So hockey may be the tenth or even the twentieth thing that comes to mind when you think of Texas. The Mavericks, Cowboys, and Rangers are all infinitely more popular and it doesn’t really snow in Dallas. Despite all that, with a Stanley Cup win, a finals appearance, and a conference final showing, the Stars have been one of the more successful NHL franchises over the last fifteen years.
The Washington Capitals have toiled in relative obscurity as well, at least until the first season HBO’s 24/7 turned guys like Ovechkin and Backstrom into household names. After taking the first ten weeks of last season off, the Caps exploded in the final five weeks to miraculously make the playoffs.
The Capitals are hard to touch when they’re on their game. They have fast and dynamic players that force other teams to take penalties. Meanwhile, the Stars made some big moves in the off season, getting both younger and faster. These are two up-tempo squads are looking to get their seasons’ started on the right foot when they meet Saturday in Big D.
Revamped Stars: new GM, new coach, and new players
There wasn’t a more active NHL franchise this off season than Dallas. At the end of last, the Stars hired Jim Nill as their new general manager. Immediately going to work, Nill hired longtime Buffalo Sabres’ bench boss -and 2006 coach of the year- Lindy Ruff to coach a rebuilding squad.
Nill then picked up a number of new players including veterans: Rich Peverly, Shawn Horcoff, and Sergei Gonchar. Though Nill’s biggest splash was acquiring former 2nd overall draft pick Tyler Seguin, who fell out of favour with Boston’s head office after last season.
Dallas’ biggest leak last season was being out-shot by almost 5 shots per game -third worst in the league. In Horcoff and Gonchar, the Stars have some puck controlling veterans that can calm play in their own zone, and allow them to get their own offense moving. In that category, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who’ve been paired on the top line, are both extremely capable goal scorers. Additionally, rookies Alexander Chaisson and Valeri Nichushkin-both pegged as possible rookie of the year candidates- should be very exciting to watch.
‘Capitalizing’ a man up: the Resurgence of Alex Ovechkin
Last year’s turnaround was astonishing for the Caps, as they were only 9.62% to make the playoffs halfway through the season. The biggest reason for the turnaround was Alexander Ovechkin. After a mediocre 2012 campaign, Ovechkin started the 2013 season with only 10 points in 16 games. Pundits and fans alike were writing both the Capitals’ and Ovie’s eulogies as the team sputtered along.
However, over the next 32 games, Ovechkin went on an absolute tear with 42 points- 21 of those coming on the power play- and dragging the team into the playoffs.
This season, spurred by the addition of Mikael Grabovski, Ovechkin is already leading the league in points, and the Caps power play is looking even more dominant than last year.
Both teams look get seasons on track
Dallas suffered a season opening loss to the lowly Florida Panthers Thursday. The Stars’ looked sloppy in their zone and in the neutral zone. Though, it wasn’t a huge surprise as the team has many new faces and is molding itself. The forwards will need to buy into coach Ruff’s system of high paced two-way hockey for things to progress.
The Caps’ are off to a 1-1-0 record to begin their season. In the first game, they looked outgunned and outmatched in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Thursday Washington snuck passed Calgary on a series of fortuitous bounces and a questionable late penalty call.
It’s also concerning that five of the Caps’ eight goals have come on the power play, and consequently that the scoring has been limited to basically the top line.
D for Discipline
Dallas was short-handed 179 times last season, which was third most in the league. Washington was first in power play percentage last year and is first again this year.
The game really boils down to Dallas’ systems. If the players will begin to buy in, Dallas’ speed will overwhelm the Caps and net them the two points. If they don’t play the system, Washington’s offense will force the Stars to take penalties, allowing Ovie and the power play to go to town.
The line opened with the game as pick ’em and both teams at -104 a piece. Frankly, it’s hard to like Dallas here. Their system will take time to develop and practicing it against an offensive powerhouse like the Caps could get ugly. I believe in the Stars long term but last night they couldn’t contain Florida, who might be the worst team in the NHL.