DALLAS - There were a number of compelling storylines to this game, but in the end, the only thing that matters for the Dallas Stars is that the result was not favorable.
Despite playing one of their best, most complete games in quite a while, Dallas was stymied by former Stars backup goaltender Johan Hedberg, who made 19 saves, and a late third period power play goal was all the New Jersey Devils needed to shut out the Stars 1-0 Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
It was a bitter defeat for the slumping Stars, who deserved a better fate. They are now 1-8-1 since the All-Star break, a span in which they’ve been outscored 35-16. While other Western Conference teams keep winning, the Stars have floundered, but still cling to the eighth and final playoff spot, just two points up on 12th-place Columbus.
Meanwhile, the red-hot Devils won their eighth in a row and are 10-0-1 in their last 11, but did so without their best effort. Unfortunately, the Stars were unable to capitalize, even with a strong outing from goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who made 22 saves.
“I thought we did a lot of good things tonight,” coach Marc Crawford said. “We really limited what New Jersey got tonight. They basically didn’t get one Grade A chance the whole game. You watch most of their games, and they’ve been on this 10-game streak, and they’ve gotten breakaways, 2-on-1s, all sorts of things like that. They got a couple of opportunities on the power play, Kari made some good saves and they got a lucky break on the goal.
“But if we keep playing with that type of intensity and that type of commitment, things will change for us. That’s always the way it works. It’s no consolation, we’ve got to find a way to be that five percent better that we’ve got to find here, but it certainly was a good effort for our group tonight. We did so many things that we wanted to do. We didn’t give them any outnumbering chances all night, we were good on the forecheck, we created loose pucks, we had goalmouth opportunities with net drive. We just couldn’t put the puck in the back of the net.”
In their first contest since their blockbuster trade Monday that sent winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen to Pittsburgh for offensive blueliner Alex Goligoski, the reeling Stars looked strong defensively, and as Crawford noted, limited New Jersey’s chances all night.
Wearing jersey number 33 and primarily pairing up with top defender Stephane Robidas, Goligoski looked pretty good in his Stars debut, especially considering he took the ice just hours after arriving in the Metroplex, without even having time to learn the club’s systems or tendencies.
“I feel pretty comfortable out there,” said Goligoski, who logged 23:34 of ice time, second-most on the team and recorded one shot on goal. “It’s a tough loss. I’ve played a lot of games like this against them in the last couple of years. It’s a frustrating team to play against, but we tried to not get so frustrated. I think we knew they were going to get some power plays in the third period there, and they got a bounce and scored on one. Tough loss, but everybody has been great. It’s a group that wants to win games and it’s always fun to be a part of that.”
It was also an emotional evening for veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner, who rejoined the Stars back on Jan. 7 after nine-plus years skating for the Devils, where he was captain for the last three, as he faced his former squad for the first time since the deal. The Devils were mired in last place in the Eastern Conference at the time of the trade, but have been on a scorching 16-1-2 tear since he left.
“It was a tight game, not a lot of chances for either team,” Langenbrunner said. “We played well. We did a lot of what we wanted to do tonight. We just didn’t bury our opportunities. They got a very lucky bounce there at the end.”
Dallas did get some good news on the injury front, as second-year forward Jamie Benn returned to the lineup after a 10-game absence due to a shoulder issue. Centering the top line, Benn was a force all night, firing three shots on goal, logging 20:25 of ice time and delivering three hits as he was named the second star of the game.
“For a guy to miss a month of play and come back and arguably be your best player, that speaks volumes for Jamie,” Crawford said. “His speed is so apparent and he was authoritative all night long. I’m sure he’ll be a little bit sore tomorrow, but on the other side of it, I think he’ll continue to get even better and better as we move forward this week, and that’s a good sign for us as well.”
Leading scorer and offensive catalyst Brad Richards missed his fourth straight contest with ‘concussion-like symptoms,’ while top-pair defenseman Nicklas Grossman also sat out his fourth game in a row with a lower body injury. Forwards Adam Burish, Krys Barch, and Raymond Sawada also remain on the injured list.
