No game to this point felt as big as tonight's matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes this season. Win and the Dallas Stars take another step closer to that last wild card spot before the Olympic break. Lose, and you're giving points to one of those teams you're right in the race with for those last spots.
Dallas came out with plenty of speed and drive tonight, a speed the Coyotes had trouble answering for a majority of the game. They'd get a power play goal and only give up one goal in this important game. The depth lines contributed with goals from Shawn Horcoff, Antoine Roussel, and Ryan Garbutt. The only goal against was on a breakaway that beat Kari Lehtonen five hole.
Forty shots on goal and a win later, the Stars are off to play in another tough building -- the Shark Tank -- when they take on the San Jose Sharks tomorrow night.
Dallas came out with quite a bit of pep in their step. They were really flying in the first minute, with several chances in tight against Mike Smith. Nothing was getting past him, however, and the Stars settled in with a very north-south game against Phoenix. Both teams would trade chances and then take it right back down to the other end of the ice.
The Stars got caught chasing at the end of the period, and it led to several defensive miscues. They gave up a few breakaway chances, which Kari Lehtonen was there to clean up. The goaltenders put on a good show and were the reason for neither team scoring in the first.
The Stars seemed to really hit their stride in the second period, aided by several power play chances. While they were seemingly outplaying the Coyotes, Dallas started to revert back to their bad tendencies -- turnovers in the neutral zone that led to breakaway chances. Lehtonen was there to clean up a lot of them, but Antoine Vermette would beat him five hole on one of those gaffes to give the Coyotes the lead.
It wouldn't last all that long, as Dallas would go on their third power play of the night and tie it up. Shawn Horcoff managed to slip the puck through Smith to get the equalizer. The Coyotes faithful were screaming at that one, because many felt that Sergei Gonchar should have been called for an interference call of some sort when he was defending (yet another) breakaway chance. The refs didn't call it, and the Stars would take the puck up the ice and score on the same shift. They ended the period with quite a flurry on Smith, who was equal to the task.
A messy affair to start the period, both teams had trouble getting some sustained pressure in their offensive zones. A broken line change by Phoenix allowed Dallas to jump on the puck right at the offensive blue line, where Ryan Garbutt would leave it for the trailing Antoine Roussel. He would roof it over Smith to give Dallas it's first lead of the game.
Valeri Nichushkin showed his hockey IQ off in the third period, when Tyler Seguin got the puck behind the Coyotes line and passed it to the rookie. He skated it in towards the net, and spotted Jamie Benn coming down the wing side. A beautiful pass and shot by Benn that Smith had to save. While it didn't connect, it's just another aspect of the young Russian's game that we're starting to see night in and night out that makes you swoon at his potential.
Dallas would outlast the Coyotes at the end of the game, keeping their entries into the zone either to the outside or clogging them up to force an offside. Ryan Garbutt would ice the game with an empty-net goal from his bench area as he was trying to go off for a line change.
TWO FULL POINTS IN REGULATION. PARTY!
Other thoughts on tonight's game...
- Cody Eakin played another strong game, drawing a fair amount of penalties to help give his team an advantage whenever possible. He also setup several good chances for his linemates tonight.
- Both Jordie Benn and Brenden Dillon impressed me tonight. Both guys made some good plays to tie up the player and trust their partner or forwards to come in and get the puck. Great hockey sense in their own zone to make those kinds of plays.
- Shawn Horcoff played one of his best games this season. He was a factor in all aspects -- power play goal, key penalty killing time in the third period, and had some chances at even strength.
- Rich Peverley can't buy a goal, and boy did he have some excellent chances. Smith had to flash his glove hand several times to keep him off the scoresheet.
- Kari Lehtonen was forced to handle the puck a lot more than normal tonight.
- The Eakin-Roussel-Garbutt line had a massive amount of chances on Phoenix tonight. Probably the best line of the night.
- Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn may not have scored tonight, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Seguin recorded seven shots on goal, and Benn had four.
- Dallas Stars dads are now 2-0 on this road trip. Can they make it 3-0?