ANAHEIM – The Stars certainly wouldn’t be off to their best start in five years without the stellar play of Kari Lehtonen, but the line of Jamie Benn, Steve Ott, and Loui Eriksson have contributed mightily to the early-season surge.
Eriksson scored twice and posted an assist, Benn had a pair of helpers, and Mike Ribeiro also scored to support Lehtonen’s 35 saves in Dallas’ 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night at Honda Center.
The win was the Stars’ fifth straight, and their 6-1-0 record is the best beginning to a campaign since 2006-07.
“Every point we can get is huge,” defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “Early in the season we have to take advantage of that, and making sure we’re ready to play every night. We’re rolling four lines, and we’re just trying to get on top of things right now.”
Lehtonen was once again on top of things, winning his career-high sixth straight, while the triumvirate of Benn, Ott, and Eriksson combined for six points after registering four combined points in Dallas’ 3-2 win over Columbus on Tuesday.
After not scoring in the first two games, Eriksson has hit the back of the net five times in the past five games. Benn, meanwhile, has five points in his last three games, and Ott extended his points streak to six games with an assist on Eriksson’s first goal of the game that gave the Stars a 1-0 lead just 13 seconds into the contest.
“I think we’re playing better and better,” Eriksson said about his linemates. “Benn’s an unbelievable player, and a really good two-way player. He gets a lot of good stuff.”
“There’s still some internal battling on who is the first line,” coach Glen Gulutzan joked. “I think you have a real good team when you have those battles.”
What’s been par for the course so far this young season -- the Stars were once again outshot -- didn’t matter with Lehtonen providing the spark between the pipes. He was under siege in the second period when the Ducks outshot Dallas by a 12-5 margin while taking over the territorial edge, then preserved the win with another 14 blocks in the final 20 minutes.
“We’re getting used to it,” captain Brenden Morrow said about Lehtonen’s heroics. “He’s been huge for us. We’ve been getting outshot, sometimes double on some nights, but he’s been there. We’re a team in transition, we have new coaches and six or seven new faces, and this success early in the season are things we can build on. Beating a team like this, down the road, is a thing we can fall back on.”
Dallas was also solid again killing penalties, erasing a key infraction with less than five minutes left in the third period when Nicklas Grossman was whistled for interference. Lehtonen’s best stop during the two-minute span was a chest save with no rebound on Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler’s blast from the left circle as the penalty time had expired.
“Kari’s doing such a good job in the net for us, and making some really good and key saves for us,” Eriksson said. “That’s always nice to have that confidence in him, and then score on the opportunities we get.”
Corey Perry scored, and Jonas Hiller finished with 16 saves for the Ducks, who came in riding a four-game winning streak and having won three of the last four meetings against the Stars.
Up by just a goal, the Stars stretched their advantage when Eriksson notched his second of the game, and fifth of the season, just 1:42 into the third. Benn took the puck away from Anaheim defenseman Francis Beauchemin in the right corner before quickly feeding Eriksson in front. Eriksson promptly shoveled the crisp pass in past Hiller for a 3-1 lead.
Down by a pair of goals after the first 20 minutes, the Ducks closed the gap to 2-1 on Perry’s power-play goal that came with just .1 second left in the middle frame. From the high slot Fowler’s slap shot went wide, but the puck ricocheted off the end boards to the slot, where Perry wristed it in just before the horn sounded to end the period.
Eriksson’s goal 13 ticks into the game staked the Stars to a 1-0 lead. Ott dumped the puck in around the boards on the left wing, and Eriksson was the first to get to it a couple of feet from the goal line in the right corner. He threw a backhand to the front of the net, and the puck deflected in off Beauchemin.
“That’s important on the road, to give us a little energy,” Gulutzan said. “They had a good push in the second, but I thought we did a really good job in the third.”
Ribeiro made it 2-0 with 12:20 left in the first. The slick center lugged the puck into the Anaheim zone before sending a pass from the left circle to the center of the blue line, where Alex Goligoski let rip with a one-timer. The puck squirted through Hiller's pads and was lying in the crease before Ribeiro tapped it in for his first of the year.
The Ducks had a goal waved off in the second period with 15:43 left when Fowler’s shot from the left point went in, but only because Perry interfered with Lehtonen. Perry was handed a minor penalty on the play.
The play epitomized what the Ducks were trying to do all night, as they continually tried to drive the net and get a player in tight on Lehtonen, who just shrugged off the traffic and body bumps.
“Today was a step forward on the way we want to play, and what we need to do to put ourselves in position to have success,” Gulutzan said. “It’s a process and we’re getting better and better, but we still have a ways to go.”
The Stars will continue their four-game road trip on Saturday in Los Angeles against the Kings (9:30 p.m., TXA-21). The Kings won their third straight on Thursday with a 2-0 shutout victory at Phoenix.