The Dallas Stars may not have started the game very well, but a strong game by Kari Lehtonen and some improvement as the game carried on led to an improbable 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.
It seemed as if this game would quickly go the same route as the disaster of a game that was the loss to the Oilers. The Stars weren't skating, they couldn't win a puck battle and no a single pass could actually find the tape of a teammate. The Blues took an early lead when Jamie Benn dished out another egregious turnover that ended with a pretty David Perron goal and it's tough to think the atmosphere in the building and around the team could have gotten any more bleak.
In fact, it's tough to quantify just how bad the Stars were playing for most of the first period. They were bad. Very bad.
Then something crazy happened.
A turnover by the Blues on a breakout pass was caused by Antoine Roussel, who then collected a sweet Derek Roy pass into the slot. With a shoulder fake and a slick backhand pass, Erik Cole suddenly had his first goal a s a Dallas Star.
Less than three minutes later, Roy made another deft steal on a breakout pass and sent a hard wrister through goaltender Brian Elliott to give the Stars an improbable 2-1 lead after what was easily the worst period of the season from a pure hockey standpoint.
The second period passed uneventfully. The Stars had a power play and did some good stuff, and killed off a Blues power play. The top line got hemmed into their own zone again, giving the Blues about 90 seconds of unfettered access to Kari Lehtonen -- getting about six shots on goal in that span.
The Stars were much stronger to start the third and got some increased and sustained pressure on the Blues and Elliott, while also doing a much better job of slowing the Blues in transition through the neutral zone. The Blues appeared to have tied the game midway through the third but the goal was instantly called off because of an obvious kick of the puck in the crease.
While the top line certainly struggled for much of the game Benn, Jagr and Eriksson were determined in the third period. Benn and Jagr nearly connected on the first shift of the period and continued the strong play as the third progressed. The hard work was rewarded with 9:32 remaining when Jordie Benn found Eriksson on the far side of the net for a very important insurance goal.
So, it's tough to figure out this game. It's clear the Stars have some very real problems that need addressing, and not all of it has to just do with defensive coverage. It took the Stars a good 45 minutes to actually wake up, two goals in the first period notwithstanding.
Jagr would ice the game with a power play goal with just under a minute remaining, off a great pass by Roy.
If the Stars have any hope whatsoever of making the postseason, some sort of consistency must be found. Some sort of streak must happen. The fact the Stars won will gloss over some serious issues with the team but, in the long run, the two points are certainly very important.
If nothing else, the Stars certainly improved as the game carried on. So there's that.
Some more thoughts on the game:
- Gulutzan stated after the game that the biggest difference between this win and the loss at home to Oilers was, in fact, simple. "We got pucks to the net and we didn't take penalties. We were the Boy Scouts of America today," he slyly stated after the win. The Stars took just one minor penalty and didn't allow much room on the ensuing penalty kill; the Stars certainly made it a point to play smart hockey on Sunday.
- Derek Roy had his best game of the season, easily, and has been coming on stronger and stronger with each game the past few weeks. Gulutzan stated after the game that Roy said this is the first time he's felt 100% healthy all season and it showed; Roy's play on both ends of the rink were key in getting a big win at home.
- It's tough to figure out exactly what to make of this game. For one, the Stars were a completely mess in the first period and incapable of even coming close to getting past the defensive trap of the Blues. After the Cole goal, however, things certainly turned around for the better. The Stars from that point forward played a simple game and focused on limiting mistakes while playing sound defense -- aside from a few hiccups the Stars played an overall solid game as things progressed.
- I think one thing is clear -- it's dangerous to get caught in the ups and downs on a day in and day out basis with this hockey team, and it's even more dangerous to do so from one period to the next. After 15 minutes in the first period fans were convinced the Stars were the worst team in the NHL, yet a 4-1 win was the result. It wasn't pretty, but you certainly have to give credit where it's due with the Stars fighting through a poor start to the game.
- While many Stars fans were lamenting the poor effort to start the game, the team did a great job of stifling the Blues' offensive attack and basically frustrating the hell out of them for most of the game after the first period. The Blues specifically noted this after the game:
- Says Kevin Shattenkirk: "I think they just out-battled us for most of the game, and we weren't able to put pucks in the net. We had opportunities there t0 bang some in, and we just couldn't seem to get it by Lehtonen there. We didn't draw too many penalties either. We feed off of our power play and we weren't able to get that going today either. It was a tough one all around."
- Antoine Roussel is an enigma. The Stars have been very high on this kid ever since last summer and while many of us were scratching our heads at his invite to training camp, it seems he can't be knocked off the second line right now. The fight against Chris Stewart aside, Roussel is showcasing some offensive awareness and speed I don't think any of us really knew existed.
- Gulutzan on the Frenchman: "Roussel has done everything he can for this team. He set up that goal, I thought it was a great play, and then he fights. The reason he's having success is because he does everything right. He works extremely hard and he's fearless. It helped our bench to know that we have guys committed to do whatever it takes to win."
- Brenden Dillon and Stephane Robidas combined tonight: 50:56 TOI, 18 hits, 10 blocked shots. Wow.
- Let's not forget Kari Lehtonen. Unspectacular but very, very solid and kept the Stars alive when things were breaking down in the first period to stop 25-of-26 shots.
Defending Big D's Three Stars:
Derek Roy, Dallas Stars
Antoine Roussel, Dallas Stars
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars