Jamie Benn opened the scoring less than a minute into the game and Erik Cole added two of his own as the Dallas Stars fairly easily handled the Nashville Predators at home with a big 4-1 victory to continue to move up the Western Conference standings.
This was one of those games where things happened, but none of it was overly memorable through the first half of the game or so. It was obvious this was a game played by two teams who had just had three full days off and one of which traveled this morning. Judging by chatter on Twitter, this was similarly played out in most other games around the league tonight. The cost to be payed for giving the players some time with family.
The pace picked up as the game carried on, with the Stars overcoming some flat play through most of the first to take control heading into the first intermission. Several prime chances off the rush were wasted, however, including a wasted 3-on-1 and a Valeri Nichushkin pipe-hitting spectacular, and the Preds would cash in midway through the second to tie the game on a blown defensive assignment down low.
The Stars, as they have so often the past month or so, responded well and tied the game when a brilliant Colton Sceviour screen set up a seeing-eye goal by Erik Cole from distance. Cole would make an even better play late in the second when he charged the net and used some superb patience to sneak the puck around Carter Hutton's skate to give the Stars a big 3-1 lead.
The strong play for the Stars depth lines would continue into the 3rd, when Jordie Benn's shot from the point was tipped first by Cody Eakin and then by Ryan Garbutt to give the Stars a big three-goal lead. The Predators would respond with some inspired play in the next few shifts but missed on several big chances and never really threatened for the rest of the game.
Things did get a bit heated in the third period when the Stars started taking exception to Patric Hornqvist's forays into Lehtonen's crease. This culminated in the Stars taking a penalty midway through the third period to give a dangerous power play another shot to get on the board. While taking a penalty is unfortunate, it was good to see a strong team response when their goalie continued to get abused.
Good crowd on hand for a good home game at the AAC, with the Stars continuing their strong team play of late. The Stars, after a Minnesota Wild loss, are now one point out of a playoff spot with just over half the season remaining.
Some other random thoughts:
- Kevin Connauton continues to show he can be incredibly effective off the rush as well as showcasing incredible confidence and timing when he takes a chance offensively. He moves the puck quickly and smartly, he's deceptively quick and once again had several prime scoring chances while still being a bit of an adventure defensively.
- Alex Goligoski was once again strong for the Stars, playing strong along the boards and in front of the net while moving the puck calmly and effectively in transition. He led the Stars in TOI and finished with another two assists.
- Kari Lehtonen's performance should not be overlooked, as he covered up some sloppy play in the first period and shut things down in the third when the Predators pushed back hard with a three-goal deficit. After a could of subpar games, Lehtonen has been damn near unbeatable the past three games.
- Antoine Roussel drew another penalty shot and the second line of the Stars continued to be surprisingly effective. Garbutt and Roussel are two of the more effective penalty killers for the Stars and their energized play helped wake the team up midway through the first period.
- Tyler Seguin was held scoreless but had another strong game, finishing with four shots on goal off several prime chances.
- Lindy Ruff did his best to keep his top line away from the Weber and Jones pairing, but it was the Peverley, Cole and Sceviour line that dominated the Predators throughout the game. The Eakin line was surprisingly effective, although they were eventually outchanced, as Ruff started them almost exclusively in the neutral or defensive zone.
- This is a team that is still far from perfect but is finding ways to get it done. Another big test looms, however, with the Blues coming into town on Sunday.