The surging Stars are being rewarded for their commitment to and patience with young, inexperienced but promising talent. Determined skaters tasting their first full dose of NHL play such as defensemen Cameron Gaunce and Kevin Cannouton and forward Colton Scevour performed well enough to propel Dallas to a pair of impressive wins in three games during the week ending Friday, Dec. 20. The team’s 17-12-5 record gave them 39 points and positioned them 6 points behind 8th place Minnesota in the Western Conference wild card standings.
Truth be told, the squad’s two victories on Dec. 17 over Colorado and Dec. 19 vs. a Vancouver team that brought a 7-0-1 streak to the American Airlines Center were among their best-played contests of the season. Those triumphs were particularly significant because Dallas is utilizing youngsters such as Cannouton and Gaunce in place of injured defensive stalwarts such as Stephane Robidas (broken leg) and Trevor Daley (high ankle sprain). Another young defensive replacement, Aaron Rome, has also been injured with a lower body ailment.
Dallas flew out of the starter’s gate against the Canucks, grabbing a 2-0 lead in a 15-second span early in the 1st period. Leading scorer Tyler Seguin, who finished the week with six goals and 12 points in the last seven games and is on pace to shatter his career high in both goals (29) and points (67), set up the first marker when he slipped a pass to linemate Jamie Benn in the low slot. The team captain netted his 10th of the year by adeptly picking the upper righthand corner behind Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo to give Dallas a 1-0 lead and energize the still-settling crowd.
Just 15 seconds later, Sceviour (pronounced “see-vee-yuhr”) netted his 3rd goal in 4 games since being recalled from the Texas Stars of the AHL by converting a perfect short pass from linemate Rich Peverley for a 2-0 Stars’ advantage.
“We got off to a great start in the game,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “After a couple of rough stretches, we played a pretty solid game. And I thought we got some big timely saves when we needed them.”
The Canucks halved the lead midway through the period and also had a pair of odd man rushes on the same Dallas power play in the opening 20 minutes that goalie Kari Lehtonen was able to stifle. The Dallas netminder, who finished with 27 saves, also made a huge glove stop in the 2nd period (when Vancouver had a 14-5 edge in shots) to rob Canucks’ forward Jannik Hansen at the doorstep and maintain the 2-1 lead.
“We’ve seen that before, where Lehtonen makes some big saves at key times,” said Vancouver Coach John Tortorella of The Big Fin, who improved his record to 13-8-5. “We couldn’t score, and even though we had some power plays (going 0-for-3) to get us back in, we don’t get it done.”
Revitalized left wing Erik Cole made it 3-1 late in the 2nd period with his 6th of the year when he wristed a 15-foot shot that somehow dribbled through Luongo’s pads. “I’m not sure (what happened),” Luongo said. “It was a wrister I stopped through my glove. I think it might have fallen between my legs or something and just trickled in, something along those lines. But whatever it is, it’s inexcusable at that point in the game.”
For an encore, the 35-year old Cole added his 3rd point of the night early in the 3rd period by slipping a brilliant backhand pass from the slot to rookie Valerie Nichkushkin at the right faceoff circle. The 18-year old forward chased Luongo from the game by one-timing the puck between the netminder and the near post for his 6th goal of the season and a 4-1 lead.
“Erik has been consistent,” said Ruff. “I think if you look at his points over the last 10 games, it’s about where we need him. Tonight he really skated well, physical he was good. He got a puck on net that found a way to way to go in, and he made a heck of a play to (Nichkushkin) on that goal. He’s a big man who is hard to control. When he is skating, he is a powerful body out there for us.”
Cole, who has 12 goals and 17 points in 17 career games vs. the Canucks, credits his red light in Vancouver on Nov. 17 that broke a 17-game scoring drought in the visiting Stars’ 2-1 victory and helped him regain his scoring touch. “That game up there was a turning point for me,” he noted. “That was a good game for me and (I’m just trying to) take a bit of a load off the top guys.”
“It’s great that we’ve won consecutive games, (but) we can’t be a team that is going to win three, lose two, lose three and win one,” Cole added in reference to the Stars inability to win consecutive games since their 3-game string Nov. 13-17 at Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. “You’re not going to gain any ground, especially in the West. We all know what a big stretch of games this is against all these teams that we are chasing. It’s nice that we were able to get another two here at home, especially where we have struggled.”
“We are trying to treat our fans to a Merry Christmas,” quipped Ruff after the Stars’ 4th win in their last 7 games (and at least a point in 6 of those outings). “I think the one thing is the energy in the building has been getting better and better. We’ve talked about (playing as) a better (Stars) team here at home. I think the last two games the way we’ve played is the way we need to play. We need to pay attention to playing well in our own end. I think these last two games we were a fun team to watch. We were great on the rush, but sometimes we take the play away from the puck a little bit for granted at home. I really want our team to build off that. These last two games have been a little bit of a present for our fans. We’d like to wish all our fans a Merry Christmas, too.”
Bounce-Back Win Over Avs
The Stars had put forth another outstanding effort two nights earlier to defeat visiting Colorado, 3-2 in the back end of a home-and-home that began with a loss to the Avs. Dallas took the game away from Colorado in the opening period and played with an edge despite never holding the lead until Sceviour netted the game-winning goal with just under 3 minutes left in regulation.
Coming off an impressive penalty kill, Sceviour picked up the rebound of a save made by Stars’ goalie Dan Ellis and fed Rich Peverley along the right wing boards. Sceviour, who was recalled from the minor leagues on Dec. 9, alertly raced behind Avs’ defenseman John Mitchell, took Peverley’s return feed and poked the puck through goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s legs for his 2nd marker of the season – both on breakaways.
