The Dallas Stars are real crowd pleasers.
With points in 13 of their last 15 home games, you are nearly guaranteed to see a good hockey game when you come out to the American Airlines Center, and with 9 straight losses on the road, it's a safe bet the rest of you will be fairly pleased when the Dallas Stars come to your home town. It's this dichotomy that is defining their season and giving them an identity, whether they like it or not.
The game last night was a tale of two halves. The first half saw a Dallas Stars team aggressively take charge, possessing the puck for large chunks of the game. The shots on goal early in the game did not, in my estimation, accurately reflect the effort they gave. There was a pervasive confidence and desire spread throughout the lineup from shift to shift. After the first two went in, there was a palpable hunger in the building to get more from the players and fans alike. It was downright refreshing.
Then after the fourth goal was scored, Mark Fistric took a hooking minor, and the two teams swapped jerseys and benches. Out came the Dallas Stars we all know and (fear) and the fun was slowly sucked out of the building until it turned to "oh no, not again" in the final three minutes.
I don't want to take anything away from their two game winning streak. As stuck in the ditch as this thing was five days ago, it's quite an accomplishment. This was a nice win. But you see, I have reclaimed a (very) little bit of my hope, and with that comes some consternation: If they give a 34 minute effort in Vancouver on Thursday, they're not taking an ounce of confidence with them on the plane to Edmonton. So we'll be looking to see a more complete effort against the Nucks, but another 4-0 lead would be a nice start.
Since Brandon already covered it, I'll only add that I thought Auld was OK overall. I don't know that I buy the theory that the team tries harder in front of him, but Joe Nieuwendyk says the younger players get deflated after early goals against. All I do know is two wins is two wins, so keep it rolling on Thursday, Auldie.
This was, by my count, the 4th time this season the Stars have chased a starting netminder to the bench at the AAC, but it was only the first time that Steve Ott sat on the replacements' face.
Now to the links and quotes...
This was a really nice team win for the Stars.
Brad Richards had three assists and Loui Eriksson had a goal and an assist, and that line was great on home ice once again.
Tom Wandell finally broke through with his first goal and only third point in the last 23 games.
Matt Niskanen had a solid game, and not just because he had a goal and an assist. He played with more confidence.
Steve Ott was the pepper pot again, with six hits and a scrum with Minnesota goalie Josh Harding (that Harding appeared to start). He also won 6-of-9 faceoffs. In addition, the Stars got gritty games from call-up winger Ray Sawada and a very hungry Brian Sutherby.
That Wandell goal...where has that been? We need more of that.
Once again, the worst road team in the NHL earned that distinction, coming out as flat as the terrain between here and Dallas on I-35. The offense wasn't clicking, the defense wasn't covering their man, the forwards weren't locking down their d-men in the offensive zone, Niklas Backstrom looked as bad as he has looked in his two previous outings, and Cal Clutterbuck ruined his best chance to really piss off the crowd by not coming out in a Brett Favre jersey during the pre-game skate.
The Wild came out slow, giving up a goal to Tom Wandell on a wrist shot that was foreshadowing into Backstrom's night. He should've stopped it. Surprisingly, shots were only 9-6 in favor of the Stars, considering how lopsided the flow of the game was.
The second period started poorly, with Petr Sykora taking a lazy hooking penalty, leading to a beautiful play by Mike Modano and Brad Richards. Modano had the puck in the low corner on Backstrom's glove-side, skipped a man in the cycle out to Richards who fed it right back to Modano who wristed it right over a sprawling Backstrom into the yawning cage. It was a really pretty power play marker. That's the kind of play you can make with a pure goal-scorer and a forward who knows how to play the point on the power play (read: Not Martin Havlat).
The thing that shocked me the most about the Wild was their anemic forecheck (at least for the first half of the game). We have seen teams harass the Stars defensemen into oblivion back there, and the Wild let the Stars out of their own zone with repetitive ease.
Steve Ott stirred the Wilds' emotions, perhaps even helping to spark their comeback says the Star Tribune:
Another four-goal deficit led to more late-game drama from the Wild on Monday night, but the latest near-comeback didn't compare to the commotion goalie Josh Harding caused by wailing away at Steve Ott's face.
Harding, in to replace shellacked starter Niklas Backstrom, took exception to the Dallas Stars' agitator slashing him, then lying on him and finally taking his sweet old time getting off him.
