Stars 5-1, Jamie Benn's Back

The Stars defeated the Florida Panthers 4-1 yesterday, and oh what a sweet win it was.

Jamie Benn (3 assists) returned from injury to spark life into the Stars' third line. Playing with Steve Ott (1 goal) and Tom Wandell (2 goals), the line controlled the entire game and played like a top scoring line, rather than a checking 3rd line. James Neal also had a goal, while Loui Eriksson, Niklas Grossman, Stephane Robidas, and Karlis Skrastins had assists. Kari Lehtonen made 28 saves on 29 shots and would have had a shutout if not for a screened deflection goal by Stephen Weiss. Adam Burish won his first fight of the season, but also got ejected for instigating the fight after Mike Ribeiro was elbowed by Dennis Wideman.

A major improvement in the Stars game was on defense, especially on the penalty kill. The Stars cut off a lot of shot opportunities and didn't give up a power-play goal. Their defensive play was solid, and while Lehtonen still played spectacularly, it was much better to see him only face 29 shots rather than the customary 35-40. If the Stars can cut that number down to stay in the range of 25-30, they'll stay at this level of play for the rest of the year.

The Stars now have a much more dangerous forward line-up with Benn back:

Neal - Richards - Eriksson
Morrow - Ribeiro - Burish
Benn - Ott - Wandell
Barch/Sutherby - Petersen - Segal

All top three lines can bring a consistent offensive threat, while the fourth line features prize-fighter Barch, defensive specialist Toby Petersen, who can often pop in a goal here and there, and Brandon Segal's physical play and nose for the puck (though not always the net). Brian Sutherby can step in at any time and play well, though he's the lowest on the team in +/- with a -3.

The defense, which has struggled this year, looked a lot stronger last night. And despite a rather high shots-against total, only Mark Fistric (-1), Barch (-1), and Sutherby are minus players for the Stars.

Grossman - Robidas
Daley - Fistric
Skrastins - Niskanen/Woywitka

And through 6 games, the defense has combined for 11 points (though only one goal, from Robidas).

Kari Lehtonen, of course, has played so well for the Stars that their defensive shortcomings have only resulted in one loss so far. He faced myriad numbers of shots on goal when playing in Atlanta, so he's used to a heavy workload. He makes 35-40 saves a night, and hasn't shown that he needs a rest yet. Still, it wouldn't be bad to give Andrew Raycroft or Brent Krahn a start before the season hits 10 games.

The Stars are about to start a long home game stretch, which has the potential to boost the Stars record even further, seeing as their only home games so far were a 4-1 thumping of Detroit and an intense shootout win over St. Louis.


And So It Ends

The Stars finally lost a game.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, also on a roll before losing 6-0 in their game before last night, came out with a vengeance. The Stars came out cocky and sleepy.

Honestly, the final score of 5-4 Tampa has almost no indication of what a terrible game Dallas played. The Stars didn't really come out ready to play until the final 5 minutes. They only managed 4 goals because Mike Smith, who only faced 19 shots altogether, and saved 15, was so off rhythm that his normal level of play faltered. The game could have easily been closer to 8-2 if not for Kari Lehtonen's 39 saves for Dallas.

However, Marc Crawford best summed up the reason for Dallas' loss in a post game interview:
"We couldn't kill a penalty to save our lives."

Darn right, Marc. The Stars' PK has been off since the start of the season, but it really became a factor tonight as the Bolts scored 4 of their 5 goals on the PP, including one just seconds after Toby Petersen opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal. The Stars took a lot of penalties in that game and also failed to score on any of their own power-plays.

Overall, the Stars' defensive game sucks. A weak top 6 lacks a true number one d-man, while the forward corps lacks a solid penalty killing center that doesn't get much of a load offensively.

Offensively, the Stars were mostly invisible. For much of the game, only Brandon Segal and Stephane Robidas had more than one shot. Adam Burish's first goal as a Star came off a flubbed play by the Bolts and a smart pass by Ribeiro. Toby Petersen's shorthanded goal was mostly a one-man effort, Brenden Morrow's goal was a fluke, and the one truly good goal, James Neal from Brad Richards, came with only a minute left in the game.

Weird stat of the game: Only Brian Sutherby was a minus for Dallas, while only Teddy Purcell was a plus player for Tampa (several on each team were even).

Fortunately, despite this poor game (and a poor start for the PK), the Stars have still managed to come out with a 4-1-0 record so far, and Thursday's game against Florida offers the opportunity for another win with the Panthers off to a bad start. Follow the @FreshFromTheIce Twitter feed for live game updates and constant thoughts on the NHL!


Roster issues? Don't panic

So the Stars won in a shootout against the Blues last night, keeping their record a perfect 4-0-0 to start the season. A key note from that game is the fact that the Stars were able to not only beat the Blues (who destroyed us last year), but also came back from a poor start to push the game to a shootout, where we showed a superiority similar to the 05-06 season.
While the dynamic duo of Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow looked lost, and failed to score, the line of James Neal, Brad Richards, and Loui Eriksson was on fire. After the early collapse where everyone looked awful, the trio amped up their game and combined for the two actual goals that Dallas scored. Then in the shootout, Loui and Rich scored while Lehtonen had a few awesome saves.

