Ken Hitchcock was denied his 800th career coaching win on two occasions, as the Dallas Stars concluded a promising four-game road trip with back-to-back losses. Hitchcock hopes the third time is the charm in his bid to become the third NHL coach to reach the milestone on Tuesday as the Stars open a three-game homestand against the Washington Capitals.
Penalties have been to blame as Dallas found itself short-handed on 11 occasions over the last two contests, with a power-play goal serving as the game-winner in Friday’s 5-2 loss to New Jersey as well as the 2-1 setback in overtime to Philadelphia. “To give yourself a chance to win you’ve got to stay out of the penalty box,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. “Take however many penalties (Saturday), and two power-play goals and that shoots you in the butt.” Dallas hopes a return home to American Airlines Center will help right the ship as it is 10-4-0 at home, although Washington enters Tuesday’s tilt with momentum after scoring three unanswered goals to pick up its third straight win with Saturday’s 3-2 overtime triumph over Anaheim. Captain Alex Ovechkin extended his own NHL record with his 21st overtime goal as the Capitals improved to 7-1-0 in December.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN Washington-Plus, FSN Southwest (Dallas)
ABOUT THE CAPITALS (21-12-1): Nicklas Backstrom has answered a 21-game goal drought by scoring in back-to-back contests on two occasions over the last six outings. The 30-year-old Swedish Olympian has four goals and three assists in that stretch and recorded multi-point performances in last season’s split of two games versus Dallas. Fellow forward T.J. Oshie told reporters on Monday that he expects to return from a concussion that has sidelined him six games. “I’m pretty optimistic that I can go here, but we’ll go through all the right steps before we make it official,” the 30-year-old said.
ABOUT THE STARS (18-14-2): Alexander Radulov has produced on the offensive end since signing a five-year, $31.25 million contract in the offseason, but the 31-year-old Russian’s often-times careless play has led to both 15 minor penalties and the ire of Hitchcock. Case in point came Saturday night as Radulov took a high-sticking penalty in the third period and a hooking infraction in overtime that led to defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere’s second goal. “It was two really poor penalties by a good player. It’s not team discipline, it’s individual,” Hitchcock said of Radulov, who admitted to reporters that he took responsibility for those penalties. “... First thing, I think, the player should visit with the team and talk there and see.”
1. Washington G Braden Holtby has won three in a row and 15 of his last 19 outings.
2. Dallas’ Tyler Seguin has just two goals in his last 11 games while fellow F Jason Spezza has two in his last 13.
3. Capitals D Matt Niskanen set up three goals in the 4-3 overtime win over the Stars last season and has five points (two goals, three assists) in his past six games.
PREDICTION: Capitals 4, Stars 2