Stars 3, Blues 2
Saturday, 09.24.2011 / 10:02 PM
It may only be pre-season, but so far, things are looking very optimistic for the Dallas Stars.
Receiving goals from Michael Ryder
, rookie Matt Fraser
and Raymond Sawada
, as well as strong goaltending from both NHL netminders, the Dallas Stars defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-2 Saturday night at the American Airlines Center.
It was the Stars’ third straight exhibition triumph, leaving them a perfect 3-0-0 while outscoring their opponents 14-7.
While it may be a bit too early to get excited, clearly, the process of the team adjusting to new head coach Glen Gulutzan’s system has been progressing smoothly.
“Our game’s coming together, so we’re happy with that,” said Gulutzan. “The players that we’ve had in camp here have really bought in. There’s always going to be wrinkles and room for improvement, but I like the way our game is coming together. The biggest thing is whether the guys buy in or not and they’re in. We just have to have some success, and then they’ll be full in.”
For a player like Sawada, whose goal early in the third period stood up as the game-winner, the familiarity of playing 117 games over the last two seasons for Gulutzan at AHL Texas has positively influenced his pre-season performance.
“Definitely having the familiarity with Gully is really nice, we’re playing really similar systems to what we played the last two years,” said Sawada, who has also played 11 games in Dallas over the past three years. “It gives us the opportunity to just focus on our play and not on the systems because we’re already familiar with it.”
Another roster hopeful really making a name for himself is the 21-year-old Fraser, who has now scored in each of his pre-season appearances. Never drafted, Fraser signed with the Stars as a free agent November 17, 2010 and is coming off a season in which he completed his junior career with a WHL championship with Kootenay, leading the playoffs with 17 goals in 19 games.
“Any time you can help out with the team to get a win, it’s a big confidence-booster, I guess,” said Fraser, who skated most of the night alongside first-liners Ryder and Mike Ribeiro
, of his second period goal. “It’s still nerve-wracking, but it’s pretty easy to play when you’re nervous, you just let the adrenaline take over and turn your brain off and play. When you’re playing with two guys like Ryder and Ribeiro, you just find the open areas and keep your stick on the ice.”
“I didn’t think he looked out of place on that line, that’s a pretty good pair of hockey players he was with, NHL players, and he did good for himself,” said Gulutzan. “He’s a quality individual. He had a real good Traverse City (prospect tournament prior to training camp), he’s had a good pre-season for us.”
had another strong showing in goal for Dallas, stopping all 11 shots he faced in 30:15 and being named the game’s third star despite only playing the first period and a half. In two pre-season appearances, he’s now surrendered just one goal on 28 shots and that was on a 5-on-3 disadvantage Thursday night.
“Of course, you want it to go this way, but there’s always that uncertainty when you play your first games, where you’re really at, but so far so good,” acknowledged Lehtonen. “Hopefully, the next game, I think I’m going to play the full 60 minutes, so that’s another good challenge to stay fresh and keep your mind in it for 60 minutes. I’m looking forward to that, it’s the next step.”
Backup Andrew Raycroft
was impressive as well, turning aside 18-of-20 shots in 29:45 of work, including 14-of-15 in the third period. Overall, Gulutzan is happy with his goaltending tandem.
“I thought (Kari) was real good, made big saves,” said Gulutzan. “I thought Razor made some big saves for us, too. Both guys. I know at the end of the day, we’re getting the goaltending we need. We can do a few things better, but our goaltending is good.”
Leading 2-1 heading into the final period, the Stars gave up the first scoring chance of the third just 1:07 in when a turnover from Fraser inside his own zone led to a point-blank snap shot from the right face-off circle by Alexander Steen, but Raycroft made the stop.
The Stars then increased their lead to 3-1 on Sawada’s goal at 2:10. Capping off a strong shift of offensive zone time, Sawada received a pass from the right point by Maxime Fortunus
, turned and flung a low wrist shot from the top of the right circle on goal, beating Blues goaltender Brian Elliott between the pads.
Raycroft made a nice save to preserve the two-goal lead with 5:19 remaining in regulation, after Philip McRae split the defense pair of Alex Goligoski
and Brenden Dillon
to come in alone.
The Blues pulled their goaltender with 2:35 left, but had to put Elliott back in with 1:40 to go when Chris Stewart was whistled for interference, which seemed to end any threat of a comeback.