And of course, Ribsy won the shootout.

However, this post is to point out the crowd that the Stars have up front. As of last night, the lines were:

Neal - Richards - Eriksson
Morrow - Ribeiro - Burish
Wandell - Ott - Petersen
Barch - Sutherby - Segal

Which all in all, isn't that bad. Wandell's been invisible lately, and Segal hasn't continued last year's rampage (hardly expected anyways), but aside from that, everything looks good.

But wait, Jamie Benn's about to come back from a concussion. What do we do now?
Benn's a top line scoring threat with some good physical play. Sounds like a Morrow-Ribeiro-Benn unit would fare pretty well. But where does small-things man Adam Burish, who's had solid chemistry with the Morrow line, end up? He could play the third line, but where would Toby Petersen/Tom Wandell go? Either one could go to the fourth line, but where would sparkplug Brian Sutherby, who plays his role perfectly, have to go? Surely not to the AHL. That's where we send players like Fabian Brunnstrom.

To make matters a little more confusing, we just called up Aaron Gagnon from the Texas Stars. He'll likely get to spend time as the 13th forward, but if he proves he can play in the big league, we'll have a real issue on our hands.

The solution? Well, there's two that I can think of.

Option A: Put Benn on the third line, try and create a third offensively dangerous trio. Lines would be:
Neal - Richards - Eriksson
Morrow - Ribeiro - Burish
Ott - Wandell/Petersen - Benn
Barch - Sutherby/Gagnon - Segal

It could either end up working perfectly, or end in disaster. I'd give it one game, depending on the outcome from that, keep it or go for...

Option B: Package a forward and a draft pick for a solid defenseman.
Most everyone in the hockey world agrees that the Stars are thin on defense. A top six of:

Grossman - Robidas
Niskanen - Daley
Fistric - Skrastins

Isn't exactly intimidating. And with Jeff Woywitka as the 7th D, and prospect Philip Larsen still about a year away, Dallas could do with a solid veteran.

An offer of a 2nd round pick plus Wandell or Sutherby wouldn't exactly get a superstar, but it could swing a good deal if Nieuwendyk plays his cards right.
Let's say a 2nd rounder plus Wandell gets us (example only) Cody Franson. Yeah yeah yeah it would never happen, whatever. That leaves Dallas with these lines:

Neal - Richards - Eriksson
Morrow - Ribeiro - Burish
Benn - Ott - Petersen
Barch - Sutherby - Segal

Franson - Robidas
Grossman - Skrastins
Fistric - Niskanen/Daley

That'd be quite the improvement.

Obviously, Dallas won't be able to wrangle away such a rising star as Franson, but if a deal can be made to get a top defender, I'd say do it. There's plenty of youth on the way to take the place of a forward anyways (Sceviour, Gagnon, Glennie, Backman).

By the way, I have respect for Kari Lehtonen now. The man can play goal.


Stars 4, Red Wings 1, My Ego = Through the Roof

Ok, so last night's win against Detroit was just about the best win ever.
1) We finally won 3 games in a row. Hasn't happened since early 08-09.
2) We beat the Detroit Red Wings, a team I really really despise.
3) Do I need a three? We beat Detroit.

Yeah, in case you can't tell, I'm highly biased against the Detroit Red Wings. There are many players on their roster that I respect as individuals (Modano, Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Howard) but as a team, I hate them no matter what. Kinda like how people view the New York Yankees. They do so well, with some good players, but that's exactly why you hate them.

Anyways, to the game itself.

Brad Richards had his third straight multi-point game, further leading me to suspect that he has a severe inability to score only one point during a game. But hey, as long as he does score, no problems with multiple points instead of just one.
Just like I predicted on Twitter, Ribeiro and Morrow combined on a play (with a little help from Adam Burish) to keep up their goal-a-game pace. Morrow has 4 goals, Ribeiro has 5 assists.
Speaking of Adam Burish, the ex-Hawk played a really solid game last night. He was key in setting up the Morrow goal, and played a really good game along the boards. As Ralph Strangis put it, he'll be the "little things" guy on that line.
James Neal finally stepped up his play. In the first period, he took a couple unnecessary penalties, but after an intermission where I assume Marc Crawford called him out, Neal looked much better the rest of the game. He made a smooth play to set up Brad Richards, who set up Loui Eriksson for a goal, and then scored his own late in the game by battling with Brad Stuart before getting off a backhander that fooled Osgood.

Overall, the difference maker was special teams and goaltending. The Stars killed off four Detroit power-plays and Brad Richards potted an early power-play goal, while Kari Lehtonen made some incredible saves on chances. The one goal that slipped past him was un-stoppable, and he still got an arm on it before it fell in the net. Osgood looked tired, and the Morrow goal definitely shouldn't have gotten past him.

