The struggles on the second half of back-to-back sets continued tonight as the Dallas Stars were downed by the Montreal Canadiens 2-1.
The first period of play looked like two teams that had played and then traveled the night before. A lot of the period was choppy play on both sides, but the Canadiens managed to score first as Montreal outchanced the Stars to start the game.
One thing that has become pretty characteristic of the Stars so far this season was evident once again as they couldn't manage to handle the puck well. The lack of crisp tape-to-tape passing kills momentum before it can even begin, and often leads to problems with getting into the offensive zone and exiting the defensive zone. That remained the case tonight.
The Stars seemed to calm down a little bit in the second period. Passes were better, but the mistakes that they did make were costly. The Canadiens would go up 2-0 after a horrid turnover by the Stars.
They fought back after that sucker punch on the score sheet.
Cody Eakin had a terrific break-in into the zone and fired a laser over Carey Price to cut the lead in half. He was allowed to do that because the Canadiens were caught just standing around on the line change that led to the goal.
Dallas really pushed in the third period to try to tie it up. Jamie Benn came close a few times, and Alex Chiasson really wanted to score in front of his hometown crowd -- evident by his team-leading five shots on goal. His chop of the puck out of the air that went right into Price was one of the closest chances the Stars had.
What killed their momentum to tie it at the end of the game was two things -- offsetting penalties with just over two minutes left in the period where Kari Lehtonen got a roughing penalty after Brendan Gallagher ran into him and an icing of the puck the Stars committed that pulled Lehtonen back on the ice for the faceoff. They had been buzzing and spending time in the offensive zone leading up to that, and it all but killed the remaining time on the clock for the Stars to get that game tying goal.
What is going wrong for the Stars in these losses are small things -- communication between the forwards and defensemen on passes and avoidable turnovers (not all of their turnovers have been forced by the other team, but rather simply mishandling the puck themselves.)
It's fixable and the occurrences seem to be lessening as games go by. Progress is key.
A few other observations on the loss tonight:
- You have to give the Habs some credit -- their net front presence to not allow a lot of shots in tight is why their are so stingy defensively. At times, three guys are lined up in front of their goaltender to block the shots from even getting through. Dallas couldn't figure out a way to really crack that defensive scheme, so the second chances just weren't there very much tonight.
- Really wish Chiasson could have gotten a goal tonight. He played like a man on fire tonight, and he had several chances that could have gone in against a goaltender that wasn't on their game. Unfortunately, Price was.
- Nice gesture by Lindy Ruff starting Stephane Robidas, Antoine Roussel, and Chiasson in front of their hometown crowd. It may seem minor, but that kind of thing goes a long way with the players. Seems to be a lot of emotional bonding going on during this road trip.
- Something small within the game that I saw was Tyler Seguin coming back to support his defense. That kind of backchecking by the forwards should help improve the defense if they can do it more consistently as a unit.
- Valeri Nichushkin was inches from scoring his first goal in the NHL when a puck dribbled behind Price but never crossed the line. It will come, and his improved play recently will ensure that it happens. He's been making better plays with the puck, and he's a possession fiend -- it's just a matter of time.