But an unfortunate turnover at center ice by Goligoski led to a St. Louis rush, where Andy McDonald left a drop pass for Steen, who fired a quick wrist shot past Raycroft with 22.9 seconds on the clock to make it a one-goal game.
A last-ditch effort by the Blues to tie it almost succeeded, but McDonald, starting at an open net at the left side of the crease, fanned on a one-timer attempt just as the final buzzer sounded.
True to form, Gulutzan saw that scary ending as a good learning tool.
“They had a really good push on and we had that power play and you’d think that would maybe seal it away, but 5-on-5, we made a little turnover,” Gulutzan said. “I told the players, we’re going to be in these situations when the regular season comes and we’d rather learn from them now than when there’s two points on the line. If you don’t mistakes, you can’t grow and learn, so it’s a good lesson for us. We’re going to get better at protecting leads at the end and are going to have to get used to playing in tight games. It’s just the way it is with the way we’re going to play.”
Dallas had the contest’s first scoring chance, just 1:17 in, when Ribeiro’s wrist shot from the right face-off circle was deflected in front by Ryder, but Elliott made the save.
And it wouldn’t be a pre-season game without a fight, with new Stars enforcer Eric Godard
dropping the gloves with St. Louis’ Kyle Hagel at 8:47.
The Stars struck first just 10 seconds into their first power play of the night, as Ryder notched his second goal of the pre-season at 10:31 off of a beautiful set-up from Loui Eriksson
. Stationed just next to the right goalpost, Eriksson slid a nifty through the crease to Ryder at the bottom of the left circle for a sharp-angle one-timer that Elliott had no chance on.
Lehtonen maintained the Stars’ one-goal lead when Patrik Berglund sped in on a breakaway with 4:28 to go in the period, getting enough of his pad on Berglund’s deke attempt to deflect the puck just wide of the left post.
“I kind of expected him to shoot because he had two or three guys chasing him really close,” Lehtonen said. “Rarely guys try to deke at that point, they just try to get the shot, so he made a nice move. I was a little lucky there, because I didn’t get sideways there the way I wanted.”
The Stars made it 2-0 just past the midway point of the second period, when Fraser connected for his second goal of the pre-season at 10:15. After some sustained pressure cycling the puck in the Blues zone by Fraser, Vernon Fiddler
and Sawada, Fiddler curled out from behind the net on his backhand into the left circle before putting a backhand shot on goal. Elliott made the save but he left a rebound in front that Fraser pounced on, swiping it home.
“Fidds made a great play down low to bring the puck to the net, and I was just kind of hanging out at the side of the net,” Fraser explained. “He came out on his backhand and threw it off the pad and I just whacked it in.”
The Stars changed goalies after that, with Raycroft coming in for Lehtonen.
It took St. Louis just 1:38 to find the back of the net, as McDonald scored at 11:52. After Raycroft made a nice save on Berglund’s one-timer from the high slot, he looked behind him, not sure where the puck went, but McDonald corralled it in the right circle, spun and fired it home before Raycroft could slide across the crease.
The Stars head out on the road for a few days, beginning Sunday at Colorado (7 pm start), where they’ll face the Avalanche for the second time in four days and then travel to Florida for a Tuesday night game.
Gulutzan expects the Stars to trim down their roster significantly after that Florida game, even though AHL Texas opens its training camp on Monday and most of the cuts will wind up there.
“We’re going to sidestep Monday a little bit,” Gulutzan said. “You get into that 28, 30 player mark and you get awkward numbers for practice, so we’re going to have a good practice on Monday, put a game team together for Tuesday and then on Tuesday night, we’re going to re-evaluate where we are.”
- Ryder now has two goals and one assist in his two pre-season games, while linemate Ribeiro has one goal and two assists in the same contests.
- Another former AHL Texas player, Colton Sceviour
, had a strong second pre-season game. After scoring two goals on Thursday against Colorado, Sceviour picked up an assist on Sawada’s goal.
- Two other AHLers very familiar with Gulutzan also earned assists, as Fortunus collected his second assist in as many games and defenseman Jordie Benn
, who scored a goal Thursday, added his second point of the pre-season.
- Once again, new center Vernon Fiddler
was outstanding on face-offs. After going 11-3 in his first appearance Thursday, Fiddler went 13-7 on draws in this one, far and away the best on the club.
- Defenseman Stephane Robidas
suited up for his first pre-season game and looked good, skating 23:02 and registering one shot on goal and three hits, while blocking a team-high three shots.