It was their best win of the season so far, and it came at a perfect time.
Kari Lehtonen stopped all 27 shots that he faced, Ryan Gabutt and Jason Spezza scored the goals, and the Stars' overall team defense, which had been struggling heavily all season long, played a nearly spotless game as the Stars shut down the Los Angeles Kings 2-0 on Thursday night.
It was a a refreshing game for the team on multiple levels, but most importantly of all, it was a cohesive team win. From the top of the lineup all the way to the bottom, each individual Stars player performed in their roles admirably, and the result was a delight to see.
It took 16 games, but the Stars are finally looking like they team that they want to be. Better late than never, right?
As far as road games go, especially road games in arenas as inhospitable as the Staples Center, things couldn't have started much better for the Stars. They were moving their legs, their passes were short and crisp, and they covered the majority of their assignments defensively.
Ryan Garbutt opened the scoring in the game with a classic action-at-one-end-and-then-the-other goal. John Klingberg's powerplay shot (get used to hearing that) rang off the outside of the post, and when he jumped forward to keep the puck in the zone he allowed a Kings breakout behind him. Dwight King got past a gassed Alex Goligoski ad down the ice on a breakway but couldn't get the puck past Kari Lehtonen. With the Kings caught transitioning out of their penalty kill Garbutt took the puck in his own zone, flew up the right wing, cut hard into the middle and willed the puck through Martin Jones on his second shot attempt.
The Stars held a 12-8 shot advantage after one.
In a weird twist, Dallas' second goal happened in a similar turnaround of fate.
Jamie Benn and the Stars thought they had gone up 2-0 after his wrist shot picked the top left corner behind Jones, but there was instantly much discussion among the refs. It turns out that Curtis McKenzie's shot a few seconds earlier had deflected up into the air and touched the netting before falling back into play. None of the on-ice officials blew their whistles and they allowed play to continue, but strangely, decided to disallow the goal afterwards anyways.
It mattered not, as the Stars would score for real a minute later. The Superline entered the Kings' zone with authority and after a couple of passes fro Seguin and Benn the puck eventually found Jason Spezza, who fired it past Jones for the 2-0 lead.
Down by two the Kings started pushing back, and were causing all sorts of havoc in the Dallas zone. The defense was breaking down and the dam looked like it was about to break...until Lehtonen did this
Jarret Stoll just got Chuck Testa'd.
Now began the real test.
Third periods had been the bane of the Stars' existence so far this season, with protecting late leads the number one thing plaguing the team.
The period started off shakily, as Klingberg took his first minor penalty of his NHL career less than a minute in, but the Stars' penalty kill, as it had all game, held the fort and turned the Kings back.
And then...nothing. Nothing particularly notable, at least. This is significant because it was a picture-perfect way to defend a third period lead on the road. They kept the Kings to only five shots in the frame to maintain the 2-0 victory.
Thoughts and Observations:
- This was, hands down, the best night of the season for the Stars' blueline. All six players defended as a unit, maintaining their coverage, making smart passes and zone exits, and keeping their mental mistakes to an absolute minimum. The only time that the team real got into any trouble was on the play where Lehtonen made the miraculous glove save, but beyond that it was smooth sailing.
- Speaking of the defense, it's impossible to not talk about Klingberg right now. He logged 23:46 of ice time tonight, including 2:50 on the powerplay, in only his second career game. His mobility is fantastic, his decision-making is superb, and he can make the puck go where he wants it to go. It's only two games, but its already starting to look like Klingberg is in Dallas to stay.
- Ryan Garbutt is starting to look more and more like the player that he was last season. His signature speed was on display again tonight and he registered a game-high eight shots on goal.
- Is the trio of Erik Cole, Shawn Horcoff and Colton Sceviour the team's new third line? That's what the time on ice indicated tonight at least, anyways. They certainly deserved the bump up in ice time, playing another solid game together and generating a handful of offensive chances.
- Patrick Eaves suffered a lower body injury some time during the second period, and didn't make it back for the third. He played a team-low 6:48.
- The only real wrinkle tonight was the powerplay, which went 0-for-4 and only generated two shots. Not a great showing, but luckily the team didn't need it to grab the win.
- Seriously though...John Klingberg. Can we keep him? Pretty please?