DALLAS – After a relatively average beginning, the Dallas Stars came alive in the third period and seized their second straight pre-season victory.
Loui Eriksson scored a goal and an assist and Steve Ott added an empty net goal and two assists, all in the third period, as the Stars surged to a convincing 5-2 triumph over the Colorado Avalance in their home pre-season debut Thursday night at the American Airlines Center.
Two games into the 2011-12 exhibition season, the Stars are now 2-0-0 and have outscored their opposition 11-5.
Probably even more encouraging is that their groupings of forward line combinations have clicked well offensively in each game and have been the key to their success.
Tuesday night in Montreal, it was the Mike Ribeiro-Michael Ryder-Brenden Morrow line that was the difference. This night, despite somewhat of a rocky beginning, it was the line of Eriksson, Ott and center Jamie Benn, who added an assist, which put Dallas over the top.
“In the first two periods, we’re trying to get some chemistry going, in the first two I didn’t think they were that good. But they got going,” said Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan of the line in his home debut. “But I thought in the third, they got going and they were instrumental in turning the tide for us.”
“Once we settled things down after the first, we were able to run the things we’ll be running the whole year,” said Ott. “We followed the system we’ve been working on. The little detail things are going to add up. If we’re great at those, we’ll be a competitive team. It took us a little time to get going but throughout the game we got better.”
In addition to the Benn line, the Stars received a strong, gritty performance from a grinding line consisting of Colton Sceviour, Jake Dowell and Tomas Vincour. Sceviour, who played the last two years for Gulutzan at AHL Texas, along with one game last year in Dallas, scored two goals, while Dowell and Vincour contributed two assists each.
“I just wanted to go out there and work hard and see what happened and to score one goal was pretty good and then to get two was great,” said Sceviour, the Stars’ fourth-round selection (112th overall) in the 2007 Entry Draft. “They’re easy guys to play with. We just wanted to keep the game simple, get pucks in deep, finish checks and get pucks to the net and that’s exactly what we did and I just happened to benefit off that tonight, so it was really good.”
“I thought that line was our best line on the night, Dowell, Vin and Sceviour,” said Gulutzan. “They worked real hard, they went to the net, they created some second-chance opportunities, they scored, they made a couple of nice plays. I thought they played real well.”
The contest also marked the NHL debut of highly-touted young netminder Jack Campbell, who came on in relief of starter Kari Lehtonen in the second period and had some shaky moments and some good ones.
“It was so much fun, it was even more fun than I could have drawn it up,” said Campbell, who made 12 saves on 13 shots in 30:42 for the win. “Obviously, the team had a great effort tonight. I’m sitting next to Sheldon Souray and I remember just two years ago, I was playing him in my video game, so it’s pretty cool to take advice from him throughout the game. In was an unbelievable experience and I’m just really honored they allowed me to play tonight.”
Entering the final period tied 2-2, the Stars took the lead just 22 seconds in, on a goal from Jamie Benn’s older brother, Jordie Benn, who spent last season at AHL Texas. After receiving a nifty pass from the right half-boards by Eriksson, Benn drifted alone into the high slot before unleashing a blazing wrist shot that beat Colorado goaltender Trevor Cann over the blocker.
Just seconds afterwards, the Stars almost went up by two, as Radek Dvorak sped in on a breakaway, but Cann stopped his wrist shot.
The Stars went up 4-2 with 7:40 remaining when Eriksson connected on a power play. Ott made the play, pulling a Morrow-like move by receiving a pass to the right of the crease and slipping a no-look backhand pass behind him in front, where Eriksson popped it between Cann’s pads and in.
Ott then iced it with 1:06 remaining by depositing a shot from center ice into the empty net, a play made possible by a strong save from Campbell on Chuck Kobasew just seconds before.
The Stars dug themselves a humongous hole when they found themselves down two men for over two minutes early in the first period. Following Jamie Benn’s double minor penalty for high-sticking at 4:58, Vernon Fiddler’s slashing call at 5:45 gave Colorado a 5-on-3 power play and the Avalanche capitalized on it less than a minute later.
