Glendale, AZ - In a season that has had significantly more peaks than valleys, the Dallas Stars found a valley in the desert.
Despite another goal from the red-hot James Neal, the Pacific Division-leading Stars continued to endure some struggles on the road and were defeated 5-2 by the Phoenix Coyotes Saturday night at the Jobing.com Arena.
It was their third straight defeat on the road (0-2-1), although the Stars are still a stellar 7-2-1 in their last 10 contests overall.
Skating on back-to-back nights, and for the fourth game in six nights in four different cities, the Stars clearly demonstrated some fatigue, but to their credit, they refused to use that as an excuse for a sub-par performance.
“Tonight wasn’t a good effort, it wasn’t an honest effort by our guys,” winger Adam Burish said bluntly. “There’s a million excuses you could make, but that’s just not being a good pro. A lot of times in games like this, you might not have your best, you might not have your legs, but you got to put checking to a premium, you got to play smart defense, check and just make it an ugly game. Tonight, we just didn’t make it an ugly enough game.”
“Their coach made it clear it was their biggest game of the year and they came out strong and came right at us,” added defenseman Stephane Robidas, referring to former Dallas coach Dave Tippett, now behind the Phoenix bench. “We thought we were going to be ready for it, but obviously, they were the better team out there tonight. They battled hard, they did the little things right and that’s why they ended up winning.”
The Stars were done in by their inability to score on the power play, continuing a season-long trend on the road. They were 0-for-6 and even allowed a shorthanded goal against before Loui Eriksson netted a meaningless goal late in the third period. In games outside of Texas this season, in which they are 6-7-1, Dallas is 3-for-49 on the power play, ranking dead last in the NHL in that category.
“We’ve been struggling lately, so it’s kind of frustrating,” admitted Robidas of the PP unit, which is now 1-for-16 over the last four games overall. “I think we’re just thinking too much out there and we just got to go back to basics - shoot the puck and get some traffic in front, get some rebounds, some tips. We just got to stop thinking too much about it, I think it’s in our head a little bit right now.”
Stars coach Marc Crawford chose to focus on the positives of the power play performance, noting that they generated numerous chances, fired 13 shots on goal during their extra-man opportunities and that Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 33 saves, was excellent.
“If there’s any consolation, we got one at the end, and hopefully that will take us off the slide,” Crawford said. “I thought we had some really good power plays tonight. We did everything but score. When your power play is not going really well, you have to be real basic with it and that’s what we tried to do. We tried to get as many people to the net as you possibly can and you want to be strong on the loose pucks that get created if the shots get through, so I thought we did that. Bryzgalov was equal to the task.”
For the Stars, goaltender Andrew Raycroft made his third straight start, but did not finish it. Following a stellar performance the night before in Dallas’ 2-1 shootout win over Carolina, Raycroft was fairly solid despite surrendering five goals, making 25 saves before he was pulled midway through the third period.
In his place, 23-year-old Richard Bachman, who was recalled from AHL Texas on Wednesday, made his NHL debut in 9:35 of relief. He looked good while making four stops.
Entering the second period trailing 3-0, the Stars showed some mettle early and Neal cut the deficit to two at 3:11. On the rush into Phoenix zone, Neal accepted a drop pass from Tom Wandell and then unleashed a scorching wrist shot that beat Bryzgalov over the shoulder for his team-leading 13th goal of the season.
A little over two minutes later, Raycroft made a sparkling save to keep the game relatively close, sliding across the crease to get his pad on Martin Hanzal’s point-blank one-timer and deflect it over the net.
Brian Sutherby ended up in a scrap with Ed Jovonovski at 8:40 after he was challenged for leveling Eric Belanger with a hard check.
Despite three power plays throughout the period, during which the Stars applied considerable pressure, they were unable to get another one past Bryzgalov before the intermission.
The Stars had another opportunity early in the final period, but it was the Coyotes who ended up scoring on that chance, when Lauri Korpikoski took off on a breakaway. Coming in on Raycroft, Korpikoski managed to slip the puck between the Dallas netminder’s pads and in for a 4-1 lead at 1:02.
