CHICAGO – Starting off the season with back-to-back games in different cities appeared to neutralize the adrenaline surge for the Dallas Stars in their second game of the year.
In their second straight matchup against the club that edged them out for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot last spring, the Stars were unable to keep up with the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night and dropped a 5-2 decision at the United Center.
The Stars, who got into their hotels at around 3:00 am Saturday morning, fall to 1-1-0 on the young season, but that can be viewed different ways, depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist.
Obviously, it’s disappointing to lose, and the Stars were outscored 6-4 in the two-game set, needing an outstanding performance from Kari Lehtonen on Friday to emerge victorious at home. On the other hand, Dallas can take solace in the fact they came out even with one of the league favorites this year, which won a Stanley Cup in 2010, in their home opener and never quit, battling back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits to keep the result in doubt until a late empty netter sealed it for Chicago.
“I thought that one of the most disappointing things that you can do is to get outworked, and I thought we got outworked a little bit,” said Stars rookie coach Glen Gulutzan of his first career NHL defeat. “We started good and they got that power play goal (in the first period) and after that, I thought that we should have had a little more dig-in, and we didn’t get it until the third and by that time, it’s too late against a real good team.”
Dallas received goals from two gritty players, further emphasizing Gulutzan’s goal for the club to be hard to play against, as Steve Ott and Vernon Fiddler each found the back of the net.
Andrew Raycroft got the start in goal, giving Lehtonen a well-deserved night off, and he was solid, making 26 saves, although he might have liked to have one back.
“There is a process to this, we knew we weren’t going to win 82 in a row,” said Raycroft, making his first start since last Feb. 19. “You always know you’re going to have to weather a bit of a storm any night in this building, let alone a home opener. In saying that, they had the same travel that we did. It’s not an excuse, we have to come out with a little more. We have to keep working and play our game a little better. I think we just got off our page a little bit, and that’s the frustrating thing, but we just have to keep getting better at it.”
Trailing just 1-0 after the first period, despite getting outshot 10-2, the Stars were back on their heels again early in the second. The Blackhawks were up 18-4 in shots by the 7:39 mark, when Dave Bolland, who did not play in the season opener the night before, struck to make it 2-0. On the rush into the Dallas zone, Bolland just launched a quick snap shot about 15 feet inside the blue line and it somehow found its way over Raycroft’s shoulder into the upper far corner.
“I thought he made some really good saves early. I don’t know what happened on that long shot, maybe it was deflected, but I thought he was okay,” Gulutzan said of Raycroft’s performance. “You come into these home openers like this, and that second goal kind of stung, but early on, we weren’t good enough to win for him anyway.”
Chicago pushed their advantage to three at 11:22 of the second. As a Dallas power play expired, Jonathan Toews stepped out of the penalty box and received a long pass from Brent Seabrook at the Dallas blue line and raced in on a breakaway, slipping a wrist shot from the slot between Raycroft’s legs.
The Stars answered just 1:13 later, though, as Fiddler collected his first goal (and point) in a Dallas sweater. Executing a nice give and go with Adam Burish, Fiddler led the rush into the Chicago zone, dropped a pass back to Burish in the left circle, then received a return pass and fired a sharp-angle shot that somehow squeezed through Crawford and the post.
Later in the period, Chicago had an opportunity to restore that three-goal lead when a slashing penalty by Ott left the Stars down two men for a full 50 seconds. Some expert penalty killing by Ribeiro, Sheldon Souray and Trevor Daley defused the situation without even allowing a good scoring chance.
Down 3-1 entering the final period, the Stars carried over some of the momentum they’d earned late in the second, but it was the Blackhawks who got that all-important next goal when Patrick Sharp connected at 5:10. Racing into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 rush, Sharp opted to shoot, unleashing a blazing wrist shot from the right circle that beat Raycroft over the shoulder.
Dallas kept pressing, though, and Loui Eriksson nearly cut into the deficit at 7:45 when he received a cross-ice pass from Jamie Benn and launched a quick wrist shot from the slot, but Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford made a big save.
The Stars then benefited from some undisciplined activity by Sharp, who cross-checked Fiddler at center ice during a stoppage in play to give Dallas a power play that led to Souray’s first goal as a Star at 10:07. Seconds after booming a slap shot from the right point into Chicago forward Marcus Kruger, the puck bounced back to Souray, who then rifled a quick snap shot that appeared to be deflected by Ott, who was jostling in front with Duncan Keith, and it found its way past Crawford for the Stars’ first PP goal of the season.
