If this were a Broadway show, you’d call it an opening night hit.
The Dallas Stars defeated Pittsburgh Thursday night at American Airlines Center, 3-0, displaying an up-tempo offense and a change between the pipes as the curtains went up on the 2015-16 NHL season.
Goalie Antti Niemi, acquired from San Jose during the off-season and making his Stars’ debut in the crease, stopped all 37 Penguins shots, including a flurry of scrums in the final minutes. Niemi looked very sure of himself in giving Coach Lindy Ruff’s skaters the realiable backstop they’ve been craving. He kept superstar forwards Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel (acquired from Toronto this past summer) without a point for 60 minutes.
Niemi also provided some offensive “firepower”, assisting on each of the Stars’ first two goals. He is expected to share netminding responsibilities with fellow Finn Kari Lehtonen this season.
“Antti played very well (and) I thought he looked quick, nothing went through him and then he made a really good save at the end of the game to put the icing on the cake,” said Ruff. “It was important for our team. We talked about our goals against, we talked about the fact that we were going to need a few more saves and I think we got a combination of both. We had some guys blocking shots but the important part was that he didn’t give up any bad ones. He made some great saves but there was nothing that I thought would have leaked through.”
The Stars, who swept both games last season against the Pens and have won four of its last five outings against the Penguins, grabbed a quick 1-0 lead just 1:39 into the game. Rookie center Mattias Janmark slipped inside Penguin forward David Perron’s backcheck in the slot to redirect a centering pass from linemate Ales Hemsky past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Mattias was acquired from Detroit late last season in the trade that sent veteran forward Erik Cole to Detroit. Hemsky made it 2-0 early in the second period on his power play wrister from the right faceoff circle that beat a screened Fleury.
The Penguins’ best scoring opportunity occurred as they were transitioning off a penalty kill six minutes into the third period. Malkin skated inside a defenseman from the rightwing boards and pulled the puck from his backhand to his forehand, but his shot was stoned by Niemi to keep the score 2-0.
Patrick Sharp, acquired from Chicago in the offseason after helping the Blackhawks win their third Stanley Cup in the last six seasons, appeared to score his first goal in a Dallas uniform seven minutes into the third period, but captain Jamie Benn was penalized for goaltender interference after he shoved a Pittsburgh defenseman into Fleury, causing the netminder to fall. Benn put the game away with 7:21 left in regulation when he redirected home a power play wrist shot by defenseman John Klingberg to make it 3-0.
Stars Spectaculars — The Stars Media Relations Department earned the Dick Dillman Award for their work among outstanding work among their Western Conference counterparts during the 2014-15 NHL campaign. The trophy, which honors the memory of the late Dick Dillman, legendary media relations professional for the Minnesota North Stars (who moved to Dallas prior to the 1993-94 season), was on display in the American Airlines Center press box. The award is voted upon by Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) members in both the Eastern and Western Conferences of the NHL….Benn, the first player in franchise history to win the NHL’s Art Ross Trophy as the regular season scoring leader, posed with the trophy just prior to the opening puck drop….former Stars Captain Brenden Morrow was in attendance and earned an ovation when his name was announced and he was captured by the Jumbotron camera midway through the game…..