DALLAS – After their elimination from playoff contention on Thursday, the Dallas Stars turned their eye towards the future Saturday night.
With four young rookies in the lineup, including Scott Glennie and Brenden Dillon making their NHL debuts, the Stars’ future looks pretty bright, although they still dropped their season finale 3-2 to the playoff-bound St. Louis Blues at the American Airlines Center.
The Stars ended the 2011-12 season on 3-9-0 slide, including a five-game losing streak, during which they were outscored 18-6.
But despite the defeat, in which the Blues scored two third period power plays, this one gave a glimpse of hope for the future, as their cadre of youngsters all acquitted themselves well.
“It was a different game, but I thought we competed hard, and I thought some of our young guys showed pretty well,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “The power play was a little bit of the difference and one bounce was a little bit of difference. I thought we had more quality chances early, I thought they had more possession or scramble chances, but if we could have capitalized, it would have been different.”
Slightly more experienced rookies Ryan Garbutt and Philip Larsen scored the Stars’ goals, while rookie backup netminder Richard Bachman sparkled in goal, making 33 saves and being named the game’s second star.
Dillon, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman, played a particularly noteworthy game, firing a game-high six shots on goal and delivering four hits to tie center Jamie Benn for the team lead.
“I thought his game was strong,” said Gulutzan, who coached Dillon at AHL Texas at the end of last season. “I can see he’s made strides from when I had him a year ago. I think he’s going to be right around it come September.”
“It was good, I think as the game went on, I felt really good,” said the 21-year-old Dillon. “I was moving the puck, joining the play, had a couple of hits and stuff, it went well.”
The Stars twice battled back from two-goal deficits in the third period, but were unable to get the equalizer before time ran out.
“You want to go out swinging and we’re playing for the fans and each other in there,” Benn said. “It’s a tough game to play, but we battled and couldn’t get it done.”
“They kept battling and those goals weren’t pretty goals,” Gulutzan. “They were getting to the net, if we could have tidied up our turnovers, we could have won. Things are fragile and this league is a tough league and I’ve said that a lot. You have to play a certain way night-in, night-out to get into the playoffs. Resiliency is certainly one of them.”
As for Bachman, getting his first start in 11 games and his first at home since Jan. 7, it was another outstanding performance that further entrenched him in the Stars’ future plans.
“He was very good,” Gulutzan said of Bachman. “I think he’s proven himself on the big stage, and I think he’s proven himself in a tough game to play like tonight, that he’s a real mentally strong, capable goalie.”
Trailing 1-0 entering the final period, the Stars went down by two at 7:54 when Alex Steen scored on a power play. With Loui Eriksson in the penalty box for tripping, Steen fired a wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle that whizzed past a screened Bachman and inside the left post.
The Stars got one back just 1:15 later on Garbutt’s second goal. Defenseman Jordie Benn, Jamie’s older brother who was skating in his third NHL game, carried the puck into the St. Louis zone and fed a cross-ice pass to Eriksson in the slot. Blues netminder Jaroslav Halak made the initial save, but Garbutt charged into the crease and jammed the loose rebound through Halak and just over the line.
“He’s a hungry guy and he’s making a bid for himself to stay in the NHL, so I thought he was real strong tonight,” Gulutzan said of Garbutt.
Over the next several minutes, Bachman made a number of outstanding saves, first denying Andrew McDonald’s wrist shot on a 2-on-1 rush at 9:46, then turning aside Chris Stewart’s point-blank shot from in front at 11:11.
The Blues went ahead 3-1 at 13:44 when David Perron scored his 21st of the year. Following an Eriksson turnover in the neutral zone, Perron raced back into the Dallas zone and launched a sizzling wrist shot from the right face-off circle that beat Bachman high over the blocker.
Larsen got the Stars back within one with just 3:04 remaining, rifling a high wrist shot from the top of the right circle that appeared to change directions in front and beat Halak over the shoulder.
Pressing for the equalizer, the Stars pulled Bachman for an extra attacker with 55 seconds left, but were unable to get another one past Halak. Their best opportunity came with seven seconds on the clock when Trevor Daley launched a one-timer from the right point that was deflected in front by captain Brenden Morrow, but just went wide of the right post.
Despite three consecutive power plays through the first half of the opening period, the Stars were unable to generate much offense, holding a 3-2 edge in shots on goal through the first 12-plus minutes.
The first legitimate scoring chance of the game came 2:23 into the second period, when Adam Burish raced in on a breakaway, but Halak made a nice pad save on his wrist shot from the slot.
Garbutt fired a wrist shot from the high slot at 5:18 , but Halak again made a nice pad stop.
Garbutt then got mixed up in a battle behind the Blues’ net with Barret Jackman and it turned into a fight at 5:34.
St. Louis snapped the scoreless tie at 11:05 on a fluky goal that could almost be seen as a microcosm of the Stars’ season. Kris Russell fired a sharp-angle wrist shot from low in the left face-off circle, and Larsen got his stick on it, deflecting it high in the air. Bachman lost sight of it and it bounced down in the crease right behind him and rolled over the goal line.
Dillon had a strong shift late in the period with the clubs skating 4-on-4, firing three shots on goal within an 11-second span, but Halak denied him each time.
This completes the Stars’ 2011-12 season, a year full of ups and downs and twists and turns, but ultimately ending in disappointment, with a tinge of hope for next year.
“I certainly do (feel better days are ahead),” Gulutzan said following his rookie year as coach. “I think anything you do in life, even outside this game, it’s not really so much where you are but what direction you’re heading, and I know I’ve learned a ton. I can be better and we all have to adopt that motto, players, coaches. We’re heading there. We didn’t get there this year. We could have gotten a little closer, but some of that stuff, we can tidy up and some of those mistakes, we won’t make a second time. Experience is a valuable thing.”
- Special teams once again played a key role in the Stars’ demise. Their power play finished 0-for-4 on the night, ending the year on a dreadful 1-for-29 dry spell over the last nine games of the year. That dropped the club’s PP unit to dead last in the NHL, the first time the Stars have finished last in the league in that category in over 40 years of franchise history.
- Their penalty kill surrendered two goals on five chances to finish the season on a sub-par 22-for-30 stretch, which followed an outstanding span in which they’d killed 41-of-43 over the previous 13 contests.
- Larsen’s goal leaves him with a strong finish to the year, having compiled four points (two goals, two assists) over the final seven outings, following a stretch of 23 games in which he’d recorded just one assist.
- With an assist on Garbutt’s goal, Eriksson finished the year with a team-leading 71 points, on 26 goals and 45 assists, which equals Mike Ribeiro for the club high.
- Dillon and Glennie became the fifth and sixth Stars to make their NHL debuts this season.