DALLAS - If Jamie Benn keeps this up, he just might stick around Dallas after all.
The Stars rookie winger took another step in his bid to claim a roster spot, scoring a goal in the Stars’ 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers Tuesday night in pre-season action at the American Airlines Center.
With the loss, Dallas is now 2-2-0 during the pre-season, with four more games on the schedule before opening night on Oct. 3.
“I think we are getting there,” coach Marc Crawford said. “Our expectation certainly wasn’t that we were going to be letter-perfect for the game or pre-season. There were a lot of good things tonight. I thought in the third period, we got to a pace of the game where we want to play.”
After falling behind by three early in the third period, the Stars stepped up their play and made a late comeback attempt but were unable to make it all the way back. It seemed they were just a fraction off on several opportunities throughout the night and that was basically the difference in the game.
But one player who impressed - again - was the 20-year-old Benn, who not only scored his team-leading third goal of the pre-season, he led the club with six shots on goal, four in the third period alone, and was the Stars’ most dangerous offensive performer all night.
“I think we came out a bit slow, but we got it going in the third there,” Benn said. “They got a goal, but I thought we played pretty good in the third.”
“A couple of our younger players played extremely well tonight,” Crawford said. “Jamie Benn was again one of the better players on either team tonight.”
Crawford thought so much of Benn’s performance, he moved him up from the third line to the top scoring combo with center Mike Ribeiro and captain Brenden Morrow, who was making his first appearance on Dallas ice since last November.
“We were playing more in the offensive zone when they put Benn with us, they wanted a straight-forward kind of game,” noted Ribeiro, who was second to Benn with four shots on net. “I know we played pretty well after that and we had a lot of chances to score. I think he’s been doing pretty good, he’s a big body, good hands, good shot, deceiving speed. He’s been playing really well and if he stays with us, we’ll try to create offense together.”
“The games I’ve seen, he’s been one of our best players, if not our best,” Morrow said of Benn. “Every situation that our team has put him in, he’s excelled at. He looks like he’s going to be a good one. Wherever he plays, he seems to be effective. It’s going to be a tough decision.”
The soft-spoken Benn is just enjoying his moment.
“It felt pretty good there,” Benn said of his stint with the big boys. “They’re great players and they’re easy to play with, because they’re pretty good players. It’s nice to get the chance.”
There was another pre-season battle for positioning going on in the crease, as the organization’s third and fourth-string goaltenders split the game. Starter Matt Climie played 31:09, allowing one goal on 13 shots while Brent Krahn came in midway through the second period and made nine saves in 28:03.
“You want to try and get into it just as quick as you can and just get as much work as you can, and obviously you want to have a good showing too,” Krahn said of coming into a game cold. “During the year, wherever I’m at, whether it’s in (AHL) Austin or Dallas, you want to have the coaches’ confidence and your teammates’ confidence that if they need you to play that you can do the job.”
After an evenly-played scoreless first period in which Dallas outshot the Panthers 8-7, each team generated higher-quality scoring chances in the second.
While the Stars were on a power play, Florida’s Shawn Matthias stripped Dallas defenseman Matt Niskanen of the puck and raced in on a breakaway, but Climie made a nice pad save just 32 seconds in, to keep it scoreless.
Dallas had their best chance with 6:55 elapsed, as Loui Eriksson raced down the right wing, carrying the puck on a 2-on-1 rush with Aaron Gagnon. Eriksson opted to shoot, unleashing a scorching wrister from the right face-off circle that beat Panthers netminder Scott Clemmensen but clanked high off the near-side goalpost.
About two minutes later, James Neal missed a golden opportunity when he was facing an open net in front, but re-directed Brad Richards’ cross-ice pass behind Clemmensen through the crease and wide of the far post.
The Panthers got on the board first at 11:09 of the second, with Morrow sitting in the penalty box for high-sticking. Michal Repik made a quick spin-around pass from behind the Dallas net, out front to Clay Wilson stationed in the high slot and Wilson’s resultant one-timer beat Climie to make it 1-0.
