With a 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on one side and the Chicago Blackhawks and their legion of fans coming Friday night on the other, the Dallas Stars didn't appear to have much to be thankful for this week.
The Pacific-leading Ducks and their 37 points posed quite a problem. With Ruff's group lacking a home win in the month of November, the well-documented home power-play problems and a surprise, last-minute Dan Ellis start it was hard to say how the Stars would react to this particular measuring stick.
Through two periods it was a competent performance against an elite opponent, though not a winning one. Through two periods and six minutes it became a statement game on which they can build with tremendous adversity on its way in December.
Dan Ellis spelled Kari Lehtonen, and the Stars depth players spelled Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin (who were very good in the first 40 minutes anyway...) to stop their slide at two and brighten our dispositions heading into Black(hawk) Friday. (Get it?)
The win gives the Stars 26 points and the leap from 12th in the conference to 10th on points percentage over Nashville and Winnipeg, who have played more games.
The Ducks were better in the first, scoring six minutes in (their fourth line, that is), out-shooting the Stars 14-9, and just generally looking hungrier on the puck. A familiar sight unfolded throughout, and one that's a microcosm of the Stars' season.
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were fabulous on the attack. They had their chances. Then the other three lines would survive and hang on, and then the Benn line would have another chance or two, but as against the Rangers they couldn't get it done.
The second period brought an initial Duck attack barely survived, then a shuffling of Lindy Ruff's deck that took a while to sort out. For a while it looked something like this:
So Horcoff became the island of misfit toys and Nichushkin and Whitney were ousted from the top two lines. Even so, it was Nichushkin that drew a call on a power move to the net after flying down the right side, but their futility with the man advantage at home would continue.
Luckily the Stars followed one of the worst power plays of the season (and it was bad) with the simplest of goal-scoring forumlas. Throw the puck at the net (Fiddler). Crash the net (Roussel). Then profit, and the game was tied at one after a brief review.
A back-breaker in the period's closing seconds washed away a pretty good frame as Dan Ellis couldn't hold his short-side post (and Trevor Daley was, perhaps not helping in a little too tight with his goaltender) and Nick Bonino snuck one in to restore Anaheim's lead.
With Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin dominating the game to that point it stood to reason that they would be the ones to pick the thing up and save it.
Instead Erik Cole fed a brilliant pass to Cody Eakin in the slot, and the ginger ninja tied at two. Instead, 25 seconds later, Stephane Robidas floated a shot over Hiller's shoulder from the right circle to make it 3-2 Stars. Instead, and it was really getting fun now, 22 seconds after that one Ryan Garbutt took a Trevor Daley pass in transition and made it 4-2.
The Stars took the game over forcefully and then retained momentum with a power play and a near goal that had to be reviewed, thought it was obvious the whistle had blown long before the puck crossed the line.
A Dillon delay of game penalty led to a Dustin Penner power play goal (and another Trevor Daley interaction with Dan Ellis, unfortunately) and the Ducks pulled it to 5-3 with six minutes to play. Alex Chiasson would add an empty netter to put this one to bed for good.
-Val Nichushkin, you beautiful boy. Your highlight reel of things you've ALMOST done this season is already epic just 23 games in.
-Ryan Garbutt recorded his first
point assist of the year on Antoine Roussel's goal in the second period. Then added another and a goal for what I'm assuming is his first three-point game in the NHL.
-Sergei Gonchar played in his 1,200th NHL game and got back to even after being on the ice for Anaheim's first two goals.
-The Stars played the game they needed to in front of their backup netminder through two entire periods but he gave up a good thing there as the second expired. You have to hold your post there. He knows that better than any of us do, I'm sure, and was not happy about it.
-There have been times where I have understood the in-game Nichushkin demoting (against Vancouver, holding a lead on the road, for instance) but this one, when only down one, at home, when the Benn line was getting ALL the team's chances? I must have missed something obvious that Ruff didn't much care for.
-Ray Whitney looked like a 41 year-old who hadn't played in three weeks.
-A puck made it to the second-level suites tonight. That doesn't happen very often. Plus, don't those down-trodden upper middle-class people deserve something nice every now and then? I kid.
More from Defending Big D:
- Dallas Stars Rookie Valeri Nichushkin Is Making A Big Impact
- Stars' Kari Lethonen to Start Against Anaheim After Dan Ellis Talk; NHL, Rogers Reach New TV Deal
- Dallas Stars Daily Links: Former NHL Players File Concussion Lawsuit
- Gameday Preview: Dallas Stars Host Anaheim Ducks (7:00pm CST)
- Dallas Stars Prospect Update: Dickinson Explodes In 8 Point Week