With several Avs crowding around Lehtonen, rookie defenseman Tyson Barrie unleashed a scorching wrist shot that beat the screened netminder over the shoulder at 6:41.
“We were slow out of the gates tonight,” Gulutzan said. “I didn’t know if we had to bench Bennie early there or not, but he took a couple of penalties and it puts you back 5-on-3 and they got that goal. I think there was 14 seconds left in that first kill there, so that sets you back a bit.”
The Stars still had to kill off another 1:04 of 5-on-3 after that, but did so successfully, although they almost surrendered another goal soon afterwards. Colorado’s Luke Walker stole the puck from recent Stars’ first-round draft pick Jamie Oleksiak at the Avalanche blue line and raced in on a breakaway, but Lehtonen made a nice pad save on his point-blank wrist shot.
Dallas then tied it up at 1-1 on Sceviour’s goal at 10:11. Completing a nifty give-and-go passing play, Sceviour received a slick backhand pass out of the left corner from Jake Dowell while cruising through the slot and his wrist shot found the back of the net.
“I heard Dowell calling for it, so I threw it down to him and just turned the corner to try and get to the front of the net,” Sceviour explained. “And I turned around and the puck is just sitting there. He laid a nice one for me to just skate right into and then I basically just closed my eyes and shot it and it went in.”
Overall, the Stars were outshot 11-4 through one period, but still emerged tied.
Dallas nearly took the lead 6:02 into the second when Mark Fistric’s slap shot from the left point slithered through Avalanche starting netminder Calvin Pickard and rolled tantalizingly to the goal line before Kyle Quincey managed to clear it out of harm’s way.
The Stars did take the 2-1 lead at 9:18 on Sceviour’s second of the night. Dowell fed a pass out of the left corner to Vincour at the lip of the crease, and although Pickard made a nice save on Vincour, Sceviour barged in and swiped the loose rebound home.
“That was one of those hard-work goals where we all worked together and we were able to just bang it in,” Sceviour said.
Following that goal, just before the game’s midway point, both teams changed goaltenders, with Campbell coming in for Lehtonen and Trevor Cann replacing Pickard.
Campbell’s first few minutes in an NHL crease were a bit of a challenge, as he was whistled for a delay-of-game penalty at 10:35 for shooting the puck into the crowd. Campbell admitted nerves contributed to the mistake.
“I don’t like to make excuses. It was nerves and a little bit of a rolling puck,” said Campbell. “I just didn’t play it too good.”
Then on the ensuing power play, Brad Malone scored the tying goal for Colorado. Barrie controlled the puck in the left circle, then slid an off-speed wrist shot in front, where it deflected off Malone’s skate and through Campbell’s pads at 12:09.
Colorado almost went ahead 3-2 with 47 seconds left in the period when Walker raced into the right face-off circle on the rush and fired a wrist shot that beat Campbell short side, but clanked high off the goal post.
The Stars remain at home and will face the St. Louis Blues at the American Airlines Center on Saturday (7 pm start) in their next pre-season contest.
“Our structure is going to be our backbone,” Ott said. “Our competitive guys in our lineup will push the pace. Every single night you’ll have a tough game against the Dallas Stars.”
- Dowell, playing his second pre-season game, now has three assists total to lead the Stars in scoring. He also recorded a +2 plus/minus rating.
- Blueline hopeful Philip Larsen led the Stars in ice time, logging 22:26 on the night, followed closely by his defense partner, Sheldon Souray, who skated 22:11.
- After compiling just 52 penalty minutes in 69 games all of last season, Jamie Benn picked up six in the first five minutes of his first pre-season game.
- Center Vernon Fiddler made his first appearance in a Stars sweater and was strong on face-offs, as advertised, winning 11 of 14 draws.
“We knew that going in, that he was strong in the circle,” said Gulutzan. “He was 79 percent. You can see the details of his game are very good offensively, he can read well defensively, he’s very sound. That’s a big plus for us.”
- Lehtonen stopped 16-of-17 shots he faced in 29:15.
- The Dallas power play unit, which went 2-for-2 in Tuesday’s 6-3 win over Montreal, was 1-for-6 in this one.