If a Dallas Stars-Colorado Avalanche game happens in Denver and nothing strange happens, did the game actually happen at all?
That’s the question Stars fans are left with this Saturday night as Dallas jumped out to an early lead and played it’s third generally-competent game in a row, this time picking up two points in a 3-0 shutout victory.
McKenzie opened the scoring on an extremely lucky bounce, as the rebound from his shot hit not one, but two Avs players before careening just into the net, perhaps hitting his stick again along the way. While it was quite a break, McKenzie also created it with a strong post-shot net drive.
The goal started a few minutes of strong play from the Stars, but it was the Avs who came back at the end of the period to finish out strong. They didn’t score thanks to some good saves from Kari Lehtonen though screens, but they seemed to have the momentum.
As the second started, the game turned into a special-teams affair with the Stars getting a handful of power play opportunities. They didn’t look very fearsome early in the evening, but some strong wall work meant the Avs got distracted and left Tyler Seguin wide open on the left side, where Jamie Benn found him for a one-timer and a 2-0 lead.
That power play goal and a generally solid penalty kill (4-for-4) for the game made the difference in the end, as the Stars put together a relatively uneventful third period until a Patrick Eaves empty-netter clinched in the win in the final minutes.
Lehtonen was solid but not forced to be spectacular this night, making a handful of nice saves and staying generally calm in net. He got a little help from the post in the dying minutes, but so did the Avalanche after Jason Spezza tattooed a sharp-angle shot late.
In all, it was the type of ho-hum, deserved win the Stars have been missing all season, and to do it in the place where they’ve had any number of strange losses has to feel good at this point. The ship still isn’t full righted - there’s too many points left on the board to feel that way - but it’s definitely looking more seaworthy again.
Thoughts from my sofa
- Julius Honka continues to look calm and composed, and the pairing has also brought out the best in Dan Hamhuis as well. There aren’t enough positives to say about what he’s brought to the team so far. It’s early yet (and we’ve seen this season with John Klingberg how finicky the hockey sense can be with these types of players), but he’s been everything they’ve asked him to be and more.
- Speaking of Klingberg, this was an... okay/not great night in his department. He had a couple muffs on the power plays that didn’t work, and he had by far the worst possession numbers on the team (trailed somewhat closely by his defensive partner Esa Lindell). There were no major gaffes, as one might expect in a shutout win, but there’s still some work to be done on his end.
- I’m no NHL special teams coach, but if I were preparing to play the Stars I just might remind my penalty kill that they like to park Seguin on the left side just waiting for a one-timer. Whether it was bad scouting or puck-staring from the Avs PK, Colorado kind of forgot that tonight.
- When Kari Lehtonen is playing well, he is calm, and the defensemen in front of him feed off of that. Both sides of the bargain held up tonight, which is good to say this season.
- My personal favorite moment of the night came when the Stars got caught on an icing just after a penalty kill ended, which left them with three defensemen on the ice and Jordie Benn playing right wing. He managed the defensive parts of the position pretty admirably, which shouldn’t be a surprise at all.
- With regard to the wingers, man oh man are some of them making it hard of the defensemen in transition. The third line set specifically has a really bad habit of not making themselves available for a breakout play until far too much pressure has already flooded the defenseman with the puck. A few little adjustments on that end could help the line possession tremendously.
- It can’t be lost that this is just the Avs, a pretty woebegone team this season. But given the Stars specific issues with the Avs over the past few seasons, not to mention some of their recent runs of bad play and bad luck, it’s a nice sign.