“(Peverley’s pass was) a heck of a pass, and we caught them at the end of a power play,” said Stars Head Coach Lindy Ruff. “He walked in and found a way to put it in the back of the net, and that’s all that matters.
“We spent a good deal of time talking about our play away from the puck, and I thought we did an excellent job tonight,” Ruff added. “We had some tough situations to get through, but I thought the guys did a good job of paying attention to the details of the game.”
The Stars’ 4th round selection in the 2007 NHL draft, Sceviour also focused on how well the Stars rebounded from a subpar effort just 24 hours earlier. “I don’t think anyone is happy with the way yesterday’s game went,” he said. “We played our game tonight, maybe we were down a couple of times, but we kept it to one and battled our way back and got a big win.”
The Stars trailed 1-0 in the 1st and 2-1 in the 2nd, but tied the score both times on goals by Ray Whitney. The 41-year old winger tripled his season’s goal output by burying a pass from Shawn Horcoff midway through the opening stanza, and added his 3rd of the season by converting an Alex Chiasson feed to make it 2-2 and give the Stars their 2nd home ice power play goal (in 49 opportunities) this year.
Ruff was pleased to see Whitney end his goal scoring slump, noting that “we have had a couple guys like (Jamie) Benn go through it. ‘Whit’ (seemed to have) a little extra giddy-up in his step after he scored. Then he got his second one, and all of a sudden he had a chance for a third (of the season), which was nice to see. It’s frustrating when you go through those stretches where you miss some great opportunities and he missed some great ones, but it was good to see him finish and play well for us tonight.”
Goaltender Ellis, who earned an assist on Sceviour’s game-winner, made 25 stops to post a 4-0-0 mark at home and improve his overall mark to 4-3 on the season. “I thought the biggest save of the night was on that power play (in the third period that resulted in the puck being corralled by Sceviour),” said Ruff after the Stars’ first victory in four games versus Colorado this year. “On the late flurry (in the game’s final minute), I thought we had enough bodies around I don’t even know if some got to him, but if they did he stopped them. Dan was there to back us up and it was good to see.”
Forgettable Performance in Colorado
On Monday, Nov. 16, the Stars ended a three game road trip with a forgettable performance and result when their defense allowed host Colorado to swarm and launch 48 shots at an embattled Lehtonen in a 6-2 loss on Monday, Nov. 16. It was their 3rd setback in the last four games, and left them with only four wins in their last 12 games (4-5-3).The visitors’ defensemen and forwards made little effort to block shots while allowing the Avs to consistently cycle and work the puck behind the net and along the boards to set up long- and short-range shots at Lehtonen.
This game showed how the losses to injury of veteran defensemen Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley are significantly impacting the club, which surrendered 19 goals in its last four games. The team also lost blueliner Aaron Rome to a lower body injury in the opening stanza. Coach Ruff admitted that Rome’s ailment was the same he’d suffered earlier in the campaign, meaning he’d be out for at least a few games.
The Stars, who were playing their 19th road game of the season compared to just 13 at home, tied the score at 1-1 in the final minutes of the opening stanza. Connauton scored his 1st NHL goal by tapping home a beautiful pass by Seguin – who made a highlight-worthy rush from the left wing boards, back to the blue line and through the righthand faceoff circle before centering the puck through the goalmouth – in the final minute of period one to forge a 1-1 tie.
But Colorado erupted for four goals during the final 11:30 of the 2nd period to take a commanding 5-1 lead. Seguin scored his 6th goal to cut the lead to 5-2 early in the third period. The former Bruin flipped a pass to Nichushkin, charged to the net and deflected the return pass into the net for his 18th of the year.
“It was pretty much us laying an egg,” said Jamie Benn. “(Colorado) came out strong and jumped all over us.” Added Connauton, “….we got away from our game. The excitement of (his) goal wore off pretty quick there in the 2nd period. We handed them some easy chances. They have so much skill, so if you hand them chances like that, they’re going to bury them.
After the game, the Stars placed forward Vernon Fiddler on injured reserve, retroactive to the upper body injury he suffered on Dec. 7 against the Flyers. They also recalled Gaunce from their Texas Stars AHL affiliate. Fiddler had 8 points in 28 games for the Stars this season. Gaunce, 23, has played in 28 games for the AHL stars, who are based in Cedar Park, Texas (north of the state capital in Austin), scored one goal and adding six assists to go with 25 penalty minutes. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder from Markham, Ont. has played 11 career NHL games with Colorado. Drafted by the Avs, Gaunce was acquired by Dallas last April for forward Tomas Vincour.
Stars’ Player of the Week – Colton Sceviour
Recalled by Dallas from its Texas Stars’ AHL affiliate on Dec. 9, Sceviour (pronounced “see-vee-yuhr”) has scored 3 goals in his last 4 games since being being recalled from the Texas Stars of the AHL, including the game-winner with less than 3 minutes remaining in regulation Dec. 17 vs. Colorado. He adds tremendous jump and speed to the Stars’ offensive attack, has tremendous initiative when it comes to attacking the net – with and without the puck. The Stars’ 4th round selection in the 2007 NHL draft, Colton hails from Red Deer, Alberta. The 6-foot, 200-lb. forward sled the American Hockey League with 18 goals and was the Texas Stars’ leading scorer with 30 points at the time of his recall.