The Stars visited the Staples Center tonight to meet the defending champion LA Kings for the first of five matches between the teams. LA was playing their third game in four nights, but they were playing very well, as their record of 7-1 in their last eight games would indicate. The Stars were coming off a three day break, and were playing well, too. In their last 13 games, the Stars had scored at least three goals in 12 of them. In a game featuring two upward trending teams, which team would be better tonight?
The Dallas Stars came home to face a tough test in the visiting Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks came into the game 7-1-1 and leading the Pacific Division. They’re a team with a renewed focus on getting pucks on the net, something the Stars’ opponents haven’t had a hard time doing. This game would be a good litmus test for the team.
The Stars came out of the gates like a team possessed, putting a ton of pressure on the Ducks. For once, the Stars were the team that was putting a ton of pucks on net, testing Anaheim net-minder Jonas Hiller often.
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’ first two games have given their fans a lot to think about. A thrilling 4-3 victory on opening night had them on Cloud 9, but then a 0-1 loss had the fans second-guessing their elation. Tonight’s 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings should have them feeling a bit better.
A big question coming into tonight’s game was whether or not the Stars could get any offensive production outside the first line. That question was answered early in the first period when the second line of Ryder, Eakin and Whitney netted a goal. Eakin, who took Wandell’s spot in the second line, gained possession of a loose puck and shuttled it to Ryder, who took it across the ice and whipped a no-look shot past Jimmy Howard.
Eakin was extremely impressive tonight, winning loose pucks, pestering opposing players and facilitating the offense. Eakin picked up his second point of the night when he got the second assist on Ryder’s second goal of the night.
Those two goals got past Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, but he was a stone wall for Detroit tonight. The Stars had many good chances, including 17 in the second period, but thanks to a number of ridiculous saves, Detroit was able to stay within striking distance for much of the game.
Kari Lehtonen was equal to the task. Kari was fantastic, even as the Dallas defense broke down in front of him. Dallas allowed Detroit 16 chances in the third period, while only mustering 5 of their own. A puck finally got by Kari with 3 seconds left, but it was too late for Detroit by then. The Stars are lucky that Lehtonen seems to be in midseason form despite the long lockout.
Also impressive tonight was Trevor Daley, who was charging the opposition’s net all night. He was standing next to the goal when Ryder’s goal when in, and he created a shorthanded chance for Loui Eriksson by speeding into open space and stretching the defense. The Stars need an agressive defenseman, and I think Daley can fill that role, albiet in an a-typical way for a defenseman. The Stars can encourage this behavior from Daley by giving him neutral zone draw opportunities (as opposed to defensive zone draws), and there were signs that they were doing that tonight.
Jordie Benn and Brenden Dillion looked improved tonight and will only benefit from the increased on ice time they’re seeing. Still though, the Stars’ defense gave up 40 shots again, which is a number I’m sure Glen Gulutzan will be looking to reduce.
Considering the Red Wings were coming off a back-to-back and are struggling mightily defensively, it might be easy to dismiss this win a bit. But there were definite signs of improvement, it was a win on the road, and a win without their best player, Jamie Benn. There is still a lot of work to be done, but there are some encouraging signs as well.