It's after games like this where there is so much to say you almost don't know where to begin.
The Dallas Stars, heading into Washington to face a powerful and dangerous Capitals team, made a statement to the rest of the NHL that this hockey team is indeed for real with a resounding 5-2 win. The Stars dominated much of the game, taking complete control with an incredible third period outburst that saw a 2-2 game become a rout in mere minutes.
Jamie Benn had another big night, Michael Ryder scored twice and Eric Nystrom may have the goal of the year -- yes, even better than Benn's goal in Columbus. What's more, the Stars team defense did a great job controlling the NHL-best offense of the Capitals, with Alex Ovechkin being held in check for most of the game.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this win was how it was a team win, a complete effort by the Dallas Stars that might -- considering the circumstances -- be their very best of the season.
For all of those raising questions about whether this team was "for real" are going to have to sit up and take notice now. While we are a long way from forgetting the meltdown of last season, there's no doubting there's something different about this team and these Dallas Stars are making a statement that they are a team to be taken seriously.
More thoughts on the game after the jump.
Don't let the final score fool you -- this game was tied at the start of the third period and the Capitals had grasped momentum at the end of the second period. With the Stars taking a 2-1 lead into the second, the Capitals pushed back in a big way with 15 shots in the middle frame and tied the game off a John Carlson goal.
The Stars looked like they had lost their legs a bit and the Capitals were starting to pick up their game and as the third period started there was a worry this game would suddenly go in the wrong direction after what had been a very solid game.
Yet a brilliant play by Brenden Morrow on the boards off a faceoff win led to one heck of a goal by Adam Burish, who was able to outmuscle a defenseman on the crease for the go-ahead goal just 24 seconds into the final frame. From that goal forward, the Stars exerted their dominance with yet another outstanding third period performance with two more goals, including the most amazing goal Eric Nystrom will ever score in his career.
Some more thoughts on this game, as much as I can muster right now:
Puck possession, fool.
What struck me most about this game was how the Stars managed to beat the Capitals at their own game. We talked before this match-up that the Stars needed to stay within their scheme, to slow the game down and force the Capitals to make mistakes and then counter. Instead, it was the Stars that dictated the pace of the play and featured an aggressive forecheck and brilliant transition game that flummoxed the Capitals for most of 60 minutes.
The Stars played a tremendous game of puck possession, out-shooting the most prolific offense in the NHL by a 36-32 margin and I'd wager that the final scoring chances will play in favor of the Stars as well. The aggressive skating and speed displayed by the Stars tonight instantly caused the Capitals defensemen to start backing off and neglecting their gap control, creating easy chances up the middle that the Stars exploited all game long.
Got caught looking...
One direct outcome of the puck possession displayed by the Stars was how they were able to skate and pass circles around the Capitals for most of the game. It was very odd to see a team like the Capitals caught looking at the puck instead of reacting, but the Stars consistently found their way to prime scoring position as well as to loose pucks around the net.
For the first game of this season, the Stars finally found their passing game. They showed flashed of this against Colorado and Carolina, but this was a full 60-minute effort where the Stars were able to make tape to tape passes that showcased the sort of transition game that Gulutzan has been preaching since training camp.
Boring? Who's boring?
The Dallas Stars now lead the NHL in goal differential (+12) and are second in the Western Conference in overall scoring. This team, that struggled so mightily the first few weeks to score goals, has now put the puck in the net 17 times over the past three games. They're scoring in different ways -- hard work around the net, incredible puck movement, opportunistic rebounds.
For a team that many discounted as "boring", this is a Stars team that not only has found their scoring touch -- they lead the NHL in hits and blocked shots, showcasing a team approach to defense and offense that the best in the NHL always strive for. All of these aspects were on full display tonight.
Penalties, penalties, more penalties.
Luckily it didn't hurt them, but the Stars once again took too many penalties -- and once again had a penalty erase a power play opportunity not once, but twice. Some of the calls were iffy but some were certainly earned. The Stars penalty kill unit was once again strong, so perhaps there's not as much to worry about anyway.
- Morrow has had a rough start to the season, but I really loved what I saw from him in the third period. His hustle and hard work created the scoring chance for Burish's game-winning goal and he played with the heart and grit that has defined his career in Dallas. Now, if only he can start scoring again.
- Steve Ott is going to have to fist fight Ryder for that third spot on the Benn-Eriksson line.
- Speaking of which, I went this entire recap without mentioning the Dynamic Duo. They were incredible. Again. Yawn.
- Love the way this team responds after being scored upon. We saw it against Colorado and we saw it here tonight against the Capitals.
- Eric Nystrom is going to remember this game and that goal for the rest of his life.