The Stars and Sharks came into this game looking like teams looking for answers. After starting the season 7-0-0, the Sharks have faltered in their last nine games, going 1-5-3 and scoring only 2 power play goals in 46 chances. The Stars have had their own struggles on the power play, and their goaltending situation is tenuous at best, as Cristopher Nilstorp and Richard Bachman have failed to impress in Kari Lehtonen’s absense. Which team would break through tonight?
This was a game that the Stars had no business winning, as Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy were out with injuries and Jaime Benn was unavailable because of work visa issues. The Stars played hard, but the same lingering issues reappeared and they fell to the Blues, 4-3.
Wade Redden, yes, Wade Redden scored to put the Blues up early in the first period. Okay, backup goalie Cristopher Nilstorp was completely screened and never saw it go in. Still, not a great way to start.
Luckily for the Stars, Tomas Vincour scored about a half minute later, taking a beautiful pass from Fiddler that found him in the slot. Vincour’s first shot was saved, but he collected the rebound and put it past Halak to even the score.
In the 12th minute, the Blues’ talented right-winger Vladimir Tarasenko went into the penalty box for tripping Ray Whitney, and the Stars went on the power play. It was not a pretty power play, but it resulted in a goal when Michael Ryder put the biscuit in the basket after being denied by the post. Ryder backhanded the puck through Halak’s five-hole to give the Stars an unlikely lead.
In the second period, the game got completely away from the Stars. The Blues started taking control of the game, getting eight chances to Dallas’ two. David Perron used his stick-handling skills to abuse Brendan Morrow and Trevor Daley and fire a wrist shot past Nilstorp to tie the game at 2. Nilstorp was screened, but looked to be a little slow sliding across the crease as Perron slipped through the defense. Morrow and Daley were content to stick-check Perron as he danced around the ice, rather than getting more physical with him.
The Blues took the lead about 5 minutes later when they won a loose puck and Chris Stewart beat Brendan Morrow to the resulting centering shot. Unfortunately for the Stars, Morrow’s stick had broken and he stopped for a new stick moments before Stewart sprinted in and fired the wrister past a stretching Nilstorp.
With 15 seconds left in the nightmare second period, Perron gathered the puck and scored on goal that Nilstorp really should have saved. I’m no goaltending expert, but it looked like Nilstorp had time to skate forward from his position to cut off Perron’s angle. Instead, he laid back as Perron put it over his left shoulder.
The Stars came out with a bit of fight in the final period, when Brendan Morrow delivered a centering pass that Ryan Garbutt buried like he was trying to hide it.
After that goal, the Stars once again got stuck in their defensive end, unable to maintain any quality offensive possession. With 7:41 left in the game, Kari Lehtonen was forced to enter the game when Nilstorp injured his groin. The difference in goaltending styles (at least on this night) was immediately clear, as Kari completely left the crease to make his first save. Nilstorp’s exit was not good news, as now the Stars have two goalies that are carrying injuries – Lehtonen was initially on the bench to rest his own “tweak.”
The Stars made one final frantic rush, pulling their goalie for an extra man. Ray Whitney almost sent the crowd into a frenzy, but he hit the post with a blast from the left of the slot. A late power play with 14 seconds amounted to nothing, and the Stars lost another one goal game – the same differential as their other three losses.
Obviously the game would have been different if Jagr and Roy weren’t out with injuries and if Jamie Benn was available, but those players are in Dallas for their offensive prowess, not defensive support. While the Stars’ defensemen weren’t bad tonight, there were times when a little physicality might have made the game less comfortable for the Blues. Also, now that the Stars have played five games, trends are starting to make themselves evident. One of these worrisome trends is that the Stars seem to be having a hard time dealing with their opponents’ forecheck, causing dangerous turnovers and increased chances for the opposition.
With all the key players unavailable tonight, there were a few positive things the Stars could take from this game. A few players stepped up to provide some offense and the team fought hard until the end. Better times for the Stars could be ahead, as Jaime Benn is set to join the team for their next game Monday. Hopefully Benn’s contribution makes the difference fans are expecting and the lingering issues start getting corrected, because in a short season, there’s not a lot of time for moral victories. As coach Glen Gulutzan said after the game, “You don’t get points for trying in this league.”
The Stars were shutout on the second night of a back-to-back by the Minnesota Wild, 0-1. Back-to-backs were the Stars’ weakness last season, and at first blush it seems that it could be a problem again this season. The Stars looked fatigued at times, mentally absent at others, and were totally stymied by Minnesota’s defense.
Only the Jagr-Roy-Eriksson line seemed to generate any offense, and even then it didn’t amount to much. Minnesota was content to clog the lanes and block shot after shot (26 blocked in total). Wild goaltender Josh Harding was named the 1st Star of the Game, but honestly didn’t have much to do until the end of the game when the Stars made a short-handed bid to tie the game.
Harding wasn’t even the best goalie in the game – neutral observers would award that title to the Stars’ rookie netminder Cristoper Nilstorp. The lanky Swede looked very composed yet active, using every bit of his 6’3″, 191 lb body to cut off angles to the net. The lone goal of the night came off of a Zach Parise blast that Nilstorp likely couldn’t see through the 3 bodies ahead of him. A few more performances like tonight, and Richard Bachman might have a hard time winning back the backup job – or the Stars might have a nice piece to trade at the deadline.
It would only seem natural for Stars fans to be frustrated after another back-to-back loss. “Here we go again,” they might be saying. I’d preach a little more patience in this instance though. This was the first back-to-back game after one week of training camp, and a team with many new faces that are still trying to learn how to play together. At the very least, the Stars kept the game close, which is an improvement over last year’s squad in the second game of back-to-backs. Let’s reserve our judgment just a bit, and enjoy the fact that hockey is back.