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Recap: Stars Strangle Predators 2-1

Fresh off of a 6-5 loss in Denver, the Stars responded by sucking the life out of Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars held off the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, winning the game 2-1 in hostile territory. It was the first of five meetings for the division rivals this year, and the tension seems to be building already. It was an impressive showing by Dallas and their goalie Kari Lehtonen that led to the win.

Going into Tuesday’s game, there was quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding Dallas. The Stars had just given up six goals to the Avalanche and there were some real concerns about the performance of some of their top players.

Jason Spezza in particular had struggled on the face-off dot and been snake-bitten since opening night. Sometimes players have the Midas touch, but everything Spezza touched had turned to coal.

Jiri Hudler, big-time offseason acquisition for Dallas, missed the game due to illness. Jordie Benn was scratched along with Patrick Nemeth to make way for Esa Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak. Spezza played on a line with Antoine Roussel and Radek Faksa. Lindy Ruff was clearly sending a message that after the showing in Denver, some jobs were on the line.

Dallas dominated the first five minutes of the game with excellent scoring chances from Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Jason Spezza. Nashville was having a hard time handling the direct game Dallas seemed intent on playing.

The Stars defense was activating and the Predators seemed to have no answer for the Dallas parade to the front of the net. Name a Dallas Star. He probably had a decent scoring chance in the first period.

The most notable chance came with about 8 minutes left in the period. Dallas got the cycle game going with Sharp, Shore, and Ritchie. On the next shift, Ryan Johansen was convicted of high-sticking Seguin. Dallas’ second power play unit put Nashville in the grinder for a minute and a half, but were unable to convert on the scoreboard.

At the end of the first, shots were 16-4 in favor of Dallas, and it wasn’t that close. However, the only thing that matters in a hockey game is the scoreboard and that read 0-0.

Adam Cracknell opened the scoring in the second period on a double deflection from Curtis McKenzie and Johnny Oduya. McKenzie, one of three Dallas Stars making their season debut, starting skating well the second and was rewarded. Unfortunately for the Stars, Mike Fisher leveled the score 1-1 on the power play shortly thereafter.

The Fisher goal was a candidate for “Tale of the Tape” with David Castillo. The entire Stars’ team was either below the goal line or hugging the half-wall. Fisher had all day and he 5-holed a desperate Lehtonen.

Nashville started to find their offensive legs and the game opened up considerably. Teams traded chances, great defensive plays, and saves. It was hard not to notice the backcheck from both sides, and the speed in which the defenses were activating.

Hearts in Dallas didn’t beat for about 2 minutes midway through the second when Oleksiak, Lindell, and the Sharp line got trapped on the ice. The Stars got out-changed and got mugged in their end. It was truly a miracle that the score was still 1-1. The Predators followed that shift up by doing more of the same to every line Dallas threw on the ice. They were an equal opportunity punisher.

Kari Lehtonen built a wall and his composure was the only reason Nashville didn’t score eight times in the frame. Brett Ritchie put Nashville on the power play and the Preds threw the kitchen sink at the Dallas net. It was truly heroic defending by Stephen Johns in particular. I put a note here to remember this kill at the end of the game.

At the end of the second shots were 26-18 Dallas, but the shot total did not reflect Nashville’s physical dominance in the Stars zone. All of that being said, Dallas did a respectable job limiting Predator chances in Kari Lehtonen’s kitchen.

The third period started slow but picked up speed as the period grew older. Jamie Oleksiak got abused on a poor pinch, but was bailed out by Patrick Sharp’s stick. That was a common theme of the period, sticks in shooting lanes.

Both teams were skating well, but it was Jason Spezza who broke the tie with 10 minutes to play. I admit, I had my doubts about him playing with Roussel and Faksa, but the line was good all night. It was a huge goal for Dallas in a time where the team needed it the most.

Rather than sit back and rest on their laurels, the Stars stepped on the throat of the Predators. Nashville was having a hard time getting the Stars to give them the puck. It turns out, it is harder to give up a goal when you have the puck all of the time (source needed).

Nashville wasn’t out of punches to throw, and there were multiple scrambles around Lehtonen’s net. Dallas protected the middle of the ice and efficiently funneled the Preds to the outside of the rink.

Pekka Rinne was pulled with 2 minutes to play and it was a mad sprint to the finish. Dallas was able to hold on for a huge road win in a building that has traditionally been a house of horrors for the Stars.

It was only 2 points. But the way the team responded to giving up a touchdown to Colorado was encouraging. The team won this game in a phone booth and it was impressive. Kari Lehtonen was solid and proved to be a great backstop when the team gave up some chances.

Overall it was a good game by the Stars, finishing with 37 shot attempts. When the team plays vertically and gets decent net-minding, there aren’t a lot of teams better than Dallas.

Random observations:

  • Tonight was far and away the best game Dan Hamhuis has played in a Stars uniform.
  • With 45 seconds to play and an extra attacker on for the Preds, Devin Shore was on the ice with Benn and Seguin. Think he has earned any of Lindy Ruff’s trust?
  • Benn, Seguin, and Eaves were +12 a piece in the Corsi department. It was a relief to see the big fellas start to figure it out.
  • Good grief, PK Subban can absolutely spank the puck.
  • There are so many colors in the world. Is mustard on mustard on navy really the best combination that the Predators can come up with?