so far in his four games of NHL action, so maybe he was due for a chance like this.
Considering he’s just 20 years old, the Capitals could get used to Kuznetsov to Vrana.
Update: The Capitals won 4-1, and Vrana’s first goal wasn’t the only noteworthy “first.” After piling on shots, John Carlson finally scored his first goal of the season:
No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.
The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.
Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?
He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.
Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.
The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.
He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.
With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.
Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?
Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old: