DALLAS - The Dallas Stars demonstrated just how lethal their power play unit can be and how it can help them win games.
Propelled by a season-high four goals with the man-advantage, including two by Loui Eriksson, the Stars rolled to a convincing 6-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
It was the third straight win for Dallas, by a combined score of 15-5, completing their season-long six-game homestand with a 3-3-0 record after they dropped the first three. They now own a 8-4-0 mark on the season.
The triumph was also important for the Stars because it was their first divisional win after losing their first two meetings against Pacific Division opponents, getting outscored 10-4 in those contests.
With longtime coach Dave Tippett behind the Phoenix bench, the Stars blew open a close game in the second period with three consecutive power play goals to chase Coyotes netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, who always seems to play well against them.
The Stars entered the night having scored six goals on 48 man-advantage opportunities, ranking 24th in the NHL. Then, after failing to score on their first two chances, they converted on each of the next four.
“Our power play stuck with it. It’s nice when your power play scores some goals,” Coach Marc Crawford said. “I don’t think it’s any sleight of hand, but we got people in front of the net tonight. When you’ve got net presence and you’ve got people around there, the rebounds do fall and we did a good job of converging on them. Lots of good things happened for us tonight.”
“I’m finding ways to score right now, the guys are making good plays for me, too,” said the red-hot Eriksson, who now has seven points (four goals, three assists) in the last two games. “The first one was a good past from Ribs there in the slot and I just tipped it in. And Nisky made a real good pass to me, too, on the second goal, so I’m just finding the net.”
“There’s a lot of skill out there and guys, I think, kind of learn on the fly,” Morrow said of the success on the power play. “Special teams is a make-or-break in a lot of games, so we do spend a lot of time on penalty killing and the power play (in practice). Tonight, the power play clicked. We talked a lot about driving the net, crashing the net looking for rebounds.”
Kari Lehtonen was back in goal for the second straight game, and made 25 saves in a solid performance.
Even Tippett was impressed with the Stars’ performance.
“They look like they’ve turned the corner,” Tippett said. “They have a good leadership group and they’re a solid team. They’ve gone through a transition in the last year. The young players who had so much potential are good players and their veterans have taken leadership roles.”
On an early power play, the Stars had a golden opportunity to jump on top at 3:11 of the opening period when Eriksson fed a slick cross-ice pass to Morrow in front for a point-blank one-timer that Bryzgalov stopping with a sliding pad save.
With the Coyotes on their first power play six minutes later, Lehtonen came up with a big stop of his own, denying Lee Stempniak’s partial breakaway chance after he swept in from the right face-off circle.
Some excellent work by Ribeiro and Morrow just after the Coyotes’ second power play in a row expired led to a wide open one-timer from the slot by Ribeiro, but Bryzgalov slid across and made the stop at 9:45.
The Stars ended up connecting on their third power play of the period, as Eriksson notched his first of the night. Ribeiro controlled the puck at the top of the right circle and fed a shot/pass into the slot, where Eriksson re-directed the puck up over Bryzgalov’s shoulder and just under the crossbar.
At that point, Dallas held a dominating 13-3 edge in shots on goal, but Phoenix started to push back.
Just over a minute later, the Coyotes had a flurry of chances, but Lehtonen made a couple of stops on Eric Belanger in front to maintain the Dallas lead.
Phoenix ended up with the final six shots of the period, but the Stars still carried a 1-0 lead into the second.
Richards then scored his first of the day just 3:42 in to give Dallas a two-goal edge. On the rush into the Phoenix zone, James Neal carried into the right circle before dishing off a cross-ice pass to the charging Richards, who fired a quick wrist shot from low in the left circle that beat Bryzgalov just inside the near-side post.
The Stars extended their lead to 3-0 less than two minutes later on another power play, on a very similar play to Eriksson’s goal. Richards had the puck at the top of right circle, sent a wrist shot towards the net that deflected off the leg of Phoenix defender Sami Lepisto and past Bryzgalov. Initially, the goal was awarded to Morrow, who waved at the puck next to Lepisto and appeared to re-direct it, but he went to the officials and told them he never touched it.
“I didn’t feel it anywhere on my stick,” said Morrow, who did legitimately record the 200th of his career later in the game. “Sometimes you get some phantom assists but I didn’t feel right about getting my 200th that way.”
Tippett then opted to pull Bryzgalov, who stopped 15-of-18 shots, replacing him with backup Jason LaBarbera.