Three minutes later with Phoenix on a power play of their own, Raycroft made another scintillating stop, sliding across the crease to snag Hanzal’s one-timer from the right side of the crease.
The Coyotes extended their lead to 5-1 at 10:25 as they stormed into the Dallas zone on another odd-man rush. It ended up as a 2-on-1, with Lee Stempniak feeding Keith Yandle, who ripped a sizzling wrist shot over Raycroft’s shoulder.
That goal signaled the end of Raycroft’s night and led to Bachman stepping into the crease for his first NHL action.
Bachman’s first NHL save was a big one, sliding across the crease to deny Hanzal’s one-timer from the slot at 12:33.
With the Coyotes on a power play, Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who already had two goals in the first period, blasted a one-timer from the top of the right circle past Bachman with six minutes remaining, but it pinged off the goalpost. Seconds later, Doan unloaded another one-timer from the same spot that Bachman got just enough of to send it just wide.
While there wasn’t much to play for after that point, Bachman was still able to keep a goose egg by his name and prevented Doan from notching his first career hat trick.
Dallas actually did manage to get one on a power play with 2:24 left, when Eriksson stuffed in his 12th goal of the season from the left post after Brenden Morrow’s long wrist shot ricocheted off the end boards and back into the crease.
“Hopefully, with getting a little bit of a cheesy goal late, it might relax our guys a bit,” Crawford said. “I know our team on the road will get more relaxed and the execution will be better.”
The Coyotes struck first, pulling ahead 1-0 just 6:11 into the opening period on Ray Whitney’s fourth of the year. After Radim Vrbata slid a one-handed pass (with his other hand impeding Neal in a classic example of holding) out front, Whitney pounced on it and swept it between Raycroft’s pads.
Just 1:08 later, Phoenix extended their lead to two following a blatant turnover by Trevor Daley in the neutral zone. Belanger intercepted Daley’s errant pass at center ice and began a counter-rush into the Stars’ zone, dishing over to Doan, who launched a fierce wrist shot from the high slot that beat Raycroft past the glove.
Raycroft bailed out the Dallas D at 10:38, making a nice save on Kyle Turris’ backhander following a defensive zone turnover by Robidas.
The Stars began to push back a bit later in the period while on a power play, with Eriksson coming the closest to perforating Bryzgalov when he came in alone, tried a wide deke to his backhand, but had the puck poked off his stick with 6:03 left in the period.
Dallas had several more chances on another power play with just under two minutes to go, but Bryzgalov came up with a big save on Mike Ribeiro’s point-blank wrister and seconds later, watched Jamie Benn’s wrist shot from the left circle clank off the goalpost behind him.
The Coyotes made it a 3-0 game with a power play goal just 22.5 seconds before the first intermission. With Ribeiro in the box for an outrageously questionable roughing penalty, Raycroft stopped Whitney’s slap shot from the left point, but the rebound ended up in the right circle. Doan got to it first and drilled it past the sliding Raycroft for his second of the night and fourth of the year, three of which have come against Dallas.
The Stars don’t get much of a chance to rest, as they remain on the road and head out to San Jose for a date with another division rival Monday night (9:30 pm, FSSW+). The Sharks are among seven Western Conference clubs separated by just one point, ranging from sixth to 12th in the standings, sitting just four back of the Stars, so it is another important matchup for both squads.
“We just got to put this one behind us,” Robidas said. “We got a big game coming up in San Jose and we got to be ready for that one. That’s the next big game and that’s the one that we have to focus on now.”
- Neal’s goal extended his scoring streak to seven games, tying his career high, and topped all Stars with six shots on goal. He has totaled nine points (five goals, four assists) over the course of his streak.
- Eriksson now has three points (two goals, one assist) in the last three outings, after going scoreless in the previous three.
- Both Wandell and Burish earned assists on Neal’s goal and it was the first assist of the season for each of them.
- Morrow’s assist on Eriksson’s late goal snapped a four-game point drought.
- Robidas logged a team-high 23:48 of ice time and topped all skaters by delivering six hits.
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