DALLAS - Many games in the National Hockey League come down to special teams. That was definitely the case in the Stars’ 5-2 win over Montreal on Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
Dallas got one goal on the power play, scored another while shorthanded and killed off all four Canadien power plays on the evening, in the process allowing the visitors just a pair of shots with the man advantage.
None of this escaped the ever watchful eyes of Stars head coach Marc Crawford said.
“I thought our penalty kill was really good tonight. We had guys that are willing to block shots and do all the things that you need to do to have a good penalty kill,” Crawford said. “We scored a shorthanded goal that really spurred us on early in the game. Ott and Benn showed so much power and speed in the game tonight. I thought they showed it especially in shorthanded situations.”
After a solid start that saw them create several quality scoring chances in the Montreal end and take several solid shots, the Stars took a 1-0 lead about seven minutes in after Adam Burish tapped in a long-range blast from Steve Ott. Burish’s fourth goal of the year was reviewed because there was some doubt about whether or not his stick was too high. But in the end, his goal was allowed, much to the delight of the over 17,000 fans in attendance.
And seven minutes after Dallas drew first blood, they doubled their edge when Jamie Benn scored his second shorthanded goal of the year and his career. Steve Ott, who also assisted on the first Stars tally, fed Benn in the Dallas end and he deftly split two Montreal players, dashing up the center of the pond before beating Canadiens goaltender Carey Price through the five-hole to make it 2-0.
Karlis Skrastins’ second tally of the year with just over two minutes gone in the second frame put the Stars ahead 3-0. Montreal cut it to 3-1 after a goal by Mathieu Darche was allowed after he appeared to knock the puck into the right side of the net with his skate.
But Dallas wasn’t done in the second. Just 46 seconds into their first power play of the night, Brad Richards connected from long range with three minutes left before the second intermission and the Stars again had a three-goal advantage.
Montreal added a shorthanded tally by Brian Gionta in the third to make it 4-2 but a goal by Loui Eriksson less than a minute later ended the night’s scoring and made it 5-2.
In all, 10 different players figured in tonight’s scoring, which is always a welcome sight.
“We’ve done a lot of that lately, scoring by committee or whatever you want to call it. Guys are finding a way,” Ott said. “Shorthanded, power play, even strength, we found a way. It was a low shot total game for us but we found goals at crucial times.”
Among the biggest contributors were Stephane Robidas, who tied a career high with three assists. Ott also had a pair of helpers for his first two-assist game of the year.
Even though this team was somewhat behind the eight ball early when captain Brenden Morrow was sent to the box for tripping less than three minutes in, Dallas killed off all four Montreal power plays with precision and in true workmanlike fashion.
For Ott, the effort he and his teammates showed in killing off those opportunities by the Habs epitomizes how far this team has come.
“When we were in Prince Edward Island, I said I’d never had a team work this hard in my eight years as a Dallas Star. We’re all here. We compete. We’re here for each other,” Ott said.
Tonight’s win was very similar to the 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh back on Nov. 2. Dallas was facing an Eastern Conference foe with a great deal of speed. But like they did against the Pens back in early November, the Stars effectively neutralized the Canadiens’ speed with a pair of early goals.
“I thought our team really played a good skating game tonight. That’s one of the quicker teams that we’ve seen this year,” Crawford said. “I thought our guys were very sharp early. We did a good job of finishing checks in the offensive zone, stifling the Montreal attack in the first period. I appreciated the quickness that we had tonight and the skating lines that everyone showed.”
Dallas has now won three straight heading into the second game of the homestand against Calgary on Thursday night. But more important than their current run of good form, their head coach is seeing something bigger develop with this team.
“Right now our guys are enjoying the fact that they’re coming to the rink with smiles on, they’re getting contributions from everybody. Everybody is feeling a part of it and nobody wants to let anybody down,” Crawford said. “I think that’s a big part of why we’re successful. There’s some good chemistry brewing in our group and you want to keep that momentum moving forward.”
-- With tonight’s win, the Stars are now 10-2-0 this season against the Eastern Conference