The Dallas Stars have started off the season with a very disturbing trend: they have absolutely no energy for at least the first 30 minutes of a home game. In a game against the worst team in the NHL, the Stars needed a late-game comeback to secure an overtime win against Jonas Gustavsson and the Toronto Maple Leafs. James Neal was the hero tonight, swatting in the rebound off a Stephane Robidas blast. Neal was one of the few Stars players who came into the game with energy and passion, and made several key defensive plays in the final seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime.
The first period ended with the Stars being outshot 10-2 by the Leafs, as Toronto came out with more hustle and confidence than Dallas and only some nifty saves by Marty Turco kept the Leafs off the board. The Stars had several chances early, including a nifty pass from Jamie Benn across the crease that Mike Ribeiro pushed just wide, but were unable to muster any pressure for most of the first period and into the second.
The Stars broke the scoreless tie with Brad Richards goal midway through the second when his centering pass from behind the net bounced off Ian White and in. The Leafs would get it right back shortly after with a similar goal by Nikolai Kulemin, when he rattled a shot off Stephane Robidas and past Turco. Brad Richards would score once again with a wicked shot on a 5-on-3, but the Leafs would score two unanswered goals to take the lead late in the third period. An incredible tip by Mike Ribeiro tied the game again, before Neal scored the game-winner in overtime.
Plenty to talk about with this one, more after the jump.
I have no clue what needs to be done to get the Stars to play better at home, but something needs to change. This is the third straight game Dallas has come out and laid an egg in the first period; fortunately, the Stars were facing an opponent that wasn't as skilled as Boston and Los Angeles. Some big saves by Turco gave the Stars a chance and they were finally able to find their legs as the game moved on, but at some point this is going to become a much bigger issues that it is already.
I know that some don't like hearing that the Stars just don't have any energy, but it really seems like that is the issue in these home games. The Stars are gliding, reaching with their sticks and not skating with the puck. The passes aren't connecting and they are just blindly moving the puck forward as soon as it hits their blade. The big hits aren't there, the hunger for the puck in the corner isn't there and they players are losing all of the important puck battles along the boards that is vital to being successful in the NHL.
I know that the Stars have the skill to play at a higher level, because they showed it after Richards' first goal. The defensemen were pushing the rush up the ice, the forecheck went from non-existent to impressive and the Stars all of a sudden began to generate scoring chances. Consider this: after managing just two shots in the first period, the Stars put 34 pucks on net between the second and third periods and overtime. They have the skill and talent on this team to absolutely pepper the goaltender, especially when the defense is getting in on the action.
The Stars' inability to establish any sort of transition through the neutral zone or forecheck was extremely worrisome, and it's troubling to see this team be so inconsistent within a game. Once the Stars get going, it's impressive to behold their offensive firepower; I just wish we'd see it much earlier in the game.
James Neal continues to impress. He plays with heart, tenacity and a willingness to do anything and everything it takes to win the game. He had just three shots on goal this time but had four big hits and three takeaways and made several incredible defensive plays late in regulation in ensure the game at least went to overtime. His game-winning goal wasn't a thing of beauty but it was a fitting end for one of the few players for the Stars that played a complete game against the Leafs. The Stars need the entire team to play more like James Neal: tenacious from the drop of the puck and never stopping until the very end.
Loui Eriksson was invisible tonight; three shots on goal, no hits, no plays of note and was one of the players I singled out for not moving his feet. He just floated through this game, although he did have one good semi-breakaway but was unable to get a good shot off.
Jonas Gustavsson is BIG. He has tremendous mobility for a goaltender of his size and made some nifty saves on plays down low. Still, it seems the best way to beat him (as it is with most large goaltenders) is to get the puck moving laterally. The Stars had several such chances early on but were unable to connect, yet Gustavsson also showed an uncanny knack for being able to anticipate where a shot will come from as it moves through traffic. He needs to learn the NHL rules, however.
Brad Richards continues to prove his value to this team, with two more goals tonight including an incredible snap shot from the circle on the power play. It made it look so simple and easy, and along with James Neal came out ready to play. It's scary to think what Richards might do if fully healthy, which brings me to me this point: I'm all for NHL players have the chance to represent their country in the Olympics, but is it too selfish of me to want Richards and Morrow to rest their sore muscles during the break?
The past few games have taught me a very interesting lesson: there are many, many NHL fans that outright hate some of the players on the Dallas Stars. It's unfathomable to me to be able to contemplate the level of vitriol other fans feel towards Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott, but it almost feels like a very sincere form of envy. I've never seen such uproar over a player over-exaggerating a high-sticking to draw a penalty.
At least is was Ribeiro that scored the tying goal in the final minutes; oh, sweet irony.
Defending Big D's Three Stars of the Game:
- Brad Richards, Dallas - Two goals, ten total shots; found a way to somehow pull the Stars out of their funk.
- James Neal, Dallas - Because, he's James Freaking Neal.
- Jason Blake, Toronto - Three assists and five shots on net.