When Kari Lethonen returned from an extended absence in December of 2011 on a Thursday night at home the Stars laid an egg against the Columbus Blue Jackets. When he returned last year- on a Thursday, at home again, the Stars suffered an ugly loss to the Oilers on February 28th.
So when the Stars got Kari Lehtonen back tonight, at home, on a Thursday, you had to wonder whether the relief felt by the team at his return would once again translate into a letdown performance. Taking matters into his own hands he added an assist to make sure this time, and his solid play in the first 30 minutes gave the Stars the time they needed to build a 5-1 victory over the Calgary Flames.
Two goal performances for the home crowd from Alex Chiasson and Jamie Benn led the way, and the NHL debut of Kevin Connauton was a successful one with a +2 rating in over 15 minutes of ice time.
The game was uneven at times and even ugly on occasion in the first period as the Flames hemmed the Stars into their own zone after turnovers and failed zone exits, but things got cleaner and Calgary was punched in the mouth too hard by a 61 second three-goal outburst in the second period.
The Stars improve to 4-5-0 overall and 3-1-0 at home this season. Winnipeg is next on Saturday.
The Stars came out strong and took it to the Flames in the early going, capitalizing on a broken defensive sequence four minutes in when Alex Chiasson was left all along in front for not one, but three stabs at it as he gave them a 1-0 lead.
That was about it. The Stars would manage just two additional shots on goal in the remaining 14 minutes as the Flames hemmed them in their own zone repeatedly and the zone exits were every bit as messy as they've been in games past against much better competition.
Kari Lehtonen stood tall and the Stars managed a kill on Kevin Connauton's first NHL penalty (holding) to preserve the lead, but it was all Calgary in the first after the Stars goal.
Calgary continued carrying the play early in the second period and would tie it up after a busted play in the offensive zone by a variety of parties, particularly Jordie Benn, who jumped up on a puck he couldn't corral sending Lee Stempniak flying the other way on a two-on-one. He beat Kari Lehtonen on a sizzling wrister from the wing.
The uncertainty would continue for the next seven minutes with the Flames getting several quality looks, and then things got interesting.
Alex Chiasson pounced on a rebound through the slot and appeared to score but the ref behind the net waived it off emphatically and chaos ensued as some players stopped and others continued on. A whistle and a review showed the puck clearly in and the Stars had a 2-1 lead.
18 seconds later Jamie Benn would puncture Ramo from the left circle on a lengthy wrister to put the Stars up 3-1. The fun would continue at 12:12 when a Brenden Dillon wrist-shot from the point deflected off something in front and fooled Karri Ramo to make it 4-1, Dallas. A three goal outburst in 61 seconds that drew a Flames timeout.
The game sagged, naturally, after the tv timeouts that followed in rapid succession, and the Flames tried unwisely to engage Lane MacDermid in one his specialities. The potential for a bit of a letdown goal against was there in the remainder of the period but the Stars took the 4-1 lead to the dressing room.
Alex Chiasson's penalty in the opening moments threatened to give Calgary life but a putrid power play gave way to a Jamie Benn goal at its expiry. Ramo lost sight of the puck and didn't see Benn sneak it around out front to his right and jam it home.
The Stars had a brief 5-on-3 during which Jamie Benn nearly notched the hat-trick but it wasn't to be, and the Stars milked their four-goal lead for the duration as Calgary couldn't get much going. A second, lengthy 5-on-3 followed and the Stars couldn't break through, so there's something to work on tomorrow, if they like.
-Nichushkin had his best game as a Star, to my eyes, yet still couldn't finish. The opportunities are starting to come (and with those linemates) and that's the important thing. He's starting to make it happen by himself every once in a while. We'll see if it continues but it's a good sign.
-Kari Lehtonen's return on many other nights would have been the story, one way or the other, but it didn't have to be thanks to the offense. He fended off the Flames' attack in the first and second periods and gave his team the time it needed to get going. Welcome back.
-Alex Chiasson's goal needed reviewing in the second period because? The official was right there. That created a dangerous situation where some guys were still going all-out and others were in "stand around" mode. It's lucky no one got steam-rolled unexpectedly.
-13,000+ attendance was not good. But the Stars know what they have to do to get the people back, and it's more efforts like this one tonight.
-Kevin Connauton took a penalty in the early going but otherwise settled down in a modest minute total. We'll take a look at the metrics later but there were some stretches in there where each pair was poor, so that's life. The real question is what Ruff does for Saturday. You don't change a winning hand, right?
-Two goals for Jamie Benn, and the first one was of the "sniper" variety- A shot he couldn't not perform for much of last season with a wrist injury. He was piling up the assists but goals are better. Hopefully this gets him going a little bit.
-You wonder if against a better team those lulls in the first period and early second would have cost them the game? It's likely against the Kings and Ducks and Hawks of the world. It's still a step in the right direction. Another big two points that look ripe for the taking come to town Saturday in the form of the Winnipeg Jets.