Say hello to your (tied for) first place in the Pacific division Dallas Stars!
Sure it's a little early to be crowing about being simply tied for first in a division, but perhaps it's time to maybe enjoy some positive aspects of Stars hockey after a very solid road effort in Anaheim led to a 4-2 win over the Ducks.
Despite a shaky third period that saw the Ducks really apply lots of pressure on the forecheck and give the under-manned (more on the reason Dallas had to play a man short at the end of the recap) Dallas D all it can handle, Dallas was full value for the 3-1 lead they earned in the first two periods and much to their credit (and credit to the refs seemingly putting the whistles away) the Stars didn't take a single penalty in that third period even with all the offensive pressure the Ducks put on.
The first two periods were pretty much all Dallas. In fact if you happened to watch this game on TV and you didn't know any better, you'd almost swear it was a replay of one of the 2008 playoff games where Dallas played a steady, solid fundamental hockey and jumped all over Anaheim mistakes in their own zone and poor penalties.
if you're looking for players who stood out, then easily right from the start you have to consider Steve Ott who made his return from an injury tonight to provide some much needed energy to the lineup playing mostly on a third line with Toby Petersen and Fabian Brunnstrum. Otter finished the game with 6 shots, 2 hits, lots of pressure on Anaheim defensemen trying to move the puck out and of course a goal into an empty net to ice the game for Dallas late in the third period.
Coach Crawford did seem to flip Ott and Tom Wandell between the 2nd and third lines and truth be told that plan seemed to work for both of them as Wandell also too picked up a point - an assist on Loui Eriksson's first period goal and had a respectable night in the faceoff dot winning eight and losing five including a perfect two for two on defensive faceoffs.
Faceoffs has a whole have been an issue for the Stars in the early part of this season but in tonight's game that problem seemed to disapear as they were a collective 55% (29 won of 53) from the dot and an even better 11 out of 15 in their defensive zone. That coupled with solid work along the boards and winning a greater share of battles for loose pucks is a huge reason why Dallas was able to skate off with a W tonight.
The Ducks are one of the few teams in the league that don't try to beat you with a ton of speed, and that style of hockey in a lot of ways plays right into the hands of the Stars who have just enough speed to be considered a bit faster and with that speed can pressure the Ducks into making mistakes.
It was strong cycle play low in the Ducks zone between Wandell, Eriksson and James Neal that got the Ducks defense to chase after the puck a little bit and broke down their defense in front of Duck goalie Jonas Hiller, allowing Eriksson to bang home a rebound two feet away from the net in the first period.
In the second period it was more pressure - this time from Mike Ribeiro - by causing a turnover off of Hiller's stick behind the Ducks net then feeding a perfectly positioned Brenden Morrow who through his powers of ESP somehow knew that Ribs would not only cause the turnover and then throw the puck out in front for him for one of the more easier goals the captain will score this season.
It was constant pressure in the Ducks zone that caused young Ducks defenseman Brenden Mikkelson to take a slashing penalty which in turn led to the Stars to cash in on their third power-play chance of the night on a goal by Trevor Daley who has gotten pretty good at being able to pinch low on a play and benifit from Crawford's system of having someone cover his position high.
And when the Ducks did come back in the third period with a greater amount of scoring chances (though it's not an official stat, FSN Southwest did have the third period scoring chances listed as 10-3 in favor of the Ducks in the third) Marty Turco played very well in goal and helped preserve the win.
In all you couldn't ask for much more from the Stars. It was a workman like effort on the road where the team kept the play simple, won more small battles than they lost and once again put the Ducks in their place.
The Stars also looked to not tax themselves too much in the game and should be relatively healthy for the second part of their back-to-back stretch against the Kings tomorrow night. The only question may be the health of Matt Niskanen who was the recipient of an ugly (and non-called) slew foot trip along the boards by the Ducks Evgeny Artyukhin in the second period. Niskanen appeared to land on his upper back / neck area and looked quite dazed when he got up from the hit. He left the ice under his own power, but he might be doubtful for tomorrow night's game against L.A. Of course Brad will have more news on tomorrow's Stargazing feature.
For tonight though Stars fans, enjoy (the tie for) first place in the division!