Mike Modano got a 45-second salute from the fans during the "official" welcome back moment, but received applause constantly throughout the game. He made some pretty good plays, but with third line duties, it was apparent that he was frustrated with the rest of the team's play.

One of the bigger stories from the game will be the hit on Johan Franzen by Mark Fistric that likely resulted in a concussion for Franzen. The Wings claim the hit was dirty. I say the hit was clean, just in a bad area (Franzen hit the boards at a bad angle), but you guys decide for yourselves:

Yeah, an elbow was there, but it wasn't blatantly thrown towards Franzen with intent to injure. I think the landing did worse than the hit. Either it's clean, or Fistface is REALLY sneaky.


Public Intoxication, Public "Kojak"'s, Public Salary Cap Mismanagement

Ok, so I missed my posting on the last Stars game. Essentially, it was a higher-scoring repeat of the game against the Devils. Morrow had two goals, and Jamie Benn and Stephane Robidas each potted their first of the year. Ribeiro of course had the shootout winner, but he gets the spotlight later in this article.
The main concern coming out of Dallas' first two games is that the Stars' offense won't be able to keep pulling through for a mediocre blueline. Sure, Robidas, Nick Grossman, and Karlis Skrastins have solid reputations, but all three are best suited to being second-pairing defenders and they're struggling to keep up with the inefficiencies/growing pains of Matt Niskanen, Fistface Fistric, and Trevor Daley. And the fact remains that in the first two games, we've given up seven goals.

But now down to the news that's relevant:

-First off, Mike Ribeiro made the mid-day buzz after word of last night's arrest for public intoxication got out. Ribeiro, Joe Nieuwendyk, and other Stars officials made statements about it not long after, but it's still an embarrassing moment. It led to a ton of Twitter buzz, but maybe Ribeiro will turn it into inspiration to prove that he's not a drunk, or whatever's being said.

-What made an even bigger buzz (still going) in the social hockey world was James Wisniewski's obscene (and often scene in high schools) gesture to Sean Avery during a scrap. Bob McKenzie has coined it as a 'Kojak,' and you either already get it from there, or you will when you youtube the incident. A lot of debate went on about the type of punishment Wis should recieve, but it comes down to another McKenzie quote: "If it can't be shown on network TV, it deserves punishment." The TSN analyst was responding to many who were comparing Avery's suspension in 08-09 and Nick Boynton's two separate 1-game suspensions, and saying that players make gestures and comments equally as volatile and Wisniewski's pretty much all the time. However, Wisniewski was caught on TV and in order to keep up a good public image (or whatever's left of it) the NHL must take action. Expect a 1 or 2 game suspension.

-The most recent buzz item going around the league is how the Devils will likely play a game today with only 15 players dressed, about 5 or 6 less than usual. This is primarily due to a slew of injuries combined with the fact that the team was already right up against the cap. There's still a possibility that the Devils could find a way to call up some minor league players, but already the incident has been added to a long list of poor cap decisions by Lou Lamoriello, including the Kovalchuk contract fiasco and the Mogilny and Malakhov signings and subsequent KHL demotions. It remains to be seen what will come of the situation.


Stars 4, Devils 3

Well, the Stars finally won a season-opener, the first time in 3 years. Beating a team that we haven't won on the road against in a decade felt pretty good too.

Overall, here's hoping that last night's game was a strong indicator of the rest of the season.

Unlike many games in the last two years, where Dallas would start strong and then falter in the final two periods, the opposite was true. Kari Lehtonen let in two quick goals in the first 8 minutes, but came back with a strong 27-save effort and only let in one other goal. Meanwhile, the Stars surged back on the strength of Loui Eriksson, who showed that he intends to be the number one Dallas sniper for years to come.

Offensively, everything went as it should. Captain Brenden Morrow scored a goal from Mike Ribeiro and Fistface Fistric, Brad Richards assisted on Loui's first goal and scored what ended up as the game-tying goal, and James Neal assisted on Loui's first and Richards' first. Surprisingly absent from the scoresheet were Jamie Benn and Steve Ott, but Benn led the team in shots with 5, while Ott played the pest with Krys Barch as a healthy scratch. Adam Burish also had 4 shots. If one game is anything to go by, Brandon Segal's tear last year was a fluke, which is very believeable.

Defensively, after the opening two goals, the Stars were tight, but under the radar. They made a few mistakes in the beginning but resumed normal expectations later on. Sadly, Matt Niskanen made the game summary as the man who messed up and forced Lehtonen to up his game in overtime.

Some interesting notes: Jason Arnott proved that he's still a powerhouse, reminding Dallas fans of how we lost the 2000 Cup Final by scoring during the second period. Ilya Kovalchuk didn't score, but he had two assists. Has New Jersey turned him into a better playmaker? We'll see.

Last, but definitely not least, Mike Modano showed Joe Nieuwendyk that it was a mistake to let him leave, as he scored in the Detroit season-opener last night.