Phoenix got one back just after a power play expired, when Lepisto got some karmic payback with his second goal at 13:34. After picking up a loose puck along the left sideboards, Lepisto shoveled the puck in front, where it ricocheted off Mark Fistric’s skate and off the underside of the crossbar and in.
About 45 seconds later on a delayed penalty call, Ribeiro fired a sharp-angle shot from low on the right side of the crease, which beat LaBarbera, but it clanked off the near-side goalpost and out the other side.
The Stars would connect on that resulting power play, though, when Benn deposited his second of the season with 3:54 left in the period. Niskanen’s slap shot from the point pinballed off Steve Ott and Coyote defenseman Derek Morris in front and bounced right to a wide open Benn, who banged it home.
Just 1:03 after that, the Stars struck again on the power play, their fourth straight extra man goal, on Eriksson’s second of the night and team-leading ninth of the season. Niskanen led the rush into the Phoenix zone, evading Morris in the right circle, then fed a nice cross-ice pass to the charging Eriksson for a tap-in at the far post.
Up by a comfortable 5-1 margin heading into the final period, the Stars surrendered one to the Phoenix power play 2:28 in, on captain Shane Doan’s first goal of the year. Keith Yandle drilled a slap shot from the point, and Doan, stationed in the slot, reach out his stick about waist-high to deflect the puck down and through Lehtonen.
The Stars opened the door slightly for a possible Phoenix comeback when Neal was whistled for a four-minute high-sticking penalty that drew blood on Yandle just past the midway point of the period. Solid penalty killing, as well as a couple of stops by Lehtonen, nullified that opportunity.
Morrow got his 200th goal for real with 3:27 left in regulation when he executed a nifty deflection of Ribeiro’s slap shot from the high slot for his seventh of the year.
Just 25 seconds later, the Coyotes got another one when Adrian Aucoin’s slap shot from the right point banked off the inside of Lauri Korpikoski’s skate in front and past the screened Lehtonen, setting the final score.
“It’s a little different when you’re up by three or four goals,” Lehtonen admitted. “Your mind starts to wander, but it’s a nice two wins here.”
Now finished with their season-long homestand at 3-3-0, the Stars almost immediately jumped on their team airplane, traveling to Denver to take on the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night.
“In the games that we were losing, we felt like we were doing the right things, pucks weren’t going in for us and now they are,” said Niskanen. “We’re kind of bearing down that much more, guys are working hard, and we’re getting the payout right now.”
“We are becoming a very good club.” Crawford said. “It’s always a result of how hard you work and how hard you stay within the structure of your game. When you do that, you give yourself a chance to be successful and tonight, it wasn’t systems, it was our players being in the right place and making the right decisions.”
- With his second straight big night, Eriksson now has a five-game scoring streak (five goals, five assists).
- With his three-point game, Richards also has a five-game scoring streak going, during which he’s compiled four goals and four assists. Both Eriksson and Richards tied with a game-high six shots on goal.
- Ribeiro’s output of three assists gives him five in the last three outings, after recording just one assist in the previous four.
- Moments after scoring his second goal of the year, Benn was hit by an errant puck while sitting on the Dallas bench, opening up a cut over his left eye that required some repairing. Benn now has five points (one goal, four assists) in the last three games.
- Robidas, with his second straight two-point game, now has five points (one goal, four assists) in three games since returning from an automatic one-game suspension. As usual, Robidas topped the Stars in ice time, with 25:34, and also delivered a team-high four hits.
- Winger Krys Barch was back in the lineup after sitting out as a healthy scratch the past four games. In 10:16 of ice time, he recorded two shots on goal. To make room for Barch in the lineup, center Tom Wandell, who hasn’t recorded a point in five contests, sat out his first game of the season as a healthy scratch. Defenseman Jeff Woywitka was scratched for the fifth consecutive game.
“We wanted to play Krys Barch and I told Tommy,‘Don’t worry about this,’” Crawford said. Nobody likes to sit out, and truth be told, I don’t like to sit anybody out, but we felt that both Barch and Woywitka have been working so hard for us and we want to make them a part of it. I thought Krys Barch came in and played a real strong game. He had a couple of chances. Our guys really appreciate how hard he has to play and the job he does and it was nice he was able to get the amount of minutes he did tonight. Tommy will come back in tomorrow.”
- After killing off 5-of-6 Phoenix power plays on the night, the Stars’ penalty killing unit, which ranked dead last in the league as recently as Tuesday, has been a solid 21-for-24 over the last seven games.
- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington received a standing ovation when he "dropped the claw on ‘em", then dropped the ceremonial first puck before the game.