Jamie Benn finally looked like, well, Jamie Benn, and that was enough for a Dallas Stars win.
After showing flashes in his first several games after a protracted contract negotiation, the Stars center finally showed his All-Star form, scoring the opening goal and breaking a second-period tie to help the Stars to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
Benn also added an assist on captain Brenden Morrow's first goal of the season, and the Stars got a desperately needed road win.
Here's what happened in the foothills of the Rockies.
For the first time since he signed his five-year contract, Jamie put a puck in the back of the net, this one in emorable fashion. After a long shift in the Avalanche zone, Benn stole the puck off the stick of an Avs defender and brought the puck in on a 2-on-0 with Brenden Morrow. He wristed a shot off the far post, and Morrow was ready with the celebratory hug almost before the puck hit the netting.
Morrow got himself on the board just a few minutes later as he found a centering pass at the top of the crease and banged it home. It was his first of the season in his second game playing with Benn and Jaromir Jagr.
The Stars botched a prime chance to extend their lead when they squandered two full minutes of 5-on-3 play. Although they had good zone time and puck movement, the players were relatively stationary and the Avs were able to keep the vast majority of the play on the perimeter.
The Avalanche got one back when Jagr got caught at the offensive blue line, leading to a 3-on-2. Benn caught up to make it a 3-on-3, but he and Jamie Oleksiak seemed to miscommunicate about who would pick up Milan Hejduk, and the Avs veteran scored his first goal of the season in his 1,000th career game.
Hey, remember that penalty problem? It hasn't gone away yet. And whether or not you agree with the calls the Stars took in this one, be it the stick-drop slash call on Jaromir Jagr, the very dramatic and semi-delayed fall by Semyon Varlamov that drew a goalie interference on Brenden Morrow or the already-tripped Stephane Robidas tripping an Av, the fact remains the Stars cannot seem to keep themselves out of the box.
But once again, it was Benn to the rescue. With the Avalanche about to go to the box, Derek Roy found Benn all alone in the middle of the slot, and he had all day to pick out the near side to give the Stars their lead back.
Trying to protect a one goal lead, the Stars absorbed some pressure from the Avalanche early in the third period. And it cost them when Jagr, in an attempt to bat the puck off the glass and down the ice, flipped the puck over the boards for a delay of game call, his second minor of the night.
But the Stars, with a few key saves from Kari Lehtonen, held on through the power play, and then it was the Stars turn to get the extra man. The Avs were guilty of holding Reilly Smith, then knocking the puck out of play that brought the clock down to its final two minutes.
From there, the Stars managed to take the momentum from those power plays and deny the Avs prime scoring chances in the dying seconds to hang on for a 3-2 win.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- First and foremost, our best wishes here at DBD go out to referee Chris Rooney, who took a puck off what looked to be the neck in the first period. He got up under his own power and got off the ice but did not return to the game. Pucks are sneaky little buggers who hurt even when you catch them somewhere padded. Hopefully it's only a flesh wound and he'll be back soon.
- Also, congratulations to Hejduk on his 1,000th game. If an Av had to score, I'm glad it could be him to celebrate. I've never been an Avalanche fan (comes from learning hockey during the grudge matches of the late 1990s), but you have to respect a guy who has been around that long.
- As far as the game goes, if not for the Stars insistence on compounding penalties with more penalties in the second period, this would have been a pretty decent road game. The Stars transition play looked much better, they had good offensive zone time and they only got hemmed in their own end a few times. All in all, it was a very significant improvement from the snoozer in Phoenix.
- A big part of that improvement was the return of Derek Roy to the lineup. Roy brings a much-needed transition element to the game, particularly through neutral ice, and his patience on a delayed call allowed Jamie Benn to find the seam between the defenders.
- Brenden Morrow is starting to find a groove with the Benn-Jagr line as well. His net presence is a nice dimension to the sniping and possession of those two. It was good to see him get on the board tonight and celebrate like it was 2008 again - flying through the air to land on his butt.
- Oleksiak continues to have a quiet impact on the lineup, and that can only be a good thing for a rookie defenseman who is only a year out of junior hockey. Sure, he and Benn didn't communicate well on the Avs first goal and allowed Hejduk to find that seam, but he's generally where he's supposed to be and making the plays he's supposed to make. It's a great start for what we all hope will be a long NHL career in Dallas.
- They didn't need him as much as in some previous games, but when Kari Lehtonen was called upon, he made the big saves. I almost didn't mention him because it's so expected from him at this point, but credit where credit is due - he continues to give the Stars everything they need to win.
- On a less positive note, Loui Eriksson is struggling a bit. I don't know if he's sick or tired (or sick and tired), but he's just a hair shy of his normal greatness, and with a player like him it stands out. It's less the statistical silence, which will be more worrysome as it progresses, but the lack of chances he's creating. Perhaps having Roy back in the lineup, with the ability to have longer shifts not hemmed in his own end, will help alleviate that.
- This team could stop getting outshot any day now and I would be one happy girl. Just saying....
- Along those same lines, the Stars did cut down on the sheer volume of calls they took against them tonight. What they continue to struggle with is how they string 2-3 bad calls together. You can argue the validity of those calls, but the fact remains they continue to take them (and they are mostly stick fouls still. Stop reaching). At some point, this trend of taking 3-4 consecutive penalties in a total of 10 minutes has to stop.
- The 5-on-3. Hmm. On the plus side, they kept it in the zone (thanks in part to an amazing keep in by Roy) and they moved the puck well. But the players themselves were relatively stationary, and that made it far from the weapon it should have been. The late power plays looked a little better, especially as you got the distinct sense the Stars were trying to eat clock at that point.
- Jamie Benn made a joke in front of the reporter on the post-game show. It's like we're watching him grow up in front of our eyes.