So Harding, who once broke Jamie Storr's nose in a minor league goalie showdown, stood up for himself and thus demonstrated more emotion in a matter of seconds than his teammates showed in the first 40 minutes of the Wild's latest road loss -- 4-3 at American Airlines Center.
"It stirred up some emotion and you could feel it on the bench," coach Todd Richards said. "That's what we need from the start of the game. We can't wait."
I think we were all expecting fighting majors in the building last night. He started punching him in the face with a blocker. That's got to be something other than "roughing"...but I digress.
The Stars PR department had these notes after the game:
Brad Richards piled up three assists, for his 19th multi-point game and third 3-point game of the season. He now has points in three consecutive games (1-4-5), and 48 points (11-37-48) in his last 39 games.
Loui Eriksson potted his team-leading 20th goal of the season along with an assist, for his 14th multi-point game of the season.
Tom Wandell scored his fifth goal of the season. He now has points in consecutive games (1-1-2), one game shy of his longest point-streak.
Mike Modano scored his eighth goal of the season and second on the power play. He has two goals in his last three games.
I found myself wondering how many more times I would get to watch Mike Modano score a goal in person last night during the celebration of his power play tally. The thought, surrounded by screaming fans, made me a little emotional. I'm not afraid to say it!
They're on an 11-2-2 run at home. On the road, they're in a miserable 1-9-3 slump. It's inexplicable, really. Dallas has won six of its last seven at American Airlines Center, including a gritty 4-3 victory against Minnesota on Monday. It was a needed win against a team that also is battling for playoff positioning. But the Stars have to start winning on the road if they want this to mean anything. They were outscored, 13-6, on their last three-game road trip and looked outmatched in most games.
They're on an 11-2-2 run at home. On the road, they're in a miserable 1-9-3 slump.
It's inexplicable, really.
Dallas has won six of its last seven at American Airlines Center, including a gritty 4-3 victory against Minnesota on Monday. It was a needed win against a team that also is battling for playoff positioning.
But the Stars have to start winning on the road if they want this to mean anything. They were outscored, 13-6, on their last three-game road trip and looked outmatched in most games.
That can't happen when they set out Thursday for a quick run through Vancouver, Edmonton and Colorado. Whether they can ride goalie Alex Auld in all three games will be a moot point if the team doesn't play better as a whole.
The Stars played well in their last trip up that way in the first week of the season. Maye Jamie Benn can score another big goal in front of the Vancouver crowd.
Marc Crawford doesn't agree with my assessment:
"It was a pretty complete effort, and I liked the last five minutes," coach Marc Crawford said. "We did slip a little bit, but oftentimes when you’re protecting the lead, you sometimes get a little bit off the things that made us so successful. Our forecheck was terrific again tonight. We really did a terrific job of getting bodies in and finish body checks early in the game."
"He’s played very well," Crawford said of Auld. "I thought early in the game he made a couple of solid saves. He didn’t have to be great in the first period, but he was solid. He moved the puck well tonight, which was good because they were forced to dump it in. He’s playing with some confidence right now. We will most likely ride his goaltending here into the next game. We’re pleased for him, and it’s a night to get on a little bit of a roll."
"It’s just more of the same," Auld, who won his fourth straight home game, said of his performance. "I thought I was seeing the puck well tonight and the guys did a good job eliminating second chances, and they didn’t get a whole lot of Grade A scoring chances and that’s the way we want to play. We really want to limit what the other team gets and make them really earn it and work for it."
"I just want to help the team win games," Auld said. "It’s sort of been my goal, right from the start, when I’m playing, I want to give the team as good a chance as possible to win and make it difficult when they have to make decisions, but at the same time it’s a team game and you want to put that team first and put everything aside. I just want to keep playing and playing well."
"Obviously you don’t want to let the team come back in the game like that, but the positive thing is we still ended up winning the game," said defenseman Stephane Robidas, who led the team in ice time, as usual, with 22:39. "I think that’s the thing we’ve got to start building on and try to correct a few mistakes that we had, and build on the good things that we did, and go from there."
"We’ve talked about it 100 times, we can keep talking about it. We know what we have to do, we’ve just got to do it," Richards said of the disparity in the club’s play on the road vs. at home. "We’ve got to put it out on the ice. We’ve played well at home throughout the last month here. We feel confident coming in here at home. Now we’ve got to bring that confidence and attitude - it’s a lot harder on the road. Teams are really buckling down now and points are very tough to come by on the road, and it’s going to be another battle."
So what do you think? Auld Thursday, Turco Friday? Or would you switch them?