Dallas Stars Beat Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 On Defensive, Depth Scoring
I like goals. Goals are fun. Defense is fun. Fun fun fun. We had some of it tonight as the Dallas Stars capped off their Eastern Conference road swing in which they went undefeated.
This team is so fun to watch so far this year. I find myself trying to push out of my head the number of times the Stars blew leads last season or couldn't figure out how to win. That "last shoe to drop" feeling hasn't quite gone away yet, but the Stars are making me believe more and more with performances like this.
The start to this game was much like my drive home, where North Texans found themselves enamored so much with the water falling out of the skies they started and stopped as they made their way through it. Similarly, the Stars had a bit of a stuttering start. They got better as the period progressed, finally getting their legs going and getting their game warmed up.
Johnny Oduya would open the scoring on a goal that I'm not sure anyone really even saw. At least, the reaction sure didn't seem like it as Marc-Andre Fleury was a statue. He must have enjoyed that stance, as he'd recreate it when John Klingberg would put one bar down right over his glove hand. Defensive scoring is fun (especially of the Swedish variety)!
Let the good time roll right on through the second period, where Dallas didn't allow a shot on goal by the Penguins to register until nearly 11 minutes had gone by in the period. That's a lot of time where the Stars did a lot of the possessing of the puck. Oh, and some guy named Jason Spezza scored on a pass that sailed right past the entire Penguins team and landed on his stick for a breakaway-style goal.
Unfortunately, the first shot the Penguins did register on goal in the second period was also a goal. Jordie Benn went down on one knee to presumably block a shot when the Penguin carrying the puck did a spin-o-rama instead. Benn was pulled out of position and Nick Bonino, noted Stars killer from his Anaheim days, broke Antti Niemi's 90+ minute shutout streak versus the Penguins.
As thunder rolled through the metroplex, the Stars bent but didn't break after allowing that goal. They went down to the other end and some fantastic play by Valeri Nichushkin led to a Mattias Janmark goal off of a Klingberg shot rebound. Nichushkin had some fantastic shifts tonight, with some chemistry seemingly forming right in front of us with Janmark. Those two nearly connected at one point on a two-on-one that would have been an easy goal had the pass not gotten broken up right in front of Fleury. It looked fairly dangerous even when it didn't connect.
I wrote earlier today that it would be important to get depth scoring for the Stars to be able to beat a deep Penguins team. They got that in spades tonight, with the top line not having to provide all of the offense for the Stars to pick up a win. The depth also provided a lot of good defensive play that doesn't show up on the scoresheet.
Especially Radek Faksa. Faksa brings defensive play to the bottom six that fits really well. He's gotten himself into some penalties these last two games, though he may be the king of "penalties that weren't really penalties" in which he serves two minutes for being near someone who does a thing. That tripping call he was called for tonight was pretty weak (even Razor agreed with me). Patrick Sharp was victim of one of those calls also, when he got called for "boarding" which didn't look like much of a board and probably wouldn't have even been called had the Penguins player he hit not bounced off the boards off of his hands.
The major penalty that Jason Demers got called on was totally deserved and completely unnecessary late in the game. Even though he should have drawn a penalty after getting high sticked in the face (very painful) laying an elbow on Bonino was neither smart nor was it warranted. The Stars ended up having to kill off a late-game 5-on-3 advantage, which ended up being a 6-on-3 as the Penguins pulled Fleury for an extra attacker. The last three and half minutes of the game was spent on the penalty kill.
Niemi was up for that late game challenge, however. He was tested with plenty of chances but he stood tall and was the Stars' best penalty killer by far. Niemi was tested on some big shots throughout the game, and he came up with "that save" at the right time early on to help instill confidence for this Stars team. So far, this 1A/1B goaltending platoon seems to be working pretty well in the Stars' favor. Though the shot totals may make it seem that the Penguins outplayed the Stars, it really wasn't like that as score effects took over about half way through the game. He did face a lot of shots, but a lot of the ones that got through the Stars in front of Niemi were outside shots and mostly not of the "high chance" variety.
Some questioned tonight whether Dallas is really this good or if, perhaps, the Penguins are not as good as originally thought. Personally, I think the Pens are pretty happy the next time they could possibly face the Stars this year is in the Stanley Cup final. Stars seem to have their number the last two years, and if the Pens had to have a divisional dose of the Stars they'd be worse for the wear.