But still, everywhere but the final result, there were good signs for the Stars. Unfortunately, moral victories don’t get you points in the standings.
“I loved our commitment tonight, I loved the way our guys battled,” Crawford said. “It is disheartening that we ended up losing in that fashion, but you have to take the good right now and there was a lot of pretty good tonight.”
New Jersey rookie Nick Palmieri snapped the scoreless tie on a power play with just 5:37 left in regulation. With Goligoski in the penalty box for high-sticking, Palmieri out-muscled Trevor Daley for position in front, so when Ilya Kovalchuk’s stick-snapping one-timer from the left point arrived slower than expected, the 20-year-old Devil somehow managed to deflect it past the screened Lehtonen and in.
It was a big goal for the Devils’ power play unit, which entered the night ranked 29th in the NHL and had gone 1-for-25 in their previous 11 contests.
The Stars made a late push for the equalizer, pulling Lehtonen for an extra attacker for the final 1:15, but were never able to really generate much pressure before two late icing calls forced Lehtonen back in for the final 10-plus seconds.
“It’s exactly the kind of game you’d expect, a tight-checking game,” Robidas said. “They don’t give you much. That’s what we expected before the game and for the most part, we executed the game plan. We’d like to come up with a few goals but I think we have to bring more pucks to the net and get some more traffic.”
Goligoski had an immediate impact on the game, generating the first legitimate scoring chance 5:07 into the opening period, when he boomed a one-timer from the top of the left face-off circle that forced Hedberg to make a strong pad save.
The newest Star then ended up in the penalty box on a questionable tripping call at 8:50, but the Stars managed to kill it off.
On their own power play late in the period, the Stars nearly got one, as a quick transition on a New Jersey line change resulted in a 2-on-1 break with 1:03 left. Mike Ribeiro carried into the zone before slipping a pass over to captain Brenden Morrow alone in front, but the puck was bouncing and Morrow chipped it just wide of the right post.
Dallas had a golden opportunity to snap the scoreless tie when they received a four-minute power play, thanks to Patrik Elias’ high-stick that drew blood on Mark Fistric at 4:25 of the second period, but were unable to manufacture much in the way of scoring chances. In fact, the Stars were actually outshot 1-0 during the double minor, and didn’t fare much better on another man-advantage later in the period.
The Stars had their best chance to score with 2:32 left in the second, coming after Hedberg stopped Jason Williams’ shot from the slot. There was a brief scramble in front for the loose rebound, which ended up on Brian Sutherby’s stick, and with Hedberg down, Sutherby fired towards the open net, but a combination of Hedberg’s lunging stick and the glove of Devil defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who was sitting half in the net, somehow kept the puck out.
Up next, the Stars head out for a quick jaunt up to Detroit to take on the Central Division-leading Red Wings on Thursday (6 pm, FSSW) before coming right back for a Saturday matinee against another team above them in the Western Conference standings, Nashville. At this point, regardless of the opponent, the focus is on gaining points and keeping pace with the pack of teams involved in the playoff race.
“I think going into Detroit is as good an opportunity as ever to get a good win against a good team in their building, in a tough atmosphere,” Goligoski said. “Those are the kind of things that gets teams going, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go in there and win.”
- The Stars were 0-for-4 on the power play, leaving them just 4-for-41 over their last 13 contests, a span in which they’ve gone 2-10-1 and have been outscored 50-24.
- New Jersey’s win was their first in Dallas since Mar. 10, 2002, a span of 3,272 days. The Stars had won the previous four meetings between the clubs here by a combined score of 14-6.
- The blanking was the fourth of the season for the Stars, and three of those have been 1-0 games.
- Robidas once again led the squad in ice time, logging a whopping 27:54, his highest single-game total since Dec. 13. He also fired three shots on goal, tying Goligoski for the club lead.
- Overall, Dallas out-hit the Devils 25-14, including a 14-5 advantage in the first period. Morrow and Steve Ott each had four.
- For New Jersey, Kovalchuk extended his scoring streak to 11 games, the longest active streak in the NHL, a span in which he’s collected seven goals and 13 points.
1 - 0 NJD
Too many men/ice - bench
Hi stick - double minor