Well that was more interesting than it needed to be.
The Dallas Stars flipped the script a little bit from recent starts by going out and scoring first just 2:59 into the first period -- much nicer than getting scored on first less than a minute into the game for sure. However, it didn't take long for Buffalo to get that one back when newly acquired Matt Moulson scored on his first shot of his debut as a Sabre.
After the exchange of bang-bang goals, the Stars appeared to slow their game down a bit. They started to be hesitant, not as aggressive on the offensive side in hopes that they wouldn't make a defensive mistake.
Getting their first power play opportunity changed the momentum in Dallas' favor. They were using a "shoot first" mentality which hasn't always been seen on their power play units so far this season. It was a sight for sore eyes, and they were rewarded for it with a power play tally by Alex Goligoski. Tyler Seguin would cap off the three goal outburst in the first period for the Stars for his fifth of the season.
The second period picked up right where the first left off. The Stars were confident on the puck, with better passes between forwards and defensemen. They were shooting the puck and were generating quality scoring chances. The tic-tac-toe play between Seguin, Erik Cole and Jamie Benn for Benn's goal to put the Stars up 4-1 was a result of hard work on the puck and winning battles. They were looking good.
Then things started changing.
A penalty on Cody Eakin gave Buffalo a power play chance, and the penalty killing got sloppy in front of Kari Lehtonen to pull the Sabres within two. The Stars started backing off the puck and the defensive break downs started happening. Passes were going to nobody instead of hitting tape. The Matt Moulson show continued on as he scored again to bring the Sabres within a goal of tying the game.
Dallas was on their heels and were probably happy to go into the third with a lead.
Benn and his team came out in the third and played a very good shut down period. They still had chances against. There were some quality chances against Lehtonen by guys able to beat Stars in front of the goaltender. But they held on, relying on their penalty killing to get them through some rough patches, and Lehtonen was there to clean up the turnovers to hang on for the win.
It'd be nice if he didn't have to do that all the time, though.
Dallas made it too interesting down the stretch, but they eeked out the win tonight for Lindy Ruff's return to Buffalo.
A few other observations on the night:
- How many close chances can Valeri Nichushkin get before he connects? He's looking so dangerous these last few games but hasn't been able to finish. It will come as long as the young forward doesn't get too frustrated about not scoring goals and starts gripping his stick too tightly.
- The penalty call on Steve Ott was definitely a little bit of a reputation call. The replay looked like Sergei Gonchar had caught Ott in the mouth with his stick. They sometimes don't catch the original call, but they will most definitely catch the retaliation. Ott got two minutes for slashing back at Gonchar, and then when he mouthed off at the call, he got himself two more for unsportsmanlike conduct.
- The parade to the penalty box in the third period was not what the team needed in this game. Playing disciplined hockey was what enabled them to build a lead -- the extracurriculars did not. Giving the other team a man advantage that often allows them all the chances in the world to tie the game up.
- Matt Moulson, new Stars killer? His second goal of the game is what gave Buffalo the energy to make this a game, and really was a momentum shift for the home team. That's six goals in his last two games versus Dallas if my math and memory serves me correctly.
- Buffalo has some big guys on their blueline. They proved problematic at times when the Stars defense matched up against them. Watching Trevor Daley bounce off of Tyler Myers was just one example of the size differential.
- Tonight was by far the best game by both Vernon Fiddler and Erik Cole that I've seen to date. Cole looks energized up on that top line, and Fiddler is able to push the play a bit down on that fourth line these last few games. It's helping to provide some depth scoring, which is key to winning games.