Tonight's game recap will be a bit different than others, since I wasn't able to view the game in it's entirety and spent most of the night battling with my internet.
The Dallas Stars have now played three good, decent and hard-working games in a row (four, if you count Marc Crawford's take on the loss to Atlanta). They came across one tough opponent in Evgeni Nabokov on Monday night, but rebounded with a solid team game against Columbus. More importantly, the Stars played with a simple approach that focused on execution and fundamentals; the perfect way to play a struggling team after facing Detroit and San Jose in back-to-back games.
Leading the way were Jamie Benn and James Neal, the two forwards who represent the future of this franchise more than any other player on the team. Both play similar styles and both have the ability to wreak havoc on opposing teams with their physical play and quick-strike goal scoring ability and their games were on display in full force tonight against Columbus. Jamie Benn continued his elevated level of play tonight, after playing several games the past week as one of the best Stars on the ice, and salvaged an overall weak first period with a late goal to tie the game at 1-1.
Yet the story of the game was James Neal. In the previous meeting against Columbus this season, Neal got a bit reckless and was suspended for a questionable boarding hit on Derek Dorsett. What followed was a string of vitriol flung in Neal's direction, with accusations that he was a dirty player and would get his just due. In the end, Neal had the last laugh as he scored two goals to lead his team past the Blue Jackets. It wasn't just Neal's scoring; he picked up his physical intensity and showed the tenacious forechecking he had lost prior to his suspension. While there had been signs that the 'old' Neal was returning, tonight's game was official premiere of the James Neal the Stars so desperately need.
Other quick notes:
- Alex Auld had a great game for the Stars, and kept the team in it under heavy pressure in the first and second periods. Razor pronounced Auld as the player of the game, as he stopped 33 of the 34 shots he faced.
- Brad Richards picked up another two points, and is back alone in 4th for the league lead in assists with 32.
- Mike Modano and Mike Ribeiro mixed it up tonight, showing their rare mean streaks during scrums in the second period. Modano also played as a winger tonight next to Ribeiro, and it appeared that Modano responded with a strong game with a bit of the pressure of being a center lifted off his shoulders. It will be interesting to see how Modano and Ribeiro's styles play off each other if this line change carries over.
- Jamie Benn nearly had a second goal, but it was waved off when it was deemed that Brenden Morrow interfered with the goaltender. On replays, it looked as if Morrow was pushed into Steve Mason. Life goes on.
- James Neal came with 18 inches of a hat trick, when his open-net bid in the waning seconds of the game was intercepted by a Columbus defenseman.
- The Stars were just as fresh to end the game as they were to start, and could have been helped by some evening out of the ice times across the board. This was twice in three games the Stars have been able to finish a game with as strong an effort as they showed to start with.
For those that saw the entire game, please leave your thoughts below.