DALLAS - The party was dampened somewhat by the result, but it was still another exciting New Year’s Eve at the American Airlines Center.
Despite outshooting the Vancouver Canucks 45-22, the Dallas Stars were stymied by an outstanding performance from goaltender Cory Schneider and ended up falling 4-1 Friday night in front of 17, 733 party-minded fans.
In back-to-back measuring stick games this week, the Stars haven’t quite made the grade, losing consecutive games against the top two teams in the Western Conference by a combined 11-4, although the scores have not reflected how well they have played.
Despite those losses that have left the Stars with four straight losses at home (0-3-1) and a 1-3-1 mark in their last five overall, the club performed very well in stretches, feeling that they held their own for the most part against Detroit and Vancouver. Dallas remains atop the Pacific Division and sports a 12-5-3 record in their last 20 games.
“I think this is the part of the season where the good teams separate and we want to be part of that. So far we were on the losing end of the two,” noted captain Brenden Morrow. “They’re good teams and we played well, but we want results. We’re not happy just playing good in part of the game, we want the results from it.”
The biggest thing that let down the Stars in both contests, but especially in this one, was their penalty killing, as Vancouver converted on 3-of-5 power plays. Over the last two games, Dallas has nullified just two of their last seven short-handed chances.
“I think tonight we played a pretty strong game, but we had some adversity and tonight it came in the form of penalties that were self-inflicted for the most part and we didn’t have any confidence in our penalty kill,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “I thought that maybe we were reading their press clippings about how good their power play is, and it seemed to me, we were back on our heels, and when we got aggressive on the penalty kill, I thought we killed much better.”
Vancouver entered the night as probably the league’s hottest team, as they now have a red-hot 13-1-2 record over their last 16 outings, but had to rely on their backup goaltender to bail them out.
“I think we were just a bounce away from it - we got 40-some shots and some pretty good chances,” said Morrow, who scored the Stars’ only goal. “We were an inch away from it most of the night and they got three power play goals, so that’s just not good enough. We did play good for stretches of this game and the last game, we were just a second away from it lots of times, pucks around the net just a step away, and the same thing on our penalty kill. We worked hard, we scouted well, we knew what to expect - they’re world-class players, they’re going to make some plays on you, but you can’t let them have the middle of the net like that. Those were some mistakes by us, but for the most part, I think we played pretty good.”
Kari Lehtonen started for the seventh time in the last nine games, but didn’t last into the third period, getting pulled with 3:10 left in the second after surrendering four goals on 14 shots. Andrew Raycroft relieved him and turned aside all eight shots he faced in 23 minutes of a game that was pretty much already decided by the time he stepped into the crease.
“He’s hit a point in the schedule where he hasn’t played the likes that we’ve seen from him in the past and we know that he’s a great goalie,” Crawford said of Lehtonen. “We know that he’s got it in him and I don’t think there’s any player on this team that doesn’t believe that he’s going to work his way through it.”
The Canucks got on the scoreboard first, converting on the game’s first power play with 2:49 remaining in the opening period After robot referee Kevin Pollock whistled Stephane Robidas for a hooking penalty, the league’s reigning scoring leader and Hart Trophy winner as MVP, Henrik Sedin, froze Lehtonen with a beautiful fake one-timer from the right face-off circle, instead sliding a soft pass into the slot. With Lehtonen down and screened, Daniel Sedin drilled it home into the open net for his 20th goal of the season.
Vancouver needed just 47 seconds to strike again, as Raffi Torres notched his 11th of the year. After receiving a pass from Jannik Hansen at the Dallas blue line, Torres burst through the Stars’ defense pairing of Karlis Skrastins and Jeff Woywitka to race in on a partial breakaway, making a move to his backhand and slipping the puck over Lehtonen’s pad.
In a 2-0 hole to start the second period, the Stars generated several scoring chances on an early power play, but Schneider made nice saves on Brad Richards’ blast from the point at 2:42 and another one on Mike Ribeiro’s point-blank chance in the crease 10 seconds later.
Dallas had another glorious opportunity at 9:23 when Ribeiro’s shot from a sharp angle to the left of the crease, and after Schneider got his pad on it, the puck slid past a wide open Morrow at the right post, who swung and missed.
About 20 seconds later, Ribeiro ended up in the penalty box and the Canucks’ lethal power play unit, ranked second in the NHL, required just 12 seconds to strike again. This time, Henrik Sedin ripped a one-timer from low in the right circle that ricocheted off Lehtonen’s glove but still landed in the back of the net at 9:52.
