Despite Disappointment, Stars Make Progress

Sometimes progress is masked in disappointment.

That’s the type of week the Dallas Stars experienced, picking up five of a possible eight points in four games despite losing one of their top defenseman, Stephane Robidas for four to six months with a broken leg. They also played nearly three of the four games without their leading scorer, Tyler Seguin (12 goals, 23 points), who was experiencing concussion-like symptoms sustained in the Nov. 29 game vs. visiting Chicago, and lost emerging forward Ryan Garbutt to nearly two games with a leg injury suffered in Chicago.

On the positive side, their struggling power play (11-for-92 for a 11.9% success rate) showed signs of life, including a man advantage goal that helped them earn a standings point on Thursday, Dec. 5 in Toronto. The Stars finished the week ending Dec. 6 in 10th place in the Western Conference, five points behind 8th place Phoenix.

In a pair of Jekyll & Hyde performances, they surrendered 50 shots on goal but never trailed and won, 4-3 in regulation at Chicago on Tuesday, Dec. 3 before launching 50 shots at the opposing net but never led and lost, 3-2 in overtime at Toronto on Thursday, Dec. 5.

“At times it was utter domination (by the Stars), and you have to give their goalie (Jonathan Bernier) credit,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff after Toronto’s Trevor Smith scored with 41 seconds remaining in overtime. “They found a way to win. They pulled what we pulled the other night in Chicago. Kudos to them.”

“Those were two games that were the exact opposite of each other,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn after he contributed a team-leading eight shots to a 50-24 advantage against the Leafs. “You get dominated in one and you find a way to win. I think we did an alright job tonight, but I think we could have done better in the small details of the game.”

Seguin returned to the lineup and accounted for seven shots on goal in less than five minutes of ice time. However, Dallas lost stalwart defenseman Trevor Daley to a lower body injury early in the 2nd period after he got tangled up with Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk and slammed awkwardly into the boards.

The Stars earned at least at point in five straight games (2-0-3) and improved to 13-9-5 on the season by registering a power play goal when forward Shawn Horcoff deflected a shot by rookie defenseman Kevin Connauton (who is replacing Robidas in the lineup) past Bernier with 2:46 left in regulation. Horcoff, who had set up the Stars’ other goal by forward Erik Cole (his 4th of the season and 2nd in 2 games) early in the 3rd period to tie the game at 1-1, also had an earlier goal waved off by the officials midway through the 3rd period when he directed a power play shot past Bernier with his stick above his shoulders.

Horcoff is hopeful that the Stars’ stagnant power play will begin producing when he and his teammates charge to the front of the opponents’ net. “When things don’t go good for the power play you’ve got to find ways to get pucks to the net, and the last couple of games we’ve been able to do that,” said the former Edmonton Oiler. “We’ve got shots, we’ve got bodies there and we’ve been rewarded.”

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen, making his 18th start of the last 19 Stars’ contests, turned aside 21 Toronto shots, just two nights after making a career-high 47 saves in the Tuesday, Dec. 3 victory in Chicago. Despite being outshot 50-18 by the defending Stanley Cup champion and Western Conference leading Blackhawks, Dallas used an Antoine Roussel penalty shot goal in the 3rd period to end Chicago’s winning streak at six games.

Roussel’s fifth goal of the season, the first penalty shot marker against Chicago netminder Corey Crawford in 10 career shots against, gave the Stars their 7th road win in their last 8 games away from home.
Despite the discrepancy in shots, the Stars built a 3-0 lead when rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin scored his third goal of the season and forward Alex Chiasson netted his 8th on a power play in the first period, followed by Cole’s 3rd of the season early in the 2nd period. But Chicago tied the score, 3-3 with a trio of goals in an eight-minute span to force Roussel’s 3rd period heroics.

The Stars embarked on their two-game road swing in a sour mood after allowing two regulation goals at inopportune junctures and suffering a disappointing 3-2 shootout decision to visiting Edmonton in a Sunday, Dec. 1 late afternoon start . Oilers’ forward Ales Hemsky scored with :05 left in the 2nd period to tie the score 1-1, and defenseman Andrew Ference tied the score 2-2 after a Stars turnover by beating Kari Lehtonen (who made 30 saves) with just over five minutes remaining in regulation to force overtime.

The Oilers, who had been scoreless in 108 minutes over two games against Lehtonen (including a 3-0 Stars’ win on Nov. 13 in Alberta), received shootout goals from Jordan Eberle and David Perron as goalie Devan Dubnyk (who relieved injured starter Ilya Bryzgalov) shut out the Stars, their second straight shootout loss that dropped their mark in the breakaway bonanza to 3-3 on the season.

Garbutt continued his outstanding play, netting a shorthanded goal in the 2nd period to give Dallas a 1-0 lead, and added his 2nd of the game and 5th of the year in the third period to restore the lead at 2-1. He almost had a hat trick, but was stopped on a breakaway by Bryzgalov. The Stars’ power play woes continued, going 0-for-4 and emerging with just one goal in 37 man advantages situations on home ice.

Stars’ Coach Lindy Ruff said there was a difference between Friday’s 2-1 loss to Chicago and the setback to Edmonton. “This was a lot more frustrating,” he said. “There were glorious opportunities to put it away. We’ve got to bear down better and make sure we finish on some of those opportunities.”

The Friday, Nov. 29 shootout loss that went 11 rounds before the Hawks’ Ben Smith beat Lehtonen was an exercise in frustration. The 11 rounds tied a franchise record that initially occurred Dec. 11, 2009 in a win vs. San Jose.

Facing a Chicago team that entered the game with a league high 3.54 goals per game and had defeated the Stars in their last five meetings by a combined score of 25-8, Dallas played a solid game in all phases while outshooting their visitors, 29-26. The Stars grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 1st period when Horcoff took the puck from goalie Crawford behind the net and fed Rich Peverley, who found the half-empty net for his 5th goal of the season. The lead held up and was nearly doubled when Chiasson saw his penalty shot clang off the post behind Crawford in the 2nd period. The Hawks’ Patrick Sharp finally solved Lehtonen (25 saves) on a tip-in to tie the score, 1-1 midway through the 3rd period, and forward Ben Smith gave the Hawks the shootout win.

The 36-year old Robidas, who was diving to stop a pass, was injured when his right leg was pinned beneath his body and was twisted when it hit the boards. The veteran blueliner screamed in pain and was taken to a hospital. One of squad’s two alternate captains, he has played 704 games for the Stars and led the squad in hits with 62. He also 4th in blocked shots with 34.

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