Stars Suddenly Heating Up
In case you haven’t been paying attention over the last week or so, we have a red hot hockey team in our midst here in Big D. The Stars have rattled off three straight wins to open this current five game home-stand by a collective 14-1 goal margin. Saturday night’s shut out win (3-0) over the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins (36-14-2) and their all-star line up was perhaps the most impressive of the season for the men in Victory Green. Kari Lehtonen (20-14-8) pitched his second shutout in the three games, but he was only required to be human with 24 saves, unlike earlier in the season where he was repeatedly asked to bail his teammates out by routinely facing 35-40 shots a game. “There were a couple of good (saves) in the second period when it was 2-0,” Lehtonen said. “After that, we were able to score to make it 3-0. After that, it was quite relaxing. If I let one in, there would still be a two-goal lead.”
Stars center Cody Eakin and linemates Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbut were given the difficult assignment of matching up against the NHL’s leading scorer Sidney Crosby and his left wing Chris Kunitz, who came into the game ranked sixth in the league in scoring, and the trio did a great job of containing the big guns of Pittsburgh and limited the dynamic duo to only 4 and 1 shots respectively. Pittsburgh’s head coach Dan Bylsma tried several different players on the line at right wing but the Eakin line was up to the challenge.
“I thought he played fabulous,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of Eakin. “Through two periods he was great on the draw (winning 11 of 21 faceoffs), and if you can start with the puck it’s even a better place to be. I thought his skating was good, he could have had a couple of goals. That line did a real nice job against Sid and his linemates.”
The Stars goals came from veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar and captain Jamie Benn on power plays, and Rich Peverly at even strength. The Stars power play has recently become a force, scoring for the 7th straight game with the man advantage.
“They capitalized on their power plays. We didn’t,” Crosby said. “We didn’t execute when we got chances. They carried the play for the first two periods.”
Many times when you have a team with so much youth as the Stars have you’ll get inconsistent play, good nights and bad nights, and we saw that through the first few months of this season. But when young (talented) players get acclimated to the speed and intensity of games at the NHL level it sometimes seems as if a proverbial light bulb goes off and they become a different player. The Stars have several players that seem to be turning that corner, and if it continues this could be a fun couple of months at the AAC. The Stars have two more games on this homestand, tonight against the Avalanche and Thursday against the Devils. If they can complete the home-ice sweep and go 5-0 they’ll jump back into the playoff picture, and that’s all any Stars fan could be asking for at this point after five long seasons without the excitement of playoff hockey. A trip back to the post season is what this franchise and it’s fan base desperately need.