DALLAS — The Washington Capitals haven’t defeated the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center in some time, so long that Capitals coach Barry Trotz has no idea exactly when his team last won there.
“I don’t know the last time we’ve ever won in Dallas, but everybody tells me it’s like never, so we’ll go into Dallas and see if we can put a good game together against Dallas, who’s had our number,” Trotz said after Washington defeated St. Louis 7-3 at Scottrade Center on Thursday.
Washington (30-9-6) lost its last four trips to Dallas, but all four defeats, including a 4-3 loss in 2016, have been by a single goal.
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The Capitals, who are 12-4-5 on the road and 9-0-1 over their past 10 contests, scored five or more goals in five consecutive games, including back-to-back seven-goal performances.
Washington currently leads the NHL with a plus-48 goal differential thanks to ranking third with 145 goals for while conceding a league-low 97 goals.
One key during their run of good form has been scoring first, something Washington has done in its past nine games. The Capitals lead the league with a 25-3-4 record when scoring first.
“It’s hard to score in this league, but it’s a lot easier and it’s a lot less draining when you score first,’ Trotz said in St. Louis. “You’re not chasing the game. There’s a lot more demand on every detail when you’re chasing the game because you give up another one, it’s a bigger hole. We’ve been much better this year in the starts. We’ve been able to managing it and we’ve been able to get some good goaltending.”
Washington, who is 10-2-0 this season against the Western Conference, did not practice Friday.
Dallas (19-20-8), on the other hand, is mired in the middle of the pack in the Central Division and in the West.
The Stars, who are 12-7-4 at home, lost 3-0 at the New York Islanders on Thursday to finish their three-game road trip through the Empire State at 1-2-0.
In that loss to the Islanders, Dallas lost veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya to a lower-body injury. On Friday morning, the Stars placed Oduya on injured reserve for a second time this season and recalled rookie Julius Honka, the 14th pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, from Texas of the American Hockey League.
Honka, 21, has 21 points (16 assists) in 30 AHL games this season. He made his NHL debut on November 21 against Minnesota and appeared in eight games for the Stars before returning to the minors.
But Stars coach Lindy Ruff said after practice on Friday that he has no immediate plans to force Honka into his current defensive rotation.
“Right now, we’ll go with the six that have been playing. We got to give them a fair chance to get the job done,” Ruff said. “We know what Julius can do. I guess he’s played good in Texas. I think there’s still work to do with his game. We’re working through some young D here already, so I’d like to put a little confidence in the group that we have but knowing that if we’re going to need a puck mover, we can put one in.”
As their recent road trip illustrated, Dallas has struggled against the East, with a 3-8-3 record.
Capitals veteran forward Justin Williams, who who is tied for second on the team with 16 goals behind only Alex Ovechkin, would like to extend that run of misery against the East for the Stars, a team he knows quite well after playing against them in the Pacific Division and the West for several years with the Los Angeles Kings.
This game will also end this season’s dad’s trip, where fathers of the players are invited to hitch a ride with the team, and Williams for one would like to end it with two points in Dallas.
“I’m 35-years-old and I still want to impress my dad,” Williams said. “It’s fun having him here. You just enjoy the time together.”
Following Thursday’s loss, Ruff lamented what he saw as the Stars’ lack of compete in that 3-0 defeat.
So naturally, that subject was heavily addressed during practice on early Friday afternoon.
“When we lose a battle to give up a 3-on-1 and then a breakaway, that’s not good hockey. At that time of the game, you got to get on the right side of the puck, you got to win your battle, you got to be more determined to make sure that battle is ours,” Ruff said.
Despite the Stars’ rollercoaster season, which has seen them be abysmal on the road but almost unbeatable on home ice, Dallas is still just three points out of the final playoff spot in the West.
If the Stars are to right the ship and make their way into postseason territory for what would be a second consecutive and third trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Ruff’s four seasons at the helm, a lot good things must start happening for the Stars.
“Well, we talked about it’s going to take a lot of heart and a lot of determination,” Ruff said. “It’s going to take a lot of out-of-character acts from the shot blocking to the penalty killing to being in the lanes.”