The “Heartbreak Kids” of Dallas have dropped eight of their last nine games in 2014. Coach Lindy Ruff’s embattled skaters outplayed the competition for most of each of their three contests but secured only three of a potential six points while failing to pick up ground in the playoff race.
The Stars did end a six-game losing streak with a 5-2 triumph over visiting Edmonton on Tuesday, Jan. 14, then lost 4-2 to Boston on American Airlines Center ice on Thursday, Jan. 16, then dropped a 3-2 overtime verdict at Minnesota on Saturday, Jan. 18.
The loss in St. Paul, Minnesota followed a recently familiar plot line that belong in the category of “heart breakers” while dropping Dallas to nine points behind the Wild, the Western Division’s 8th place team representing the final playoff berth.
Minnesota’s Nate Prosser snapped a rebound shot past goalie Kari Lehtonen (who stopped 16 of 19 shots for the game) after narrowly escaping Stars captain Jamie Benn’s desperate back check in the slot for the game-winner in overtime. In addition, Dallas defenseman Brenden Dillon had lost his stick during the scrum leading up to the goal.
The Stars, who finished the week at 21-19-8 for 50 points, earned a point after Alex Chiasson netted his 9th goal of the season on a power play midway through the 3rd period to forge a 2-2 deadlock.
“(But) it’s disappointing (to lose because) this was probably one of our best games defensively as far as (allowing) scoring chances to the other team,” said Chiasson, who ended a 19-game goal scoring drought when he slid a loose puck in the crease into the yawning net. “It’s just a little play there, and that’s tough. We battled through and it would’ve been nice to get a win here.”
Minnesota, which has been winning despite the absence of injured stars such as Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, scored a 1st period goal and another in the 2nd after Stars forward Ryan Garbutt had tied the score, 1-1 with his 10th marker of the year in the middle stanza.
“We outworked them, outplayed them, didn’t give them a lot,’’ said Ruff after Dallas outshot their hosts, 35-19. “(We ran into a) little bit of bad luck. You look at the work (you have to) put in, and you’re happy with that, but you’re not happy just getting the one point. I said we needed (to win) three of the next four, and that’s one point we lose. We still can gain some ground in the next couple of games and get it down to five or six (behind the conference’s 8th seeded team).’’
The previous Thursday, the Stars and Bruins were scoreless through the first 39:56 before Boston scored with :04 remaining in the second period. Dallas forward Erik Cole tied it early in the 3rd period when he tipped home a shot by former Bruin Tyler Seguin for his 13th of the season and 2nd red light in two games. After Boston scored twice against Lehtonen (who stopped 37 shots) to take a 3-1 lead, Benn made it interesting by netting his 17th goal of the year and 2nd in two games with 1:11 remaining. But last year’s Stanley Cup finalists iced the game with an empty-netter.
Lehtonen stopped 37 shots in an impressive performance. “We got the late goal in the 2nd period, but before that it seemed like it was going to be a tough night to beat him,” said Bruin forward Milan Lucic, who set up Boston’s first goal late in the 2nd period and netted the marker that made it 3-1 in the 3rd session. “It was tough (to beat him). Fortunately, we were able to find a way to beat him, especially when he was on his game tonight.”
Forty-eight hours before, Dallas earned its first victory of 2014 and avoided a seven-game losing streak – which would’ve been its longest since moving to north Texas in 1993 — by scoring early and often. Cole struck just 0:14 after the game’s opening faceoff with his 12th of the year when he tapped home a pass from defenseman Trevor Daley.
After the Oilers evened the score just over three minutes later, Garbutt put the home team in front to stay with his 9th goal midway through the period, and Benn added his 16th goal on a power play to make it 3-1 after one.
“We worked both (power play) units real hard,” Ruff said after the Stars tallied their 7th power play goal of the season on home ice. “I thought Tyler (Seguin) made a great play and (Benn) made a great shot. We’ve had that same look a few times and haven’t scored. Puck movement was good and hopefully that leads to better times ahead for the power play.
“Obviously if you sit there at 1-1, a lot of things can happen,” Ruff added. “I thought we were on our toes, and we went right after the game. I thought the first period had three or four great opportunities, so it was nice to convert on them.”
Center Cody Eakin scored for the 2nd time in three games, his 10th of the season a minute into the 2nd period for a 4-1 Dallas lead. Edmonton cut the lead to 4-2 midway through the 2nd period by solving Lehtonen, who earned the win with 31 saves. Daley finished the night’s scoring with an empty net goal, his 2nd, with less than a minute remaining in regulation.
“(In the 3rd period) I think we just tried to play smart,” said Ruff. “We generated some opportunities and we gave up one rush situation that we’d like to clean up. That’s the one play in in the third period that we shouldn’t have made.”
The Stars were pleased to earn their first victory of the new year, said Garbutt. “We just have to keep it going,” said the Dallas forward, who scored for the 2nd time in his last three games. “We played hard as a team. We’ve had some tough breaks in this little slide here but we got some breaks and some bounces tonight. We worked hard for the bounces.”
Rookie sensation Valeri Nichushkin was a healthy scratch for the Boston and Minnesota games. The Stars’ 1st round draft choice (10th overall) in 2013 had gone five consecutive games with no points, and Ruff had been reducing the talented forward’s minutes to help him regain some confidence. “He’s had a little bit of a tough ride, and he said he’s felt real tired,” Ruff said. “He’s 18 (years old), and I think for him it’s been a mental grind, so we’ll try to freshen him up and get him going again.”
Nichushkin is 10th among rookies with 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) and is seventh in plus/minus at plus-11. His outstanding play – prior to the recent slump — earned him a spot on the Russian Olympic team for this year’s Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
“I think that guys pushed real hard, and in Val’s case it was probably a bit of a surprise for him to make (the Olympic team),” Ruff said. “I think emotionally for him it has been the craziest ride.”
Stars’ Player of the Week – Ryan Garbutt
The Brown University graduate (his degree is in Sociology and Economics) continues to thrill Stars fans and the coaching staff with his speed, hustle and nose for the net. Garbutt, who is the son of former minor league goalie Gord Garbutt (circa late’1970’s and early-1980’s), scored two goals and added a pair of helpers in the Stars’ three games this past week. He has two goals in three games three markers in the last five Dallas games.
The native of Winnipeg, Manitoba has collected 10 goals and 18 points in his first full NHL campaign, which is pretty impressive for a skater who was toiling in the CHL and ECHL just a few years ago.