ST. LOUIS – Perhaps it took the Dallas Stars a little extra time to shake off the effects of the two-day Christmas break, but several factors contributed to a disappointing 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues Monday night at the Scottrade Center.
Another shaky outing by the Dallas penalty killing unit, which surrendered two goals for the fourth straight contest, didn’t help things, and neither did a somewhat inconsistent performance from rookie goaltender Richard Bachman.
Despite all that, the gritty Stars nearly rallied from a 4-1 third period deficit, with goals from Eric Nystrom and Michael Ryder pulling Dallas to within 4-3 late and giving them a chance to tie it before a St. Louis empty netter in the final minute sealed their fate.
The loss drops Dallas to 5-3-0 in the last eight games and 20-14-1 overall on the season, which is still good for seventh in the Western Conference standings.
Still, in some ways, it was a pretty decent showing against a red-hot Blues team that improved its home record to a stellar 14-3-1 on the year and one that has gone 15-3-4 since former Stars Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock took over behind their bench. St. Louis currently sits fourth in the West.
“Coming on the road against a real good defensive club, I thought we needed to put more pucks on the net,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “Our specialty teams certainly needed to be better. It’s hard to win on the road, especially against a team like this if your specialty teams aren’t good. Some nights when your goalie maybe isn’t as good, then you got to get it from somewhere else and we didn’t get it from those other areas.”
“I think we got out-battled a little bit tonight,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski, who earned an assist and posted a +2 plus/minus rating on the night. “It kind of seemed like they had an extra step all night. They came hard and they were able to establish their game better than we were ours. They’re coming off the Christmas break as well. It’s part of life, you get breaks, you get holidays, you just got to find ways to battle through when you get back to work.”
In addition to Nystrom and Ryder, Mike Ribeiro also found the back of the net for the Stars.
In goal for his eighth consecutive start, Bachman made some outstanding saves but also let in two somewhat questionable goals. Overall, Bachman made 22 saves through two periods before Gulutzan lifted him for Andrew Raycroft, who came in for the third and stopped 11 of 12 shots in his first action since Dec. 8, but was still pinned for the loss.
“There’s no question a couple of those goals, he wishes he had back, but even when he got set in the second, he made some huge saves and we just didn’t respond,” Gulutzan said of Bachman. “We got hemmed in our zone for a minute at the end of that period trying to kill a penalty and we could have got the puck out twice. You don’t want to let anyone off the hook, everyone’s got jobs to do.”
Special teams also continue to haunt the Stars, who went 0-for-2 on the power play. But that wasn’t the problem so much as the penalty killing unit. Following a stellar streak in which they nullified 15 straight opposition power plays over five games and 34-for-36 over 12 contests, the Stars have now been strafed for eight goals on 15 opportunities over the last four outings.
“Our power play, I think they generated more shots on their PK than we did on our power play and they scored two power play goals,” said Gulutzan of the Stars’ power play that managed just one shot.
The Blues entered the day with the NHL’s 30th-ranked power play unit (i.e., dead last), but still went 2-for-2, including a back-breaker by former Star Jason Arnott with less than three seconds remaining in the second period.
“We’ve been giving up far too many goals on the PK lately and we’ve been winning, so it hasn’t really been too glaring,” noted Nystrom, whose goal at 7:57 of the third period pulled Dallas to within 4-2. “It’s just small details, the little things that make a big difference in the game. It’s an inch. You put your stick in one lane and it should be in the other, and that’s where they get the puck moving from side to side - it’s little things like that. And sometimes, you’re rock-solid and you kill off 25 in a row and sometimes, you feel like you can’t stop it from going in the net. It’s a long season.”
“We’ve certainly got to re-visit it and look at it,” Gulutzan said of the PK unit, “because we were real good there for a long stretch and we’ve kind of let a few in, so we’re going to re-look at that, for sure.”
The Blues struck first, connecting on their first power play of the night, when Chris Stewart beat Bachman on the short side at 8:24 of the opening period with a sharp-angle wrist shot from the right corner that the rookie netminder would undoubtedly like to have back.
A couple of defensive zone turnovers left the Stars on the defensive after that, as the Blues fed off the momentum and swarmed the Dallas zone, peppering Bachman with shots, but were unable to break through for another one before the end of the period.
Overall, St. Louis outshot Dallas 9-5 through the first period and entering the second leading 1-0.
The Stars evened things up early in the period, but not before Bachman came up with a sparkling save on Blues captain David Backes’ point-blank wrister at 3:39 following a defensive zone turnover.
