After the trades of Dallas' top scorers in Derek Roy, Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder I'm not sure anyone could be blamed if Stars fans wondered if they'd see any goals scored again post trade deadline. Seems like the offense is clicking along just fine. The Stars scored three or more goals for their fourth straight game and fourth straight win.
The attack by the Stars wasn't necessarily overly impressive tonight -- Chris Mason was shaky in net allowing four goals in just 17 shots. What was impressive to me, though, was that the Stars finally did what we hadn't seen them do often earlier in the season -- take advantage of a team that they should. Nashville looked sluggish on the ice, slow on line changes, and generally did not have a lot of jump in their step. They decided to rest Pekka Rinne, who has absolutely owned the Stars over the last few matchups, and Mason went in between the pipes in his first start at home instead. The Stars should have won this game which many considered a must-win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The schedule doesn't get any easier down the stretch, so taking care of business is necessary to stay on pace and have a chance at that eight seed.
Vernon Fiddler has been on fire lately. He is on a five game points streak, extending it tonight with two assists in the first period alone. Fiddler's contribution to the game is displayed best on the Stars' power play goal. He goes down deep behind the net to battle for a puck and makes the long pass out to Alex Goligoski. Goligoski then finds Ray Whitney open on the halfboards and Whitney goes top shelf to give the Stars an early two goal lead.
One thing the Stars have seemed to do well over these last few games has been a commitment to team defense. The forward group has been coming down to provide support on the backcheck, allowing the defense to make plays at the blue line to keep the opposition from entering the zone at will. It's not something that was seen earlier in the season, when it seemed players could just walk right around the Stars and have free reign in the offensive zone. The backchecking support has also been seen right in front of their own net. There were several times tonight where there were three or four Stars players right out front to not allow many opportunities at rebounds.
Whitney told Daryl Reaugh on the bench that the Stars have "the best looking awful looking power play in the league." Luckily it cashed in tonight after going 0-for-13 over their win streak. The power play is moving through Whitney, who can control from either the point or the half wall. With wingers like Chiasson and Nystrom willing to go to the front of the net and Whitney's ability to make passes right on the tape, hopefully this is the start of a turnaround in that department.
A few more thoughts on the game tonight:
- All Alex Chiasson does these days is score. He and Whitney have developed some fantastic chemistry in these last handful of games. Whitney put a beautiful saucer pass right to Chiasson who was driving the net. Chiasson delivered the puck straight through Chris Mason's fivehole to score his fourth goal of the season. He now has a four game point streak and looks right at home on that top line with Jamie Benn and Whitney.
- Richard Bachman didn't see a lot of shots on goal early in the game, but he made some big saves at key moments in the game. He was playing with confidence early, coming further out of his net near the top of his crease, coming out to challenge shooters. Earlier this season, he had a penchant for playing back in his net, which makes him play small -- problematic for an already smaller than normal goaltender at this level.
- Antoine Roussel had a very good sequence in the second period playing defense without a stick. The Stars had gotten pinned in their own zone, and Goligoski broke his stick. Roussel recognized his defenseman was without a stick and wisely gave Goligoski his. Roussel went up top to defend without a stick, and blocked a shot and then was able to make a smart kick to put the puck on Eric Cole to clear the zone and get the change.
- Philip Larsen and Aaron Rome seem to be settling in nicely as a pair. Larsen had one noticeable play in the second period where he used his body to protect the puck and delay long enough for his forwards to get free and exit the defensive zone. Rome made some smart plays to cover for Larsen when lapses did have -- a sign that the communication between the two has improved since the first few times we saw them play together.
- Tom Wandell scored the Stars' third goal of the night. That was his first NHL goal since February 24, 2012. His goal ended up standing as the game winner.
- Matt Fraser was boarded late in the third period by Sergei Kostitsyn, who received a five minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. It appeared that Fraser just had the wind knocked out of him and he was out on the power play shortly after.