On his next shift, Sharp then took another penalty, knocking down Fiddler again nowhere near the puck, but this time, the Stars were unable to make the Blackhawks pay.
Their best opportunity late came with 2:12 remaining in regulation, when Eriksson swept out from behind the Chicago goal and slid a cross-crease pass to Ott at the left side of the crease, but Crawford made the save.
Seconds after the Stars won the ensuing face-off in the Chicago zone, Gulutzan pulled Raycroft for an extra attacker, but after about 20 seconds of sustained pressure, the Stars were unable to keep the puck in, and Bolland ended up scoring into the empty net with 1:46 to go.
“There’s really just five things in my mind and four of them, I can tell you what happened on four of the goals and those things we can clean up,” Gulutzan said of how the Stars will respond to this loss. “It’s four distinct things we can clean up and the fifth one is, we’ve got to put more pucks on net. We’re trying to be too fancy, especially with our third and fourth lines, there’s not many 50-goal guys there, so we need to generate offense by putting pucks at the net. We’ve got to get better at that.”
The Stars did have the game’s first prime scoring chance 5:11 into the opening period when Benn used his speed to create what could be described as a breakaway, but Chicago defenseman Nick Leddy hooked him from behind to nullify the scoring chance. It probably should have been a penalty shot but was instead deemed a two-minute penalty.
Unfortunately for the Stars, captain Brenden Morrow was whistled for tripping immediately following the ensuing face-off to make it 4-on-4 just four seconds later. Following a Michael Ryder hooking penalty, the Blackhawks wound up on the power play and struck for the contest’s first goal at 8:06.
After Stephane Robidas blocked Sharp’s shot from the left face-off circle, the puck bounced right back to Sharp, whose next shot made it through on goal. Raycroft made the save, but with Toews and long-time Star-killer Andrew Brunette both swiping at the loose, bouncing rebound, Brunette managed to make contact and pop it home.
Dallas responded immediately, as just 10 seconds later Ryder drilled a slap shot from the top of the right face-off circle that beat Crawford on the short side, but clanked off the right post.
The 2011-12 season’s first fight occurred at the 9:26 mark, as former Hawk Jake Dowell dropped the gloves with Chicago’s Jamal Mayers.
Trailing 6-0 in shots at this point, the Stars finally got one on net in glorious fashion at 9:54 when Radek Dvorak intercepted Sharp’s pass in the Chicago zone’s left face-off circle and quickly relayed a pass to Ott all alone in front, but Crawford turned aside Ott’s wrist shot.
Chicago nearly went up by two at 11:36 off a quirky bounce. Bolland tried to come out from behind the Dallas net for a stuff attempt at the right post, but Mike Ribeiro deflected the puck up in the air and it looped up and over Raycroft, but ricocheted off the middle of the crossbar. It dropped into the crease, where there was a bit of a scramble for it, but Raycroft managed to smother it.
The Stars’ second shot on goal was another beauty, coming with 2:58 remaining in the period, when the puck found Ribeiro in front of the net, but Crawford denied his slick stick-between-the-legs flip shot attempt.
The Stars don’t get much time to relax after this, as they return home to Dallas in time to face off against Pacific Division rival Phoenix Coyotes on Monday afternoon (please note the odd 5 pm start time!) at the American Airlines Center, completing a season-opening three-games-in-four-nights stretch, each in different cities.
“There’s a lot of new things that we’re learning every day,” Raycroft said. “But that’s the key in this league, you don’t let losses linger and you go out and adjust and get better the next game. This was Game 2 and the idea is to get better for Game 3 and we know we can.”
- Fiddler’s goal was his 60th career goal and first since last Feb. 14 when he was with Phoenix, a span of 25 regular season games.
- Ott, whose goal was the 75th of his NHL career, led the Stars with five shots on goal, and finished with six hits, second on the squad to Robidas’ seven.
- Souray’s assist on Ott’s goal gives him two in two games this year, while Goligoski and Benn each picked up their first assists, but each also scored Friday night to give them two points on the young season as well. Goligoski led the club in ice time for the second straight game, logging 23:32, almost a minute and a half more than Robidas’ 22:06.
- With Lehtonen having started the final 23 games to end last season, Raycroft hadn’t started a game since Feb. 19, and he started just three of the last 39 contests of 2010-11.
- After sitting out the opener while recovering from a minor groin issue, Burish was back in the lineup against his former club and picked up an assist.
- Taking his place on the sidelines was forward Toby Petersen, who was a healthy scratch, as was Krys Barch, who also sat out Friday.