When they were good, they were very, very good...
The Dallas Stars just can't stop streaking in 2014.
First it was the massive losing streak to start the month of January. And Saturday, with their 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at a sold out and loud American Airlines Center, the Stars ran their most recent winning streak to three games.
On paper, the match up of the special teams was completely one-sided in favor of the Penguins, but it was the Stars who got on the board first off a nice passing play. Midway through the first period, Ray Whitney found Sergei Gonchar, who had somehow slid unmolested down to the high slot, lurking for his second goal of the season.
From then on in the first, it was all Stars as they held the Pens to just two shots in the rest of the period and hardly even let them into the zone.
That possession domination continued into the second period, and it turned into another power play opportunity and the second goal of the game.
Some slick passing between Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski and Tyler Seguin carved up the Penguins defense, and Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't able to push to his right nearly quickly enough to stop Benn's shot from rattling off the back bar. The goal occurred with one second left in the power play, and it featured some of the prettiest passing of the night.
Rich Peverley made it 3-0 minutes later when Shawn Horcoff helped turn a puck over just before the Stars blueline and found Peverley cruising down the right wing. Peverley, perhaps with the assist of Brooks Orpik's stick, sniped it past Fleury for his second goal in as many games.
The Penguins didn't score on either of two early power plays in the third period, but they gained some serious momentum from the man-advantage, finally figuring out how to enter the Stars zone with possession and set up extended cycles. But the Stars, with some great saves from Kari Lehtonen and solid work on the penalty kill, never broke. Even a late power play wasn't enough for the Penguins, and the Stars calmed things down in the final few minutes to take the shutout victory.
More thoughts from my sofa
- I have harped a lot on Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel this season for a variety of reasons, but credit where credit is due - they played one heck of a game tonight. While they weren't the only line to try and contain Sidney Crosby and his linemates (insert obligatory Chris Kunitz joke here), they were certainly tasked with the majority of the job and had a superb night. That line, one of the most dangerous in hockey, didn't get going until the Penguins power-play fest in the third period. Tip of the cap, boys.
- Also deserving a stick tap is Alex Goligoski, who led the Stars with 26:07 of ice time and added three shots on goal, two hits and two blocked shots. I'm sure games against the Penguins are a bit of a personal measuring stick for him, and he was more than up to the task tonight.
- Kari Lehtonen wasn't forced to be a huge presence in this game until the third period as the Stars held the Penguins to just 12 shots through two. But he was called on in the third early and often and stayed calm, cool and collected. Despite the amount of traffic the Penguins tried to generate, Lehtonen only got scrambling once, and his teammates helped hold the fort down in those moments. He was named the first star of the game for the well-earned shutout.
- Okay, elephant in the room. I wasn't a fan of some of the third period calls (and non calls). Specifically, Tanner Glass should have probably received a boarding minor for his hit on Alex Chiasson and Crosby created the holding call on Eakin by falling down over Eakin's already-in-position hip. Such nights happen, though, and the Stars responded in exactly the right way. They didn't get frustrated and start chirping the refs or taking retribution hits on the Penguins. They were leading 3-0; retribution is a tempting option but never worth hurting your chances to win a big game. They won the game on their early power play chances and didn't let their frustration get the better of them late.
- I don't really know much about Tanner Glass (and a quick glance at HockeyDB tells me he has 16 goals and a minus-48 rating in 344 career games, so he's probably not worth remembering), but he was going out of his way to try and make Stars players angry tonight. Tyler Seguin, in particular, was quite irritated with him for a high hit in the second period. That bit only works if it draws penalties, and Glass only drew the one (the roughing on Shawn Horcoff in response to the non-board of Alex Chiasson). Much like Roussel taking James Neal off the ice was a win for Dallas, not responding to Glass other than the slightly dangerous board is a win in my books.
- The Penguins, aided by the time on special teams, had as many shots in the third period (12) as they did in the first two periods combined. You knew they were going to come at Lehtonen at some point, and the Stars handled it well when it came.
- Seguin is so very snakebit when it comes to goals right now, but he continues to help his linemates rack up the points. As I mentioned in the summary, the passing between him, Goligoski and Benn on the second power play goal was a thing of absolute beauty. His 27 assists are now tied with Benn for the team lead.
- Finally, oh power play. It was such a problem for the first half of the season, and in this homestand something has clicked. You might have credited it to playing some weaker opponents (Toronto is 29th), but Pittsburgh is the best penalty kill in the league. The entries are better, the puck movement is crisper and it's just all around a much more dangerous weapon. I'm sure it won't continue to score two goals a game, but if the Stars can work the overall percentage up to 20 percent or so, they are an infinitely more dangerous team.