DALLAS – After some inconsistent performances that still resulted in victories, the Dallas Stars finally put a complete effort together and completed their first homestand feeling good about themselves.
With the top line of Mike Ribeiro (three assists), Brenden Morrow (one goal, one assist) and Michael Ryder (one goal, one assist) putting together a dominant performance, the Stars defeated the pesky Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 Saturday night at the American Airlines Center.
The win leaves Dallas 4-1-0 on the young season, and yes, it’s extremely early, but it’s still nice to see the Stars leading the Pacific Division.
With four of those first five coming at home, the Stars posted a perfect 4-0-0 mark in the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center.
“I think we made another small step today in what we kind of need to do to make sure we are developing ourselves as a team that has an identity,” said Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan. “And today, I think we played 60 pretty good minutes.”
“It’s a confident group right now, we like the way we’re going,” said winger Adam Burish. “Especially early on and at home, if you can gather points and you can gather some momentum and feel good about your game going on the road early, that’s the most important thing, feeling confident about your game. After tonight, I think we can finally see that playing the way our coaches want us to play, it works.”
After having been outshot in each of the previous four games, and having to rely on goaltender Kari Lehtonen for at least two of their three previous triumphs, this one was a much more complete performance, with Dallas outshooting Columbus 33-15 on the night.
“We relied a lot on our goaltenders the last few wins, and tonight we finally outshot a team, outchanced a team,” said Morrow, who entered the night with one point, a goal. “Our line, we created some things, had some pressure in the offensive zone, got some breaks on the power play, but I think if you look up and down the lineup, everybody had quality games and we’ll be a tough team to beat if we play like that.”
“I think today shows our players that we have the ability to play a certain way and if we play that way, we’re going to put ourselves in a position to have success every night,” said Gulutzan. “We took a little step towards that today. It’s a step in the right direction.”
In addition to the big line, Dallas also received goals from defenseman Sheldon Souray and Loui Eriksson, while Lehtonen was called upon to make just 13 saves.
But as well as they played, the Stars still had to rally from a 2-1 second period deficit. In the end, though, that top line overwhelmed the Blue Jackets, who remain winless on the season at 0-4-1.
For that trio to get hot is a great sign for the Stars, who were still 3-1-0 in the first four games without significant contributions from any of them.
“We do feel like a lot of that’s going to fall on our line,” Morrow admitted. “It’s nice to get a few tonight and stop gripping the sticks so tight and hopefully they’ll start coming a little easier from now on.”
“They’re starting to mesh a little bit,” said Gulutzan. “I thought Mo and Ribby were really good tonight and Rydes, I was glad to see him get one-and-one there, because sometimes those things can get mental for a goal-scorer, and I think it was good for him to get off the schneid a little bit.”
Despite outshooting the Blue Jackets by a 22-10 margin, the Stars entered the final period tied 2-2.
Dallas began the third much like they finished the second, by applying considerable pressure in the offensive zone, and the hard work paid off when Souray connected for his first goal as a Star just 1:36 in. Souray unleashed his bomb of a slap shot from the left point and it sailed high past Morrow’s screen in front and over the shoulder of Columbus netminder Steve Mason.
“He bombs it and you got to have a brass set to stand in front of that shot, they’re coming in pretty hot,” said Morrow, joking that he saw his life flash before his eyes as the puck whizzed past. “We got lucky, it had eyes, it was up and down and found a hole. I don’t like standing in front of them, but I know they don’t either.”
It seemed like that goal woke up the Blue Jackets a bit, and Lehtonen had to come up with a big save at 5:23 on Jeff Carter’s wrist shot from the slot.
Trevor Daley then made an outstanding defensive play on a Columbus power play at 7:24, when he got his stick in the way of what would have been an open net shot from Rick Nash at the left side of the crease.
Dallas then increased the advantage to two on a power play at 13:52 when Ryder collected his first goal as a Star. After receiving Morrow’s cross-crease pass, Ryder, standing just off the goal line to the left of the net, fired a wrist shot from an almost impossible angle just inside the far post.
“We were giving Ryder a hard time, I think everybody jumped up really high when he scored that goal,” said Burish of Ryder, who entered the day pointless. “They were dominant tonight. It was funny, before a face-off tonight, a ref said to me, ‘How good is that line? How about Ribeiro, the way he’s passing the puck? I could play on his wing and score 20 playing with that guy.’ They were the best line on the ice tonight.”
