Perhaps the Dallas Stars knew it wasn't their night when Sergei Gonchar tried to make a bounce pass to a breaking forward only to have it hit the open door on his team's bench and head right to a St. Louis Blue. Or maybe it was even earlier than that, when the first Blues shot of the game beat Kari Lehtonen on a hard drive to the net.
Whenever the Stars figured it out, it was already too late as the Blues took advantage of a slew of Stars miscues in an easy 6-1 victory at the Scottrade Center, Dallas' first road loss in the last seven games.
The Blues opened the scoring on their first shot, just about 90 seconds into the game. While some might want to make the argument that there should have been goalie interference as Vladimir Sobokta essentially drove Lehtonen and the puck into the Dallas net, the shove on Sobokta from Gonchar nullified that.
It took some time, but a seeing-eye bounce off a Brenden Dillon shot eventually tied the game for the Stars, deflecting past Blues goalie Brian Elliott. But the Stars only had nine seconds to enjoy the tie game.
After a faceoff win, Alex Goligoski made a weak pass off the boards that was picked off in the neutral zone. Jaden Schwartz pounced immediately and got the puck to Vladimir Tarasenko, who easily shrugged off a weak challenge from a backchecking Cody Eakin and snapped the puck past Lehtonen to retake the lead for St. Louis.
Another turnover led to the Blues third goal of the game, this time from Alex Chiasson in the offensive zone. His pass to the middle of the ice went right to David Backes, who broke down the ice in a 2-on-1 against Stephane Robidas. But Backes was thinking shot all the way and found room under Lehtonen's arm.
The Blues put the game away early in the third after Antoine Roussel was called for an offensive-zone hold. The league's best power play hadn't been all that impressive before this attempt, but they converted quickly here - taking advantage of some confusion between Eakin and Chiasson on the forward part of the penalty kill to get Alex Steen an unchallenged shot from the high slot. That shot deflected off of former Stars enter Derek Roy and past Lehtonen, who had no real chance.
Lehtonen was finally chased four minutes later when Christ Stewart beat him from the bottom of the left circle. Shawb Horcoff had deflected the puck off his shinpad to try and direct it forward, but it bounced right to Brenden Morrow, and he found the open Stewart who had all day to pick the far post.
More observations on the loss
- This game was not Kari Lehtonen's fault, but it wasn't really his best night either, and it's the second consecutive game he's been outdueled by the other goalie. Of this game in particular, he probably would like the second and third goals back. Both were on odd-man rushes caused by pretty egregious turnovers, but they were also unscreened shots from the low circle.
- If you had to single out a line that had an off game, the second line of Cody Eakin, Alex Chiasson and Erik Cole is probably your winner (or loser, perhaps). The trio was put out there at what turned out to be the key juncture of the game, right after Dillon's goal had tied the score, and immediately gave up a goal against (some of the blame there must be shared with Alex Goligoski for the turnover, but Eakin got beat way too easily by Tarasenko as well). Later, Chiasson had a really, really bad turnover that led directly to the third goal, and Eakin and Chiasson were the penalty kill pair on the early third period goal that got the game out of hand. They produce offense some times, but you start to wonder when their turnover issues will lead to changes.
- As pointed out by our own Josh Lile on Twitter, the Stars forwards made things extremely tough on their defensemen tonight by not dropping back deep into the zone in support. The Blues have a ferocious forecheck, and the defensemen were often left hanging trying to make a play against two onrushing opponents with no outlet in sight. The Stars have improved at that over the season, but tonight was a definite step back.
- Valeri Nichushkin had been rolling along with the rest of the top line, but he was demoted to play with Dustin Jeffrey and Shawn Horcoff or Antoine Roussel and Vernon Fiddler (he moved around) midway through the second period. Rich Peverley slid up onto the top line as that winger. Nichushkin looked pretty frustrated all night, even before he got dumped into the Blues bench.
- Said dumping lad to a fight from one of the players the Stars can least afford to lose to the box for five minutes - Brenden Dillon. I get the idea of that fight, I really do - you stand up for your teammates, especially young kids who are still feeling their way out in the league. But I wish someone else, perhaps a forward, had answered that bell. Rich Peverley also fought in the game as well, and the two fights had zero impact on the Stars level of play.
- In fact, you can argue that the Stars were playing better before the fights. Despite the score, the Stars played well in the first period, outshooting the Blues 12-4 and outchancing them 7-3 by the Fox Sports Midwest count. But they couldn't finish like they had in their recent road games, and it gave the Blues time to get settled into their system.
- A quick stick tap must go out to former Stars captain Brenden Morrow, who has now scored against all 30 NHL teams. Also a nod to former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, who moved into solo 8th on the all-time regular-season wins list at 621 with the win tonight.
- As much as I would like to trash this game and just write it off as one of those nights, there are things the Stars definitely need to take from this one. They have to capitalize on those early opportunities, and the transition game has to recover to where it was just a few games ago. This is a game they could have been in much better if not for some key junctures. It's not as close as the recent loss to the Blackhawks, but there are still signs of life there.
- But since this did turn into one of those games, or at least one of those scorelines, here's a fun picture from the Texas Stars Teddy Bear Toss night to cheer you up.