Stars 5, Capitals 2
This was supposed to be a night off for Olaf Kolzig, a rare respite for the workhorse goalie. The Washington Capitals keeper sat on the bench and was prepared to communicate with ESPN commentators during the game, but never had the chance. Ten minutes in his microphone was tossed aside and Kolzig headed for the ice.
The Capitals were felled again by undisciplined penalties, backup goalie Craig Billington faltered and Kolzig took over with the Dallas Stars already leading by two goals at American Airlines Center and well on their way to a 5-2 win.
"Your starting goalie has to give you a chance to win the game and he didn't," Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "When we needed a big save we didn't get it. So I went to Olie. I didn't want to go to Olie, believe me I really didn't, but you've got to coach the game to win the game."
Washington has dropped two straight games after opening the season with three victories. This was the fourth of eight straight road contests and another difficult test in a schedule that features 10 of the first 13 games away from MCI Center. The Capitals have yielded at least one power play goal in every game this season, an acute problem given their propensity for penalties, and they have surrendered the first goal in every game but one.
This contest got away almost before it began, with Chris Simon and Billington largely to blame. Simon, who was already demoted from the first to the fourth line, picked up four minutes in penalties the first time he touched the ice tonight, for slashing and interference, and Dallas scored on both power plays.
Bill Guerin connected about three minutes in, beating Billington with a low and relatively routine shot. The Stars, who are on a 9-1-1-1 tear against Washington, scored again with one second remaining on Simon's second penalty, with defenseman Darryl Sydor beating Billington in a nearly identical fashion. Simon, who has consistently taken similarly ill-advised penalties, did not take another shift the rest of the game.
"He took a lazy penalty and a stupid penalty," Cassidy said. "We're not good enough to get down 2-0 and kill penalties. You ask guys not to do it and then you tell them not to do it and then you take away their ice time."
Jeff Halpern broke up the onslaught with a long shot through Jaromir Jagr's screen, earning his first point since January, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Stars went up 3-1 about four minutes later. Rob DiMaio found a cranny to the far side of Billington, who was demoted to the minors before the season then quickly summoned to replace rookie Sebastien Charpentier, ringing his shot off the post for Dallas's third goal on seven shots.
Kolzig (21 saves on 22 shots), who routinely plays 72 of 82 regular season games, was rushed into the crease and the Capitals began to play with more composure, responding to massive line changes from Cassidy.
"When we finally quit taking penalties we started taking over the game," captain Steve Konowalchuk said.
But Stars backup goalie Ron Tugnutt (27 saves) was in fine form, too. He made dazzling point-blank saves on Jagr and Andreas Salomonsson late in the first period to protect the lead. While Dallas spent ample time on the power play (nearly nine minutes), the Capitals enjoyed just one chance with the man advantage.
"They can not just call it one way," Jagr said. "We have to kill so many penalties and we get only one power play."
Jagr scored his fourth goal of the season late in the second period with the teams playing four-on-four, slamming in a pass from Dainius Zubrus to make it 3-2. Washington was abuzz and the Stars could barely clear their zone, then all of that reversed early in the third period. Washington did not clear the puck, the Capitals were outnumbered in the crease and DiMaio scored easily on a rebound. Jere Lehtinen added an empty-net goal to cement the defeat.