For the first ten minutes against the New Jersey Devils, it seemed we were in for just the same old frustrations we suffered through last season. Poor passes, mistakes on defense, poor goaltending and an overall lethargy in the Stars game resulted in an early 2-0 lead for the Devils. Usually, when facing the Devils in New Jersey and spotting that team a two goal lead would be recipe for disaster against a traditionally shut-down defensive squad.
Instead, the Dallas Stars regrouped and showed that while some of the same issues might still exist this is certainly a much different team that last season.
Brenden Morrow's goal late in the first period sparked the team into action and the Stars exploded out of the locker room in the second period. Historically these Stars have been horrid in the middle frame on the road but aside from a power play goal by Jason Arnott, Dallas absolutely dominated the second period. Goals from Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards had the game tied going into the third period, where the Stars were able to play strong enough defense to hold off a spirited attack by New Jersey and send the game to overtime. Eriksson wasted little time, roofing a shot past Martin Brodeur as the Stars skated away with an uplifting overtime victory on the road.
After the jump, my specific thoughts on a very exciting game.
- Trevor Daley. Never has such a player been the source of so much frustration. Showing poor judgment and a lack of overall defensive ability, Daley made two poor plays in the first period with each resulting in a goal by the Devils. There is thought that if Daley could actually start producing offensively his defensive lapses would be forgotten but after a horrible first period in which he recorded zero shots on net, I would have been fine if the Stars had just left him in New Jersey after tonight.
Daley completely redeemed himself in the third period, however. It was obvious that the Devils were putting the Kovalchuk line out on the ice against Daley throughout the game and while he struggled early he certainly made up for late in the third period and in overtime. While Kovalchuk certainly had some space at times, Daley made two crucial defensive plays that likely saved the game. He played Kovalchuk perfectly in the final seconds of regulation on a late rush up the wing, but more importantly he was able to tie up Kovy on a pass across the crease. That pass ended up on Eriksson's stick, who promptly scored just a few seconds later.
Daley never registered a shot on goal but you could see his confidence building as the game went on. If he could just play more like he did in the final 22 minutes then I would feel much better about his future in Dallas.
- Perhaps the Devils are just poor in the faceoff circle. Perhaps this game was just an anomaly. Whatever the reason, the Stars opened up the season winning 62% of the faceoffs against New Jersey. With the exception of Toby Petersen (1-for-6), every center on the team won at least 60% of the faceoffs. Steve Ott and Jamie Benn were each 4-for-5 in the faceoff circle, while even Richards and Ribeiro got in on the act. For a team that is preaching puck possession, this is a very important step. While it's tough to say the faceoff wins actually resulted in scoring chances, there's no doubt it was a difference late in the game.
- What more can be said about Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow and Adam Burish. That line sparked the Stars in the first period and showcased that all of the hype in the preseason was certainly justified. Most importantly, Ribeiro and his line played exceptionally well on defense as well.
It's been mentioned a few times tonight but Ribeiro certainly appeared to be playing faster. Last season I remarked how when Ribeiro took the ice, Marc Crawford's uptempo system suddenly slowed to a crawl. Tonight, against the Devils, Ribeiro and Morrow pushed the play up the ice on every shift in a way that we haven't seen in nearly two years.
- How could we forget about Loui Eriksson? All summer long the focus has been on James Neal, Brad Richards and Jamie Benn but it's the leading scorer of the Dallas Stars that was the difference in this game. While James Neal (SHOCKING) and Richards both showed they have great passing and playmaking ability, Eriksson proved once more that he's one of the best finishing players in the NHL. He's certainly the most underrated scoring forward in the league and tonight he showed that while others may get the attention, he's the one that is going to be the difference moving forward.
- I know there is some concern about Kari Lehtonen but I truly believe nerves got the best of him tonight. He was over aggressive at times and seemed much more jittery than normal, yet he certainly settled down late in the game. He showcased his patented aggression on taking out angles with several big saves and was able to find the puck through traffic when the Devils were pressing.
The goals early in the game were frustrating but when the Stars needed some stops, Lehtonen was up to the task. In the third period and overtime he was made 14-of-14 saves, including one gigantic save off a snazzy shot-deke by Dainus Zubrus. I was encouraged by what we saw as the game progressed.
- Here's something interesting: the Dallas Stars played their defensemen nearly completely evenly throughout the game. Not one player dominated the rest with time on ice and most defensemen all played nearly the same amount.
- The key to the overall success for the Stars in this game was the ultimate effectiveness of all four lines. Marc Crawford was able to play nearly all of his forwards evenly and the fourth line was exceptional at times. The offensive capability that Petersen, Segal and Sutherby possess -- coupled with strong defensive capabilities -- gives Crawford four lines that he can roll out throughout the game.
Jamie Benn, although he didn't show up on the scoresheet, led the team with five shots on goal and set the tone physically for the rest of the team. While it would be great for him to, you know, actually score he also showcased that he doesn't have to score goals to be effective.
- Usually the first month of the season is home to some very ugly hockey. I don't know what got into these two teams but this was easily the most exciting opening-night game I've seen in a very long time. In the third period I could have sworn that there was almost a late-season, playoff feel to the flow of the game. It was absolutely incredible to watch.
- How can we not mention Stephane Robidas and his incredible kick save in the third period. He made a couple of big defensive plays in the game and while his offense still hasn't shown back up, it's obvious why he's the leader on defense for this team.
- Finally, some overall thoughts on the game as a whole. These Dallas Stars showed heart and a competitive spirit we didn't get much out of them last season. While at times a bit overzealous (Steve Ott), the Stars were much more physical and much more determined than in the past and it was ultimately the difference in this game. There were still some very frustrating defensive lapses at times but overall you had to be pleased with the performance from the offense and the defense against one of the top teams in the NHL.
What is encouraging to see is how the Stars responded to early adversity. We were one post away from seeing a 3-0 deficit ten minutes into the game on the road but the Stars battled back and rallied together to pull of the big win. Would last season's team have won this game? I doubt it.
Most importantly, the Stars were able to get a big win on the road. This was something the team struggled with last season and the hope is that this is signs of good things to come moving forward.
DBD's Three Stars of the Game:
Loui Eriksson, Dallas - Was the offensive catalyst for the Stars and won the game with absolutely tantalizing wrist shot in overtime.
Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey - Finished with just one shot but dominated the ice at times throughout the game.
Brad Richards, Dallas - Finished with a goal and an assist and was +3 overall. Despite struggling early, Richards and his top line dominated late in the game. On the road.