In losing nine of their last ten the Dallas Stars have surrendered an average of 3.9 goals per game while scoring barely 2. Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild they turned both of those trends upside down with a dominating 4-0 performance and the full two points.
Funnily enough of that none of that happened this evening.
It was the defensive soundness of the squad in its entirety that frustrated Minnesota, rather than individual efforts, not to mention nine minor penalties drawn that kept them off the offensive, and Lehtonen saw very nearly nothing in the way of grade-a quality chances against.
It's a start. Only a start. Toronto next. Then Pittsburgh.
Often times it appears history is doomed to repeat itself, and as the opening minutes of this one unfolded that certainly seemed the case as, like Saturday, the Stars had all the shots and all the quality chances and yet nothing to show for it through the first couple of commercial breaks.
This time, however, they were rewarded handsomely when Vernon Fiddler's wrister from the blue line found its way over Darcy Kuemper's right shoulder, followed three minutes later by a sniper shot from the near circle over that same shoulder on a Dallas Stars power play.
Penalty trouble continued for Minnesota throughout as they took four minors altogether and the Stars led in shots 12-3 at the period's end, out-attempting them by the very wide margin of 30-9.
Torrey Mitchell left the game in the first with an apparent lower body injury after blocking a shot but did return in the second.
The Wild appeared to gain the stomach for the fight, doubling their first-period shot total quickly and playing with determination in the early going.
Then the regularly schedule program resumed, aided in no small part by Minnesota's inability to keep their stick blades closer to the ice than to the Stars' noggins. Dallas added a power play goal to extend their lead on a beautiful touch pass from Sergei Gonchar to Ray Whitney down low, who danced around a defender and stuffed it under Kuemper, just barely getting it across the goal line.
Dallas continued to pour it on, nearly scoring another on good flurries from the Seguin and Whitney lines. Kari Lehtonen's only real problems were a deflection in front that surprised him and a shorthanded breakaway for Kyle Brodziak that he turned aside.
The Stars would out-shoot the Wild 16-6 in the frame to make it 28-9 for the game up to that point.
And still we waited to find the banana peel.
Score effects produce shots on goal that tend not to mean much, until they start going in, that is. And so we waited. And they never came as Dallas continued to possess the puck almost exclusively and the result already on the scoreboard started to feel like the story.
So, no banana peel.
Jordie Benn tried to find one when he committed a roughing penalty on an overzealous check in the corner, and at 3-0 the Wild had a little life if they could puncture Kari and get on the scoreboard at last. But they couldn't. Not only that, but a spry, rested Jordie Benn came out of the box and chased down a loose puck in the corner as Darcy Kuemper threw his stick at him.
And thus the Stars, by virtue of yet another Wild infraction, it came to pass that Jordie, not Jamie, was awarded a penalty shot, and a glorious goal he did score on a double move that had Kuemper sprawled and reaching. Another post on that is forthcoming, no doubt, as the Stars near an NHL record number of penalty shots attempted.
To round things out the Wild decided to take another penalty late in the period, and the Stars cruised to the victory they so badly needed.
The last time the Stars allowed 18 shots or fewer was in February 2012 against the Kings.
This game had all the atmosphere of a retirement home at 9:52pm. The upper bowl, in particular, was as sparse as a preseason game. The cheapest tickets in the house up in the 320's were all but abandoned. That can't be a good sign.
Tyler Seguin was doing all kinds of great things out there but man that guy couldn't buy a break as he watched two sticks break on the same shift. A 3-0 lead probably allowed that to be funny on the bench with the boys.
Val Nichushkin was quiet again, not quite looking like himself. It's going to take a while to play his way out of whatever this is- Suggestions have included both injury and fatigue, as well as ye olde rookie wall that players can hit sometimes. They'll have to be patient with it. The question is whether or not he can continue to play on the top set to best help him work through it, or if time on a lesser trio is the way to go with tougher opposition coming into play Thursday and Saturday. Ruff seemed to lean the other way late, putting him with Peverley and Horcoff.
This doesn't mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but might mean a lot in the room, which counts for a lot because Thursday and Saturday are going to be tough.
Pulling your goaltender down 4-0. With a minute left. Some kind of coaching mechanism, to be sure, but... OK.
Final shot attempts were 77-44 Dallas.