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.

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