"I thought this was our best game all year from start to finish."
Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said is best after the tough 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, when the best 60-minute effort of the season found the Stars coming up just short of a momentous win. In the midst of a tough four-game road trip that includes three Pacific Division opponents, the Stars had a chance to make an early-season statement that their success so far was not a fluke. Despite the loss, it's safe to say that statement has been made.
"I don't think there are a lot of things in our game that we can complain about besides finishing," said Brenden Morrow. "Rayzor gave us a solid effort. We sure would have liked to have got him the win. He was battling hard for us, but sometimes the puck just doesn't go in for you. We didn't get one tonight."
Perhaps the biggest question heading into the game was how backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft would handle the dangerous kings. Stopping 27 of 28 shots in the game, only a fluttering curve ball of a knucklepuck -- which Raycroft never saw -- got past the netminder. He was nothing short of tremendous and the team in front of him rallied around his stout play, playing their best game of the season by far.
"We're disappointed with the outcome but I guess we are going to rationalize it to ourselves in the fact that we thought that we played real well and the game could have gone either way," said coach Glen Gulutzan.
It's always tough to rationalize a loss, but there's no reason why this team should walk away from last night's game with their head down. They played with energy and physicality and more importantly, it's more apparent than ever that this team has bought into what Gulutzan is coaching...
For just the second time this season the Stars were able to outshoot their opponent, holding the talented Kings to 24 shots on net and just five in the third period. More impressively, the Stars blocked 27 shots on the night while winning 59% of the faceoffs -- winning a puck possession battle against a team that excels at keeping the puck away its opponent.
For most of the game the Stars displayed near-perfect defensive positioning on defense, never letting the high-charging Kings to get behind them or allowing an odd-man rush. The Stars were able to keep the attack to the perimeter and it's becoming much more clear just what Gulutzan is wanting his team to do in their own zone. Even at even strength, the Stars are forming a box around the slot and around the net, never allowing prime scoring chances in front of the goaltender and doing their best to keep all shots from the outside.
That the winning goal came from a shot from the point is irrelevant, especially considering the trajectory it took to the net. What is certainly relevant, however, is how the Stars are now 100% bought into this system and the players understand if they play their game then they can give any team in the NHL problems.
"It's encouraging and when I say that I think we're moving forwards, it's pretty easy to say, but the last thing I heard before leaving the dressing room before going out for the third period was, ‘Let's stick to the game plan,'" said Gulutzan. "And I thought for the players, if they get to that belief that they need to play a certain way to win at this level, then that means they're buying in and if you get 20 guys on the same page, you're hard to beat, so I think we're moving forward."
Moving forward is exactly what the Stars accomplished last night, showcasing exactly how this team wants to play and become known for this season. They want to make their opponent work for their goals and never make anything easy -- it was apparent the Kings were getting frustrated at times.
In spite of the happy whistles by the officials in the second period the Stars were able to maintain discipline and stick to their formula, one that nearly had them walking away with an improbable win in Los Angeles.
"That was probably our best game we've played, back-to-back, on the road and in a tough building," said Andrew Raycroft. "We played our game tonight. We stayed disciplined and really didn't give up much."
Just like in any other contest this season, praise should go to the Stars netminder. Raycroft withstood a barrage of scoring chances in the second period and once again the goalie gave his team a chance to win the game. While the Stars have certainly had some bumps in the road this season, more and more we're seeing a team effort from the goaltender to the defense to the forwards.
You need a great goaltender to be successful but the team in front of him also needs to be good as well.
"I felt good, I felt like we were going to win all night and they get a lucky shot that finds a hole," said Raycroft. "We hit posts and missed nets and missed rebounds. I definitely thought we outplayed them and had more chances, we just didn't have as much luck."
More than anything, it's apparent that this was a game that will give confidence to the Dallas Stars that they're on the right track. After a tumultous offseason with coaching changes and nearly one-third of the roster changing over, this team is already starting to truly come together. After the game, the players showcased pride in their effort against the Kings, knowing full well that if this is how they play for most of this season then the Stars can continue to stay right in the hunt for a playoff spot.
"We were really good tonight at the blue lines, the ice was really bad out there tonight, you could probably tell, but managing the puck and really playing a team game supporting the puck," said Alex Goligoski. "We were really good tonight, especially on back-to-back nights, that shows mental toughness more than anything. It's good, everyone's buying in.
"We played the way we wanted to. If we play that way the rest of the way we'll be alright."