DALLAS - The Dallas Stars ended up getting a taste of their own medicine.
After excelling during the early part of the season thanks in large part to some outstanding performances from goaltender Kari Lehtonen, the Stars ended up being victimized by an even hotter goalie at the other end.
This time, it was Pekka Rinne, who made 30 saves to lead the Nashville Predators to a 1-0 shut out victory over the high-octane Stars Saturday night at the American Airlines Center.
Entering the day with the NHL’s top goals-per-game average, an impressive 3.67, the Stars’ potent attack generated numerous prime scoring chances, and hit at least one postbut were unable to get one past Rinne.
Dallas falls to 5-2-0 on the young season, while Nashville remains the only team in the league to have not lost a game in regulation, at 4-0-3.
In the first match of a season-long six-game homestand, the Stars surrendered a goal just 42 seconds into the contest, and while they played a strong all-around game, never managed to get that one back.
“I thought that was amongst one of the best games we played this year, so you have to appreciate the good, hard work our guys did, coming off a road trip where you’re away for a week,” coach Marc Crawford said. “They got the early goal, and apart from a couple of minutes in the first period, I thought we played as good a game as we could have asked them to play. We got a number of chances, we had a couple of open nets that we didn’t put away. We had six or seven Grade A chances in the game, and their goalie was very good, as was ours.”
And Lehtonen was once again excellent in goal for the Stars, making 23 saves of his own. Lehtonen, who has been outstanding so far this season, has started every game, but could not overcome his fellow Finn.
“It didn’t start very well, the first puck went in, but I think we played a very good game,” said Lehtonen, who was named the game’s second star despite the loss. “I think the only difference was that their goalie had an unbelievable game. We’ve been getting some wins when maybe we shouldn’t have, and today it feels bad when I think we should have won, but didn’t. But that’s hockey and I think everyone can be proud how well we worked and if we play the same way, we can get some more wins.”
Down 1-0 entering the final period despite numerous glorious scoring chances in the second, the Stars had another prime opportunity at 3:31 when Jamie Benn made a nifty move to slip around Predators defenseman Francis Bouillon and into the right face-off circle on a partial breakaway. Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne came up big again, making a nice save to deflect Benn’s wrist shot from the slot into the corner.
With significant pressure in the Predators’ zone around the period’s midpoint, the Stars were still unable to perforate Rinne. Seconds after Mike Ribeiro’s shot from the slot slid just wide of the far post, Lehtonen came up with a nice stop at the other end when Steve Sullivan stripped Matt Niskanen of the puck in his own zone and swept in on the Dallas net.
Crawford pulled Lehtonen for an extra attacker with 1:07 left in regulation, but the Stars were never even able to set up in the offensive zone, let alone get a good shot off in their attempt to tie it.
“It was a tight battle, and I believe if we play that type of game and we capitalize on our chances the way we have been, we’ll be pretty pleased with a lot of outings like that and we’ll be on the good side of it,” Crawford said.
The Stars found themselves down quickly as the Predators scored just 42 seconds into the game. Shea Weber’s slap shot from the right point beat a screened Lehtonen and clanked off the far goal post. The puck then ricocheted back into Lehtonen’s pads and trickled towards the goal line, where Cal O’Reilly managed to jam it over the line and in.
After being outshot 11-8 through the first period, the Stars trailed 1-0 heading into the second.
About 20 seconds after Stars defenseman Trevor Daley deftly broke up a Nashville 2-on-1 rush, the Stars nearly tied it at 5:36. A loose puck in front bounced over to a wide open Brad Richards in front, but Rinne managed to slide across the crease and deflect the resulting shot behind the net.
The Stars seemed to gain some momentum after that, continuing to press in the Predators’ zone. At. 7:55, Ribeiro slipped a nice pass from behind the net out front to Adam Burish, but Burish shanked the one-timer attempt and the puck skittered just past the right post.
Dallas came oh-so-close to evening it up while on a power play just past the midway point of the period when Niskanen’s slap shot from the point squeezed through Rinne’s pads and trickled into the crease. Loui Eriksson poked at the loose puck, but Rinne made a spectacular diving arm save to keep it out.
“That was kind of lucky,” Rinne said. “I felt that it was squeezing through me and I just got lucky. I just swept my arm there and hit the puck. It probably looked good, but it was pretty lucky.”
Then, just seconds before the power play expired, Stephane Robidas snapped his stick in half on a slap shot attempt and the Predators sprung Sullivan on a breakaway the other way, but Lehtonen came up with a big save on his wrist shot from the slot.
With another power play opportunity late in the period, the Stars had another prime scoring chance, after Rinne stopped Richards’ slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle. The rebound slid out to a wide open Benn in front, and staring at a lot of empty net, Benn one-timed it just over the crossbar.
Then with 1:05 remaining in the second, Ribeiro carried into the Nashville zone on a 2-on-1 rush, faked a cross-ice pass to Brenden Morrow, then unleashed a wrist shot that Rinne got just enough of to guide it off the right goal post.
So after outshooting the Predators 13-5 in the second, the Stars still trailed by one.
“We put a lot of quality scoring chances on net but couldn’t find a way,” said winger James Neal, who saw his four-game goal-scoring streak end despite firing a team-best five shots on goal. “I had a few good chances I’d like to have back, but that’s how it goes sometimes. It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to stay positive and do what you were doing before. You’ll get rewarded.”
The homestand continues on Tuesday when the hated Anaheim Ducks come to town for the first time this season (8 pm start, FSSW).
“When you come out empty-handed at home, it’s always tough,” said Lehtonen. “We need to play the same way and work hard.”
- Robidas led the squad in ice time with 23:03, while his defense partner Nicklas Grossman delivered a game-high eight hits.
- Ribeiro was second on the team with four shots on goal, and he also won an amazing 12-of-15 face-offs on the evening.
- Texas Rangers pitcher Derek Holland received a standing ovation from the crowd of 13,583 when he came out for the ceremonial opening face-off.
- The Stars were 0-for-3 on the power play, marking the fourth consecutive game they’ve failed to score on the man-advantage. They are now 0-for-14 in those four games and just 2-for-25 on the season overall.
- The Dallas penalty kill unit, which entered the day ranked dead last in the NHL, killed off both Nashville power plays, the second straight game they didn’t surrender an opposition PP goal.
- Despite the loss, the Stars now own a 17-5-1 all-time record in Dallas against the Predators, outscoring them 66-30 in those games.
1 - 0 NSH
Interference on goalkeeper