If you would have told me back in August that the Dallas Stars would see four rookie defensemen on the blueline this late in the season, I probably would have laugh-cried.
But that's exactly what the Stars had in their lineup tonight versus the Philadelphia Flyers. With Trevor Daley out because of a kneeing from New York Islanders' Matt Martin and Jason Demers battling illness, Alex Goligoski and Jordie Benn were the two veterans on the defense for Dallas.
You did read that right: Jordie Benn was the second most veteran blueliner tonight.
Patrik Nemeth, who is playing in just his 5th NHL game after that nasty wrist laceration that kept him out most of this season, had his highest minute total since returning. He did really well with the increased work load, with his knack to end plays the Flyers had some trouble generating prime chances with him on the ice.
But with so many rookie defensemen in the game, the number of odd-man rushes against Kari Lehtonen were probably at a season high tonight (though I couldn't count them fast enough to prove that with the numbers, the eyeball test says it is so we're going with that.)
Lehtonen allowed a goal on the first shot he faced, and with the rookies in front of him, Stars fans were probably (understandably) settling in for one of those games. But after a fairly shaky first period by the Stars goaltender and the team in front of him, they really settled down and both looked better as the game progressed.
No other pair on the Stars proved that more than the Curtis McKenzie and Brett Richie tandem. They settled into quite a groove as the game continued, and Ritchie was able to get the equalizer on a mad rush to the net and a nice feed from McKenzie.
The second period was quite pacey on both ends of the ice, with Lehtonen and Steve Mason putting on goalie clinics on both ends. Neither team was able to get one past the men in net, and the teams went to break all tied at one.
The last frame displayed a level of team defense that the Stars have struggled to find this season, but they played it like a beautiful symphony tonight. They were able to keep the Flyers on the outskirts of the offensive zone, and limit their chances in front. When they did allow prime chances, Lehtonen was on top of it.
Zac Rinaldo left the bench about half way through the period and skated right across the ice, delivering a hit on John Klingberg after the rookie phenom had released the puck. The hit, which looked to be textbook charging, went uncalled and Klingberg left the game with an upper body injury. Just seconds later, Ales Hemsky took a tough hit in the corner that did get called.
While the Stars were unable to make the Flyers pay for that hit on the ensuing power play, Vernon Fiddler did get the eventual game winner with a hard drive to the net on a 2-on-1 with Colton Sceviour. It was a gritty play that helped get the Stars the two points to prolong their seemingly improbable playoff hopes while probably putting the finishing nail in the Flyer's playoff hopes coffin.
Cody Eakin was scratched in tonight's contest as a team discipline move, and Antonie Roussel played up the lineup with his absence. Eakin plays a lot on the Stars' penalty kill, but Roussel with the bigger role and other forwards stepped up and kept the Flyers' lethal power play off the sheet.
Really would be nice to get a win without losing another key piece, wouldn't it?