Dallas fell behind early, as the Blue Jackets struck on their first power play of the night 6:46 into the contest. With Nicklas Grossman in the penalty box for hooking, it took Columbus, which opened the season 0-for-20 on the power play coming into the game, 40 seconds to break the schneid. Fedor Tyutin’s pass from the left point was re-directed twice by Vinny Prospal in the slot, once off his stick and then off his skate, before slipping between Lehtonen’s pads.
The Stars evened it up at 11:25 when Morrow notched his second goal of the young season off a sweet set-up from Ribeiro. After collecting the puck behind the Columbus net, Ribeiro backed into the left corner before feeding a pinpoint pass through the crease to Morrow on the far side for a one-timer into a gaping net.
“I know Ribby’s going to make that pass and more times than not, I’m probably not going to make that pass to Rydes, I just got lucky today,” Morrow said of the almost identical plays on his goal and the one he set up Ryder on in the third period. “You just feel where the place is to go, and sometimes they work.”
On their own power play soon afterwards, the Stars kept the momentum going and controlled the puck in the Blue Jackets’ zone for nearly the entire two minutes, peppering Mason with three shots, including a bomb from Sheldon Souray at the right point at 14:05.
Overall, the Stars outshot Columbus 11-4 in the first period and entered the second tied 1-1.
Columbus seized back the lead just 1:13 in on a breakaway goal by Alexandre Giroux, who was just recalled from AHL Springfield and was playing his first NHL game of the year. After splitting the Dallas defense, Giroux raced in alone and roofed a quick snap shot over Lehtonen’s glove and in.
Eriksson’s third goal in as many games tied it again at 9:21. Steve Ott passed out of the left corner to Eriksson in front, and even though he was covered pretty well by Columbus defenseman Marc Methot, Eriksson whacked at the puck, which pinballed off Mason’s outstretched stick, off the inside of his leg and through the five-hole.
Mason came up with a couple of big saves later in the period to keep it tied, denying Ribeiro’s wrist shot from the left circle with 4:25 left and then stopping Jamie Benn’s point-blank chance with 1:24 remaining.
“We knew we were getting chances, we were creating lots in their end and the majority of the play was in their end,” said center Vernon Fiddler, who was 8-2 on face-offs, of the fact that Dallas was still tied after two despite outplaying the Blue Jackets. “We just knew we had to stick with it.”
After sweeping their three-game homestand, the Stars now head out on the road for the next four, starting with another battle against the Blue Jackets Tuesday in Columbus (6 pm start, FSSW) to complete the home-and-home series.
“These points are as important as the ones in March, the points count the same in the standings,” said Gulutzan. “These games are very important. Our week now on the road is going to be a good test for us mentally, to see exactly what we’re made of. I like the way this ended off, because I think we’ve got a day to soak it in, we’ve got a day to practice and get geared back up and we go to Columbus and we try to duplicate what we did here.”
- Ribeiro’s three assists leave him with a team-leading five points (all assists). His first period assist on Morrow’s goal was his 500th career point.
- Eriksson now has goals in three straight contests.
- Ott’s assist on Eriksson’s goal extends his point streak to four games, during which he’s totaled four points (one goal, three assists).
- Souray’s goal was his first as a Star and the 97th of his career. He now has four points on the year (one goal, three assists), after firing a game-high eight shots on goal.
- Benn’s assist on Eriksson’s goal was his 100th career point to become the youngest Dallas Star player to ever reach that milestone at 22 years, 89 days. Morrow had set the previous mark at 23 years, 46 days. Benn also reached 100 points in his 156th game, tying former Star Jere Lehtinen for second-fastest, just three short of Jussi Jokinen’s 153 games.
- Defenseman Stephane Robidas topped the Stars in ice time, logging 23:21 while delivering four hits, tied for the club lead with Ott and Ribeiro.
- Defenseman Adam Pardy, who missed the first four games with a rib injury, returned to the lineup, making his Stars debut paired up with Goligoski.
- Sitting out as healthy scratches were winger Krys Barch, the recently acquired Eric Nystrom, and defenseman Mark Fistric.
- The Stars honored long-time Dallas Police Deputy Chief Craig Miller during the second period. Chief Miller is retiring from the Dallas Police Department and has been a fixture at Stars games dating back to the early ‘90s at Reunion Arena. Miller, a valuable part of the team in the club’s overall security, traffic and parking efforts, was presented with a personalized Stars jersey in honor of his service over the years by Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk.
- After going 1-for-4 on the power play, Dallas has now scored extra-man goals in consecutive games and are now 3-for-23 on the season overall.
- The win improves the Stars’ all-time record against Columbus to 28-8-5, including a 15-4-2 mark at home.