On the counter-attack 43 seconds later, Ribeiro tied it 1-1 with his sixth goal of the year at 4:22. On the rush into the St. Louis zone, Ribeiro received a cross-ice pass from Goligoski in the right face-off circle and had to settled the bouncing puck down before firing a quick wrist shot that appeared to surprise Blues netminder Jaroslav Halak and beat him between the pads.
It took the Blues just 1:47 to respond, however, as Bachman surrendered another one that he’d probably like to have back, as St. Louis rookie Adam Cracknell notched his first goal of the season in his first game since being recalled from AHL Peoria earlier in the day. Following a Tom Wandell turnover in the neutral zone, Cracknell led the rush back into the Dallas zone and his wrist shot from the top of the right circle squeezed through Bachman and in.
The Stars nearly evened it up again at 14:29 of the second when Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn sped into the Blues’ zone on a 2-on-1 rush, but Halak made a nice save on Benn’s wrist shot from the right circle.
Another power play goal against just before the end of the period pushed the deficit to two, as Arnott scored his eighth of the year at 19:57. With Philip Larsen feeling shame in the penalty box for high-sticking Arnott accepted a cross-ice pass from Patrik Berglund and drilled a one-timer from the left point past a screened Bachman.
Trailing 3-1 entering the final period, the Stars inserted Raycroft into the contest, but Evgeny Grachev pushed the St. Louis lead to three at 6:37. Raycroft stopped David Perron’s wrist shot from the right circle, but the rebound popped out to the left circle, where Grachev fired it past the diving Raycroft for his first career NHL goal in his 28th game.
Dallas got one back just 1:20 later, though, on Nystrom’s career-high 12th goal of the season at 7:57. On what appeared to be an innocent 2-on-3 rush into the Blues’ zone, Nystrom fired a wrister from the high slot and managed to beat Halak inside the left post.
The game began to get a bit chippy after that and some hard-edged play wound up culminating in a fight between Ott and gritty Blues defender Barret Jackman at 14:25 that expanded to include several other stand-offs.
Perhaps the ruckus fired up the Stars, because just 22 seconds later, Ryder collected his team-leading 14th goal of the season to pull Dallas to within one. After an abandoned stick stripped Berglund of the puck at center ice, Benn transitioned the counter-attack that led to a Stars 2-on-1. Ryder carried into the right circle, and as Blues defenseman Roman Polak dropped down to take away the pass option over to Eriksson, Ryder snapped a quick shot over Halak’s glove and in.
With the Stars pushing for the equalizer, Raycroft came up with a couple of big saves, particularly on Matt D’Agostini’s snap shot from the high slot at 15:42.
With about 1:30 remaining in regulation, the Stars pulled Raycroft for an extra attacker, but weren’t able to muster much of a threat before Stewart found the empty net with 51 seconds to go.
“A team gets up 4-1 and naturally, they let up on the gas pedal a little bit and we just got a couple of breaks that we snapped the puck on net and got a couple of goals off it,” Nystrom said of the near-comeback. “But it’s tough to crawl out of a three-goal hole, it’s tough for any team.”
The Stars return home to prepare for their next contest Thursday night at the American Airlines Center when Columbus visits (7:30 pm start, FSSW). The Blue Jackets, in last place overall in the NHL, lost 4-1 to Chicago Monday and at 9-22-4, own the NHL’s worst record.
There’s a good chance that goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who has missed the past 12 games with a groin injury, will return that night.
“He skated the last few days and he’s very close, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him against Columbus,” Gulutzan said.
- Ryder scored a goal for the fifth consecutive game and pushed his points streak to six, during which he’s amassed eight points (five goals, three assists).
- Nystrom, in his fifth NHL season, set his previous career high with Calgary in 2009-10 when he notched 11 goals in 82 games. In this one, he scored his 12th in game number 30, despite having contributed just one point (a goal) in the previous eight contests.
- Ribeiro’s goal leaves him with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) over his last 11 outings.
- With an assist on Ryder’s goal, Benn now has a six-game scoring streak of his own, having totaled seven points (two goals, five assists) over that span.
- Ott’s assist on Ribeiro’s goal leaves him with six points (one goal, five assists) in his last six games. Ott also led the squad with three hits and was an outstanding 10-5 on face-offs.
- The Stars missed veteran defensemen Stephane Robidas, for the third straight game due to a foot injury, and Sheldon Souray, who left Dallas’ win over Nashville on Friday with an ankle ailment.
- The Dallas power play unit is now 2-for-17 over the last five games and 3-for-25 over the last seven.
1 - 0 STL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 STL
3 - 1 STL
4 - 1 STL
4 - 2 STL
4 - 3 STL