They skated with the Blues dangerous forwards and held them to a reasonable number of scoring chances. They bounced back from some bad breaks (regardless of who you blame for them) and squeezed a point out of a team that gives up almost nothing to division opponents. And they showed they can skate with one of the teams widely considered to be a big boy in the Western Conference.
But a series of individual mistakes and some unfortunate penalty killing eventually cost the Stars, who fell 3-2 to the Blues in overtime at the American Airlines Center.
It looked like yet another quick start to the game for Dallas as Cody Eakin appeared to score off a rebound in the first 30 second of the game. But after a brief discussion, the goal was waived off because of non-penalty goalie interference from Ryan Garbutt, who drove to the net with the initial shot and contacted Brian Elliott's legs, knocking him to the far post.
Since it's relevant, let's revisit non-penalty goalie interference again. Here's the relevant section on back-pressure:
If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.
Garbutt was making no real effort to stop on the play, and he was going into the crease the whole time. If you go into the crease, you risk bad things happening, and that's exactly what happened here. It's incidental contact, but it's in the crease and prevented the goalie from having his full ability to make the save on the Eakin shot. The back pressure he was facing is not important to the way this particular play unfolded.
With all that out of the way, Garbutt then made a bad thing worse immediately by taking a silly, unnecessary penalty for unsportsmanlike contact after he threw a tantrum on a close hybrid icing call. It didn't take the Blues long to cash in on a pretty passing play that led to a tap-in goal from Jaden Schwartz.
The Stars struggled to get much going against a swarming Blues neutral zone defense for the rest of the first, and although they came out with a renewed energy in the second period, it was St. Louis that got the next goal. Kevin Connauton fumbled the puck along his own half wall, allowing T.J. Oshie to swoop in, steal the puck and roof it over Lehtonen's shoulder on the short side. The goal, which came on the Blues first shot of the period, is one both Connauton and Lehtonen probably want back.
But the Stars push wouldn't be thwarted, and the home power play finally got back on the board a few minutes later to break Elliott's shutout bid. Ray Whitney took the faceoff win behind the Blue net, lost a defender, and found Jamie Benn in the soft spot of the near circle for a quick one timer.
A little more than three minutes later, Garbutt made up for his early mistakes by tipping the tying goal past Elliott off an Aaron Rome point shot. Both Rome and Shawn Horcoff, who was providing a second screen, get gold stars on that play.
The tying goal enlivened the Blues offense a bit, as St. Louis had started to sit back and let the Stars offense come at them without mounting many counter attacks. But Dallas would continue to own an edge in both shots and shot attempts as the game moved along.
Both sides had good chances in the third from both the usual suspects - like Oshie - and some surprise candidates - like Cameron Gaunce. But no one was able to find the net, and the game would need overtime to decide who got the bonus point.
The Stars had a golden opportunity in overtime after Jamie Benn drew a penalty on Oshie with a quick break up the wall. Oshie was forced to slash the stick out of Benn's hands, which gave the Stars a 4-on-3 power play, but while the Stars moved the puck well to created some dangerous shots, they couldn't convert.
It was the Blues that were able to convert on an abbreviated overtime power play after Connauton got beat on the wall physically and took the free hand off the stick, earning a holding call. The Blues had less than a minute on the power play but made it count with a big point shot from Kevin Shattenkirk, whose shot beat Lehtonen to the near post.
More thoughts from my sofa...
- Connauton is going to want to burn the game tape of this immediately. He made a very nice stick block on Oshie in the third period that may have saved a goal, but that only happened because he and defensive partner Gaunce were completely dominated in their own end all night long by the Blues, who made a point of matching up their top forwards against the all-rookie pair. Connauton was guilty of being too aggressive - something he's shown the past few games. He wants to make a great transition play up ice, so he takes the risky defensive option with the higher reward rather than just making a good positional play. It cost him tonight, and it will continue to do so against the NHL's elite.
- That said, he's a rookie. Rookies (especially defensemen) have bad nights. It just shows the very fine line young offensive defensemen have to walk, especially those that want to play the very aggressive style that Connauton prefers. He needs to have better hockey sense about when to take risks and when it's just too dangerous. Right now, he's taking risks most plays in an attempt to make good offensive things happen, and NHL-level forwards will just roast him if he continues to do that.
