It wasn't always pretty, but in a lot of ways it was exactly the type of win that the Dallas Stars needed.
Kari Lehtonen recorded a 27-save shutout, Colton Sceviour and Antoine Roussel scored goals, and the Stars, to the last man, played their best overall defensive game as a team en route to a 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
You need to learn how to walk before you're able to run, and the same is true for hockey teams breaking out of slumps. The Stars' defense still gave up plenty of Grade A scoring chances to the Canucks, but the overall team commitment to defense was probably the best that's been seen all season. And when it did lapse Lehtonen was on top of his game and ready to mop up all the shots that he faced.
The win gives the Stars a nice boost of confidence to continue on their Western Canada road trip with, facing the Calgary Flames next on Friday.
Remember when the Stars embarrassed the Canuck 6-3 earlier in the season? Apparently the Canucks do, too. Not only did they come out firing offensively, peppering tons of shots against the Stars, but they also came out physical, throwing their weight around and getting in Kari Lehtonen's face.
Dallas' recurring defensive woes of the year were prevalent, but luckily Lehtonen was equal to the task, making several huge saves in the early going. He was especially sharp throughout two penalty kills.
Curtis McKenzie was questionably penalized midway through the frame on a boarding against Luca Sbisa, but also had to defend himself with his fists when Canucks forward Brad Richardson jumped in. The fight sparked a scrappy latter half of the first, including a goalie interference call on Derek Dorsett.
How good was Lehtonen in the first period? Good enough to zap Vancouver's mojo heading into the second, apparently. Dallas dominated possession and shots in the middle frame, cycling the puck in Vancouver's end relentlessly and causing all sorts of havoc.
Lehtonen's best save of the night came early in the period. Jyrki Jokipakka turned the puck over at his own blueline which led to a breakaway, but Lehtonen snatched the puck away with his glove. It turned out to be a huge turning point as the Stars went up the ice on the very next shift and were rewarded with a lucky bounce when Sceviour threw a weak backhand shot on net that fooled Eddie Lack. Shawn Horcoff and Vern Fiddler added assists on the play that made the game 1-0.
Dallas had a huge 17-4 advantage in shots in the frame.
With a one-goal lead at stake the third period became a game of inches between both teams. Puck battles were fierce and bodies were constantly strewn throughout shooting lanes.
Vancouver pressed and pressed, but Lehtonen continued to hold the fort. The Stars' defense, to their credit, was also impressive, with both forwards and defense working in unison to keep pucks to the outside and to clear them readily when they got into dangerous areas.
The second biggest turning point of the game came midway through the third after John Klingberg went off for tripping. The Canucks' top powerplay unit was suffocating and passing the puck around at their will, but Stars' penalty killers blocked a ton of shots and worked through the kill.
It turned out to be the closesT that Vancouver would get. Roussel iced the game on a brilliant one-man effort, blocking a Kevin Bieksa shot and then potting the empty netter.
Thoughts and Observations:
- That was one of the closest, chippiest games that the Stars have played all season, but at the same time, it's nice to see the team able to win in different ways than they're used to. Not every game can be an end-to-end 5-4 shooting gallery, so it was crucial for them to grind out a win against a team that likes to play as physically as the Canucks do
- Lindy Ruff rolled all four forward lines and all three defensive pairings pretty evenly tonight. Alex Goligoski (who had a great game, by the way) led the team in ice time with 23:04, while Curtis McKenzie brought up the rear with 10:13.
- The Stars' penalty kill came up huge tonight, killing all four man-advantages from a very dangerous Canucks powerplay.
- The Stars forward that spent the most time on the penalty kill tonight? Jamie Benn. Something to ponder there.
- The line of Sceviour, Fiddler and Horcoff looked fantastic tonight at both ends of the ice. Those three showed some great chemistry in last year's playoffs and it looks like it's carried over to this year.
- Both Jyrki Jokipakka and John Klingberg had games that they'd like to forget, with both dangerously coughing up the puck on a few too many occasions. All part of the process when developing young defensemen, though.
- Travis Morin didn't have a very flashy game, but he was steady. He puts himself in the right positions on the ice and was rewarded with a point-blank scoring chance in the third period. He certainly looks comfortable at the NHL level.