*A quick note. I am new here at Stars Insider, and this is my first feature. I will usually have one feature a week. I’m a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb.
Breathe, Stars fans – it’s only December.
So yes, it was a rough week. But finally, they’re into the swing of things in their new division and against their new division foes. If you follow me on Twitter, you might see me call it ‘Conference III’, a product of blogger J.R. Lind. However, for the purpose of these articles, I’ll refer to it as the Central Division, though a part of me dies inside when having to do it.
Anyways, as fans, you should finally feel a part of the realigned Central. Three games this week included three rough and physical division matchups.
But the week was also a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
Tuesday night against Chicago was about as poor as this team has looked all season, losing 6-2. It took just thirty minutes for them to dig 5-0 hole and they obviously did little to work their way out of it. Now, I’m not a fan of apologists or ‘moral victories’, but I don’t think the game was any sort of reflection on the talent level of the team. It was the fourth time in a 30 day span that they played the Hawks, and I think the uninspired effort was a reflection of the schedule. Even with fresh divisional foes, anytime you play a team four times in a month and you aren’t in April, May, or June, you might get a little bored. I completely understand. But, in the Central, there isn’t much room for error.
Both Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp netted two goals, while Patrick Kane added a goal and two assists. Kari Lehtonen had an uncharacteristically poor start, giving up 4 goals on 19 shots. He was pulled midway through the second period.
While it’s easy to look at the score of Tuesday and jump to conclusions, it’s important not to. I believe it was a bit of an anomaly, if you will.
The game in Nashville on Thursday night was a much different story, however. The troubling thing I took away from that game at the Bridgestone Arena was the fact that it was yet another game in which the Stars appeared to be the better team, but stupid mistakes and unnecessary penalties spoiled their chances for two points. Though they scored first, two crippling penalties at the end of the first period resulted in two Nashville power play goals, one of which as a 5-on-3. The game was fairly competitive through the final two periods, but a cute little finish from Paul Gaustad gave the Predators a 3-1 second period lead and essentially put the game out of reach.
The Stars also chose Thursday night to vault another backup goaltender into the Vezina Trophy conversation (kidding, somewhat). Carter Hutton, who is getting some unexpected minutes in net because of Pekka Rinne’s extended absence, stopped 33 of 34 Dallas shots, including all seven he faced on the power play.
Erik Cole, who has struggled with consistency issues this season, scored Dallas’ lone (star) goal. Sergei Gonchar, who is significantly improving as each game passes, registered 20:08 TOI, and was one of only five Stars with a positive plus/minus rating. If the Stars are keen on ending their five year playoff drought this season, the puck-moving Gonchar is going to have to play a vital role. If that doesn’t instill confidence in you, I honestly don’t know what will.
Finally, the Stars wrapped up the week with a matinee showdown in Winnipeg, where the temperature was around absolute zero (zero degrees K).
Man, wasn’t this one wacky? Anthony Peluso, a right-winger for the Jets, led the game in two categories: most pathetic TOI number (2:45) and PIMs (15). The biggest impact he had on the game, and probably his biggest impact on the NHL so far, was the dirty hit he dealt on Alex Goligoski, which led to a five-minute power play as well as his ejection. Thanks to that five-minute major penalty late in the second period, the Stars tallied their first two power play goals since the team moved from Minnesota and won the game 6-4.
Jamie Benn, who hadn’t scored in 11 games, finally pulled the monkey off his back (almost literally). Benn finished with two goals, as did Tyler Seguin. On the same line, Val Nichushkin, finished with one goal – a coast-to-coast beauty that displayed his skill and unreal reach.
Also worth noting: Colton Sceviour, the leading scorer in the AHL, made his season debut for the Stars in Winnipeg on Saturday. Sceviour scored his first NHL goal, the Stars’ sixth in the game, in just his third career game. Sergei Gonchar also posted the first four-assist game of his long, illustrious career.
If you’re asking for my analysis on Saturday’s game, I will only tell you one thing: it wasn’t impressive and shouldn’t count because any game against Ondrej Pavelic is cheating.
To recap the week, the Stars started slow but finished strong, and remained tenth place in the Western Conference. While they’re eight points behind eighth-place Minnesota, they also have four games in hand. I know we shouldn’t be watching the standings this early in the season, but with as competitive and difficult as the West is, it’s hard not to.
Hopefully the Stars can take their momentum from Saturday into this next week. They’ll play four games: twice against Colorado, and once against both Vancouver and San Jose. It will be a week filled with travel and tough competition, but playing well could provide the spark this team needs to assure their spot in the top eight in April.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Dallas Stars have three shorthanded goals and only one power play goal at home this season. They are 1-47 (2.9%) on the job.
My goodness that’s bad.
Second-to-last in the league (at home) is Carolina, who is 6-65 (9.2%).
All statistics taken from NHL.com.