At that point, Climie exited the crease after 12 saves, and Krahn took over the crease.
Immediately off the ensuing face-off, Stars prospect Luke Gazdic engaged in his second fight of the pre-season, taking on Florida’s Adam Keefe in a lengthy, entertaining bout.
Less than three minutes later, on another power play, Florida scored again at 14:05. This time, Rostislav Olesz curled out of the left corner, enticing Dallas blueliner Mark Fistric to drop to his stomach in an attempt to block a pass. But Olesz still managed to slide it around Fistric’s outstretched skates to a wide open Kamil Kreps, who drilled it past Krahn for a two-goal Panther lead.
Florida went 2-for-3 with the man advantage in the second period, 2-for-6 overall on the night.
Heading into the final period trailing 2-0, Dallas started strong in the third, nearly cutting their deficit to one just 25 seconds in when Benn found himself all alone in front of Clemmensen. Benn made a quick move to his backhand, but Clemmensen made a nice lunging glove save.
The Panthers went up by three at 6:09, capitalizing on a quick counter-attack after Clemmensen stopped a flurry of chances at the other end. Jeff Taffe ended up with the puck on a 2-on-1 rush and slid a pass through the lone Dallas defender Andrew Hutchinson to a wide-open Evgeni Dadonov, who had an easy tap-in behind Krahn.
About a minute later, Dallas rattled another shot off the post, as defenseman Jeff Woywitka’s slap shot from the top of the left circle pinged off the near-side post, through the crease behind Clemmensen and out the other side.
The Stars got back in the contest thanks to consecutive power plays, including a 13-second 5-on-3 advantage that they capitalized on. Just six seconds after the face-off, Richards fed a cross-ice pass from the top of the left circle to Benn in the lower right circle. Benn stopped it and rifled a quick wrist shot over the sliding Clemmensen’s pads for his team-leading third goal of the pre-season.
“It was just, we won the face-off and then a great pass by Richie and I kind of had an empty net there,” Benn recounted.
Benn nearly got another one about 30 seconds later, but his point-blank re-direct of a Mike Ribeiro pass was denied by Clemmensen. Clemmensen played the whole game and made 26 saves.
“He’s a good goalie and he played really well, so you have to give him credit,” Benn said.
That was as close as the Stars would come, despite pulling Krahn for an extra attacker in the final minute and earning a power play for the final 14.6 seconds.
This contest began a stretch of three straight nights with pre-season games, giving the coaching staff ample time to evaluate the 36 players remaining in camp. A group of Stars will travel down to Florida for the second leg of the home-and-home series with the Panthers, before returning to Dallas for a meeting with the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night here at the American Airlines Center.
“We are going to correct the things we can and go back and reinforce the system’s strong points of play,” Crawford noted, “but we are also going to demonstrate some patience as well. It’s going to take a constant reinforcement to get it.”
- For Morrow, it had been 306 days since he last skated at the American Airlines Center (going back to Nov. 20, 2008), after he missed the rest of last season with a knee injury.
“I haven’t felt anything in my knee,” said Morrow, who underwent reconstructive surgery on his ACL last Dec. 2. “It’s more of a hands and timing issue that’s been my problem since camp started. Just getting quick plays, and the timing, those are things I need to get adjusted and focus on going forward.”
- Niskanen led the Stars in ice time with 23:17, also collecting an assist on Benn’s goal.
- Prospect Mathieu Beaudoin, wearing jersey number 43, led all players with eight hits, while Neal registered seven and Morrow had six. Overall, the Stars out-hit Florida 37-24.
- Ribeiro enjoyed a 13-5 night in the face-off circle, a sparkling 72 percent winning percentage.
- The Stars went 1-for-5 on the power play, leaving them 4-for-24 over the four pre-season games so far.
- After surrendering two in the second period tonight, the Stars have now been outscored 7-1 in second periods so far through the pre-season.
Snap shot -