When the Dallas Stars were all set for their first game after an extended break just a month into the season, it's fair to say that most expected there to be some rust to work through. With the Stars facing the high-flying Colorado Avalanche, the tough test was going to be just how quickly they could get past the early stumbles and keep the offensively-capable Avs in check.
Unfortunately, the result of that extended break was perhaps the worst overall period for the Stars this season. The Avalanche exploded to a 2-0 lead that could have easily been much worse heading into the second period. The Stars were able to turn it around in the second period, however, while you would have preferred the 4-2 lead it's safe to say that going into the final frame tied 4-4 is more than anyone could have hoped for.
"I think we're going to chalk this one up to a little bit of rust," Brenden Morrow said after the game. "We had a little bit of a break, we practiced with pace, we think we did all the right things but it was pretty sloppy out there. It's two points nonetheless. We'll take it and turn into a pesky road team now."
The Stars now embark on a four-game road trip, starting tomorrow in Carolina, and then head to Washington, Pittsburgh and Detroit for the toughest three-game stretch this season. For now though, the Stars will have to figure out whether the 7-6 win over Colorado was a great sign of what's to come or a reminder that this team still has a long ways to go before being considered one of the best in the Western Conference.
Before the game, lots of talk surrounded the goal of the team to avoid the run and gun style of the Avalanche. This was going to be a great test for a team that pride's itself in its ability to limit scoring chances and to make it hard on teams to earn goals. I'm certain that heading into the game, the plan put in place by coach Glen Gulutzan was focused on the Stars staying in "their game" and not getting caught up in the speed of the Avs.
Didn't exactly work out that way, as six goals were scored on each side before overtime, yet Gulutzan said after the game he didn't feel the Stars strayed too far from their gameplan.
"I think that up tempo caught us a little bit in the first. We were all talking about that layoff and their up tempo caught us a little bit," said Gulutzan. "I don't think we got caught up in it. We made some mistakes, some individual errors. I think they played well and caused us to make some individual errors, but I didn't mind us structurally. I might change my mind when I watch the video, I just thought that individual errors cost us."
The depth scoring for the Stars, combined with the magic of Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn, is the big story of the night. Six different players scored for the Stars as they enjoyed their biggest offensive game of the season. With Steve Ott out for the weekend, Benn and Eriksson found much of the offensive pressure sitting on their shoulders and for most of the game, you could see some frustration setting in with that line as they consistently played against the magical Matt Duchesne.
What was most encouraging was how the rest of the team, after going down 2-0 to start the game, picked up the intensity and never let the bad start get the team too far off their game. Led by Adam Burish, Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak, the Stars showed physicality and intensity in the second period that led directly to a number of power play chances in the second period, which the Stars were able to finally use to their advantage.
"We were resilient, we stuck with it tonight, we played right until the very end and we were fortunate to get the win in overtime," said Sheldon Souray. "We'll take the points, but we'll regroup and get ready for our next game on Sunday."
It all culminated with a Loui Eriksson goal late in overtime, as he tried to center the puck to a charging Jamie Benn.
"I saw [Benn] at the side of the net. I don't know if it hit someone, but it went in," Eriksson said. "There were a lot of goals out there today. We stuck with it and got the two points."
Of course, in a game that ended 7-6, not everything was rainbows and butterflies. Kari Lehtonen played his worst game in nearly two years, asking the Stars to step up and cover for some poor play that has not been indicative of what we've come to expect this season.
"Today is I think the first night that I think Kari's been average," Gulutzan said. "Some huge saves and some things I think he'd like to have back. But you look at the great goalies, they all have an off night, but it's like once every eight games. I'll take that any day of the week, and I think Kari is trending towards being one of those elite goalies. Yeah, tonight wasn't his best night, but I'll take the eight that he's already saved us this year."