The Minnesota Wild hadn't won a game in Dallas in a decade, but a few fortuitous bounces and capitalization of several Dallas Stars errors finally snapped that skid. The Wild sent the Stars to a .500 record early in a 5-game homestand with a 7-4 victory at the American Airlines Center.
It was a night to forget for several Stars, from goalie Kari Lehtonen on out. Here's what happened at the AAC.
After former Stars defenseman and current Wild assistant coach Darryl Sydor dropped the puck, it was all Minnesota early. The Wild peppered Kari Lehtonen early and were positively buzzing around the Stars zone. But a lucky bounce that squeaked past the Stars net turned into a rush up the ice, and Derek Roy found a wide open Alex Goligoski for Goligoski's first goal of the season.
It took the Wild a little more than two minutes to answer on another extended scramble at the net. Brenden Dillon couldn't prevent the initial shot and Stephane Robidas couldn't contain Zach Parise, who got multiple whacks at a bouncing puck and eventually knocked it off the bottom of the crossbar and in.
The Stars seemed to settle into their game after that and drew a late period power play after Eric Nystrom was tripped in the corner. It didn't take Jaromir Jagr long to cash in, as Loui Eriksson found a puck that had bounced off a screen in front of the net and slid it to a wide-open Jagr in the low circle.
The teams traded goals about five minutes into the period. The Wild opened the second period scoring when Mikko Koivu jumped on a puck that couldn't be corralled by Tomas Vincour and snapped a puck low past Lehtonen. That shot might have ticked off Trevor Daley's stick, and Daley got the goal back a few moments later when he snapped a shot of his own past Niklas Backstrom from the right circle.
Another strange goal tied it up for the Wild with 10 minutes left in the second. Vernon Fiddler appeared to injure himself blocking a shot with his hand off the faceoff, and Lehtonen curiously slid himself out of the play, leaving a wide open net as the puck drifted in front. Despite a tackle from Goligoski and an attempt at a kick save from Daley, Parise was able to stuff the puck in for his second of the night.
Lehtonen's rough night continued on the Wild's fourth goal. He got flopping around out of his crease as the Stars first line turned the puck over, and he didn't recover nearly fast enough as Matt Cullen gave the Wild their first lead of he night.
Neither team could get much going in the early part of the period, and it was yet another defenseman who tied the game for the Stars, this time Philip Larsen walking into a nice pass from Reilly Smith. Backstrom got his glove on the shot but couldn't get enough of it.
After a nervy but ultimately successful penalty kill, the Stars got a special teams chance of their own with seven minutes left. Ray Whitney drew a double minor when he was high sticked in teh corner.
But a poor turnover by Cody Eakin led to a shorthanded goal as Lethonen gave up a rebound and Kyle Brodziak beat Eakin to the rebound to put Minnesota up 5-4, and the Stars, despite generating quality chances, couldn't get the equalizer. The Wild put the game away three minutes later when Jamie Benn turned the puck over at the line and neither his backcheck nor Dillon could keep Dany Heatley from stuffing home the Wild's sixth of the night. The final salt in the wound was an empty netter with 15 seconds remaining.
The good, the bad and the ugly
- By far the best part of tonight was the offensive contributions from the defense. The Stars had eight goals total from their blueliners entering the game and added three more. The forwards, outside of the ageless wonder that is Jaromir Jagr, might not have done much to help the cause on the scoreboard, but it is nice to see several goals from the back end.
- And lets take a moment to single out Alex Goligoski for getting his first on the season on a lovely setup from Derek Roy. Goligoski has been playing much, much better since his healthy scratch earlier this season, well enough to have several at this point. Good for him getting the monkey off his back. He even took on some more of the defensive responsibility by being moved to one of the penalty kill units.
- Philip Larsen is also really settling into his own game. It's a very small sample size at this point since he returned from injury, and he's playing fairly sheltered minutes, but his poise with the puck and general decision making seems much less harried.
- And finally, Stephane Robidas played a whale of a game. It was obvious he was trying to set some sort of physical tone in the first game without Brenden Morrow, and while he and his defensive partner definitely got scrambly in their own end against the Parise line, it was a pretty solid game from the veteran.
- I don't quite know how to classify the special teams situation in this one. The power play goal late in the first was a beauty, and they generated several Grade A chances on the double minor late in the third. But the shorthanded goal was such a killer. And that leads us into more of the bad...
- Turnovers at the bluelines, both sides of the ice. The Wild's fifth and sixth goals came when the Stars center (Eakin and Benn respectively) just coughed the puck up to create an odd-man rush going in on Lehtonen. I know both players were trying to push it up the ice, one to take advantage of an extended power play and one to try and get the equalizer, but these were such killers.
- Wherefore art thou, Jamie Benn? He looked much better last game against the Avalanche, but he's still gone more than a month without a goal and he was trying way, way too hard at times tonight. He did have some nice looks, especially on the double minor power play, but we're past the point where good looks are going to be good enough for him.
- Speaking of wherefore art though, the Kari Lehtonen we all know and love went somewhere south of the Rio Grande in the second period. Lehtonen at his best is a guy who tracks the puck marvelously and plays out on his angle but doesn't overcommitt. He got caught guessing once against the Avalanche in the Stars last game, and in this one, particularly in the second, he was flailing around and outside of his crease. It was so bizarrely out of character for the Stars netminder. He seemed to calm down in the third period, and it could just be a one-night issue (perhaps too much caffeine to drink before the game or someone put a banana peel on his skate blades), but it was definitely unsettling.
- That said, the Wild's third and fourth goals were pretty fortunate bounces. I'm not sure the Stars defense played quite as poorly as the score indicates, though they certainly could have been much better. It seemed like a combination of one of the best lines in the league in the Parise trio against a goalie having 'one of those nights" with a side helping of too many turnovers in neutral ice.
- So where do the Stars go from here? For better or worse, they get three days off to regroup before facing this very same Wild team. Minnesota has to head home to play the Coyotes before coming back to Texas to try and establish a winning streak in the Metroplex.
- All of this said, this game doesn't fundamentally change who the Stars are or have been this season. They are a team that can hang with the best when all is going well, and they can generally scrape together a close game when most things are going well. But there is a disturbing tendency to shoot themselves in the foot with silly, preventable mistakes at times. They showed off the best (the transition chances and defenseman scoring) and worst (turnovers and poor play at the net) of their game tonight against a team that's been playing well.