It was the fourth straight power play goal the Stars surrendered, after allowing goals to Detroit on both of their opportunities Wednesday.
The Stars nearly got one back on a power play of their own when a long pass from Richards sprung James Neal on a breakaway at 13:39. As he sped in on Schneider, Neal was tripped from behind by Kevin Bieksa, and although he still managed to get off a backhander on net that Schneider stopped, Neal was awarded a penalty shot.
Taking his first career penalty shot, Neal fired a wrist shot from the slot, but Schneider flashed out the pad to make the save.
Just over a minute later on the same power play, Richards clanked a wrist shot from the left circle off the near-side goalpost.
The Canucks would get another power play of their own a few minutes after that, and once again, converted when Bieksa scored his fourth with 3:10 left in the period on a wrist shot from the point that appeared to deflect off Morrow on the way to beating Lehtonen over the shoulder.
At that point, Crawford opted to pull Lehtonen and insert Raycroft in his place.
Trailing by four heading into the final period, the Stars finally got on the board at 3:21 on Morrow’s 14th of the season on a power play. Ribeiro set up the play with a slick pass from behind the net, finding Morrow in the slot, and the Dallas captain drilled a one-timer past Schneider.
Dallas picked up their level of play after that and, on another power play about four minutes later, generated several golden chances to cut the deficit to a more manageable two, but Schneider barred the door. He made a sparkling stop on Richards’ slap shot from the top of the right circle, then denied Eriksson’s point-blank rebound at 7:39, and seconds later, robbed Richards again with a blocker save on his slap shot from the high slot.
“I give our guys full credit, nobody quit, everybody kept battling throughout most of the match, and we did pretty much most of the things that we wanted to,” Crawford said. “We got lots of chances, hit a number of posts, we battled and maybe we can get a little stronger in our net presence and finishing off plays, but we certainly can’t look at this game and say, ‘throw it all out.’ There was a lot of good stuff in there.”
With Vancouver on one last power play, the Stars nearly collected a shorthanded goal when Jamie Benn slipped around Canuck defender Alex Edler into the right circle before firing a wrist shot, but Schneider turned it aside.
Richards then blasted another slap shot from the top of the left circle, with 1:58 remaining, that pinged off the crossbar for the club’s third iron shot of the night.
The Stars kick off the 2011 portion of their schedule with a trip to St. Louis on Sunday to face the Blues (5 pm start, FSSW), who defeated Phoenix 4-3 earlier in the night. Dallas will look to shake their first real slump of the season.
“We got to work our way through it, everybody sticks together, it’s a great lesson for all of us to continue on,” Crawford said. “You don’t take anything for granted, you take your points when you can get them, because you’re going to have bumps along the way. Now we got to enjoy tonight, cry ourselves to sleep and get ready to go against St. Louis, because that’s our next opportunity to get points and we’re going to have to battle like crazy to get them.”
- Dallas is now 8-4-2 on New Year’s Eve since arriving in North Texas in 1993.
- Morrow now has five goals in the last nine games after going 10 contests without any.
- Eriksson’s assist on Morrow’s goal gives him 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in the last nine games.
- Neal’s penalty shot was the Stars’ fourth of the season and leaves Dallas 1-for-4 on the year. Eriksson scored on Nov. 3 against Pittsburgh’s Brent Johnson, Jamie Benn missed on Nov. 12 against Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller and Eriksson was denied Monday night against Phoenix’s Jason LaBarbera. Neal, who has recorded just one assist in the last 10 games, tied his career-high with a team-leading eight shots on goal.
- Morrow’s power play goal left Dallas 1-for-4 with the man-advantage after going 0-for-9 in their previous three games.
- The Stars dominated in the face-off circle, posting a 35-23 record on draws for the night. Steve Ott was 10-4, while Adam Burish won five of six.
- Defenseman Matt Niskanen was a healthy scratch for the second straight game, while winger Krys Barch also sat out.
- In Buffalo at the World Junior Championships, goaltender Jack Campbell, the Stars’ top draft pick (11th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, made 25 saves to lead Team USA to a 2-1 victory over Switzerland. USA wins Group A and earns a bye to the semi-finals on Monday, facing the winner of Canada-Switzerland.
Sweden defeated Canada 6-5 in a shootout, with defenseman Patrik Nemeth, the Stars’ second-round choice (41st overall) in 2010, collecting an assist and recording a +2 plus/minus rating. Defenseman John Klingberg, the Stars’ fifth-rounder (131st overall) in 2010, was +1. Sweden wins Group B and a bye to the semi-finals on Monday, facing the winner of the Finland-Russia quarterfinal.
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