- In fact, the Blues were definitely targeting the Connauton-Gaunce pair tonight. When they got stuck out on icing calls or the Blues were able to change after the Stars switched up defensive pair, they put their top forwards out against them every time. I would expect to see more of this until the duo proves they can handle it or until the Stars get some more veteran defensemen healthy.
- Also, the overtime penalty Connauton took was not the most textbook example of a trip I've ever seen, but he set himself up for the call (one I would have called a hold rather than trip) by taking his free hand off his stick after he got beat along the wall. In a game with a 5-1 power play disparity and an overtime penalty already, they're watching for stuff like that.
- I went through the Garbutt stuff above. As your resident rules nerd, I didn't have a problem with either of the calls. Both are gray area calls, but Garbutt, like Connauton above, set himself up for both. He really has no one to blame for either but himself.
- Well, himself and the very leaky penalty kill, which was just sliced apart by the Blues passing plays. The Blues are good, but the Stars made it a little too easy for them on the first period goal, and Kari Lehtonen probably wants the overtime one back. On the replay, you can see him track the puck to Shattenkirk - he just didn't get over quick enough.
- On the bright side, Garbutt bounced back very well after being practically stapled to the bench in the first period after his penalty. He only took one shift (and three seconds) after that in the first but played a solid game in the second and third as he used his speed to pressure the Blues defense. Like Connauton above, he plays a game where mistakes will happen. But he does need to cut out the penalties in the offensive zone bit. It's was old even before tonight.
- Moving back to the bright side, the Stars generated a ton of shot opportunities against the Blues tonight and were able to get transition opportunities against a very good neutral zone defense. It speaks volumes about how far this team has come, especially when you consider how the Blues just manhandled the team in the first meeting.
- The power play was a mixed bag. It finished the night at 20 percent, which is good, but lost the special teams battle to the Blues 2-for-2 night. It got a huge goal in the second period to start the comeback but had several other key opportunities to make a difference where it sputtered. And the 4-on-3 version was just a mess while the Blues turned around and showed how it should be done. Was it St. Louis' penalty killing? Partially, but the Stars are still battling some demons there.
- Alex Chiasson looks like he's lost 15 pounds and been battling the flu. He had some jump but was bumped around off the puck in a major sort of way tonight. Get that boy some carbs, stat.
- Tyler Seguin also looked like he was fighting the puck just a bit tonight. He had a lot of really solid opportunities that he usually buries, or at least gets on net, that were shanked or went wide or were blocked. I suspect he more than others was thrown off by the Blues stifling defensive pressure.
- A big stick tap needs to go to Alex Goligoski, who missed practice yesterday with the flu but played 30:55 tonight. He finished even (though he was on the ice for the game-winning goal in OT) with four shots and five more attempted blocked, and he continues to provide above-average breakout passes. He's also really solidified his game in his own end recently. If Connauton wants a player to emulate, at least in terms of when to take the risk and when to make the smart play, he could do far worse than watching Goligoski right now.
- T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Sobotka are quite good. That is all.
- In all, I think it was a six of one, half-dozen of the other sort of night. The Stars did a lot of great things, particularly on offense. They were able to contain, for the most part, some very scary Blues forwards. But they also made really critical, highly preventable mistakes at key junctures of the game and lost because of it. Those are the growing pains we've come to expect. But it's at least a measurable step forward from the last time these teams net.
Finally, the tribute to former Stars captain Brenden Morrow was as nice as I'd hoped it would be, and the AAC crowd gave him a standing ovation. Class all the way around from a guy who I'm sure wished his time here could have ended with a Cup. Some closing words from him:
Thanks for the the reception from you stars fans tonight. Emotional game for me and so happy that one is over. A lot of great memories...— Brenden Morrow (@Minimo1zero) December 30, 2013
shared together over the years. #sorrynotsorryforthewin😀— Brenden Morrow (@Minimo1zero) December 30, 2013