The Stars are starting to demand some attention. One of the issues people nationally have with the Stars has been their strength of schedule. The Washington Capitals are considered one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup, and nationally they were expected to dominate the Stars
Well, that didn't exactly go to plan
The Stars further established their hard working identity against Alexander Ovechkin's squad. The Stars out worked the Caps. They out played the Caps in every facet of the game. The Jamie Benn line single-handedly out chanced the Caps.
The Stars made a statement last night, and the numerical representation of that statement can be found after the jump. Click below to draw your own conclusions about how significant the events of Tuesday night were.
The Stars set the tone of the game very quickly. Benn, Loui Eriksson, and Michael Ryder played together as a unit again. They looked like one of the more dominant lines in the NHL. We'll touch back on why this was in a moment, but for now it will suffice to say that they set the tone early. What they were able to do was generate pressure early because of hard work. When your top guys are completely bought into a system everyone else will ultimately fall in line (if they hadn't already).
The Stars out chanced the Capitals 8-4 in the first period, and most of that was from the Benn line.
|Period||Totals||EV||PP||5v3 PP||SH||5v3 SH|
After the first period the teams played relatively straight up, but the Stars still out chanced the Caps by three in the final two periods. The special teams were a big positive again. The Stars generated four chances on the power play, but only gave up two chances to the Caps. At even strength the Stars out chanced the Caps 12-7. Of the twelve chances the Stars generated at even strength only three were generated by players not playing with Benn.
If you look at the player chart below you will see what I believe to be the best statistical game by a line of the season for the Stars. Benn, Eriksson, and Ryder were all a +8 chances at even strength. The d pairing of Trevor Daley and Nicklas Grossman were routinely on the ice with the trio. Daley was the Stars most positive defenseman at +6. Grossman was a +3.
What we saw from the Benn line with his new shotgun rider...uh, Ryder, was something else. They've played together for a few games now, and they seem to really be developing some chemistry. The widely anticipated idea when Ryder signed with the Stars was that he would fit well on the Mike Ribeiro line. They've played together before, his line really needed a finisher, and they were expected to be the Stars top offensive option.
Unfortunately, the Ribeiro line has been poor. They aren't good defensively. They haven't been generating much offense. They've been bad on the draw. As a result of their play, and the dominance of the Benn line, they've been losing premium ice time. Benn's line has been getting more and more offensive zone starts at the expense of the Ribeiro line.
When you combine poor defensive play, little offensive contribution, and increasingly more defensive zone starts, due to the Benn line taking offensive starts, a nasty situation arises. Your worst defensive line is taking premium defensive faceoffs, and they can't take faceoffs, thus spiraling the problems even further by forcing them to fall into a defensive posture. The Steve Ott injury opened the door for a subtle, yet interesting, lineup change though.
Instead of simply plugging Adam Burish in with the Benn unit, Gulutzan shifted Ryder up to the first with Burish going to the Ribeiro line. Ryder was being put in a position to fail. I love what he brings. His compete level has been high this year, but he can't play defense. He's a Phil Kessel-lite volume shooter. If he isn't being put in offensive situations he generates virtually no on-ice value. The move to the Benn line allows Ryder to play premium offensive zone minutes and lessens the defensive burden on the Ribeiro line.
When Steve Ott comes back the Stars don't even have a decision to make. At this point you can't break up the Benn line with Ryder on the wing, and Ott can fill a very important role with Ribeiro. Ott had been taking defensive faceoffs for Benn, but Benn isn't the worst faceoff taker on the Stars. That title falls to Ribeiro. When Ott comes back he can easily slot in on that line, take all of the draws, and add a top-rate defensive presence on a line desperately in need of one. Plus, he can score a little bit too.
The Stars passed the first big test of the road trip with flying colors. The Penguins loom large on the horizon, but this Stars team has proven that they aren't going to be intimidated. They might lose, but they aren't going to be outworked. Increasingly teams are going to be forced to plan more and more around the Benn line. Against the Caps they ran wild, but not for the entire game. Most of their chances were early. Eventually the Capitals shifted the Brooks Laich unit to match up head to head with Benn, and slowed down the onslaught. Going forward I am going to be interested to see what exactly these teams come up with to try to slow them down.