It's hard to get too jacked up about a win in November, but when a regular season game is billed as a "measuring stick" game for one team, people tend to sit up and take notice.
The Dallas Stars have gotten off to a great start this season by getting insane production from their top line and outstanding goaltending from Kari Lehtonen. Combine that with quality team efforts night in and night out, and they came into the game tonight against the Red Wings as the #2 seed in the West behind the Blackhawks, but first in points-earned percentage.
As anyone who has followed this blog knows, there was some....discussion earlier this week about the respective talent levels of each of these teams after I posted that the Wings needed to take advantage of the Stars who were a) playing their second game in 2 nights in 2 cities and b) inferior in talent compared to the Wings. It generated a lot of discussion about who was better, and added a little spice to the game tonight.
The Wings rode goals from 5 different players, including 3 defensemen, and great goaltending from Jimmy Howard to earn a 5-2 victory for their fourth straight win, and their second straight against a Western Conference division leader. They did it with yet another complete team effort, dominating the Stars to put an exclamation point on a homestand that saw them earn 9 out of a possible 12 points.
After the jump, the bullets, stats and video.
- Another game, another Johan Franzen goal. This one wasn't pretty, but he was in front of the net in the "dirty area" where he needs to be in order to score, and he led all shooters with 7 SOG during the game. Once again, the Franzen/Valtteri Filppula/Henrik Zetterberg line was outstanding, with Flip chipping in another 2 assists and Z finishing as a +2. With teams supposedly focusing on the Datsyuk line, this line has been really carrying the team during this latest winning streak.
- Speaking of Datsyuk, that line was good tonight, even if it didn't show on the scoresheet. Pavel looks to be trying to do too much on his own out there, and I can't help but wonder if that's due to adjusting to his new linemates. Both Dan Cleary and Tomas Holmstrom play a similar style of game in that they're going to head to the net and look for rebounds, so perhaps Datsyuk is thinking that he needs to be the lone playmaker on this line. The problem is that the second line is playing so well, it can't be broken up, and Jiri Hudler seems to be clicking with Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader.
- What a night for the defense. Niklas Kronwall, Ian White and Brad Stuart (with his first of the year) all score goals, and White saves a sure goal with his face that required some stitches after the game. For those keeping score, that makes 7 points in 15 games for Whitey, and he's starting to look very comfortable playing alongside Nicklas Lidstrom and learn what he can and can't do (which is nothing, since no matter what White does, Lids will cover for him). I mentioned in the game thread that we need to stop looking at White as a "replacement" for Rafalski and focus on the skills that he brings to the team, which is good offense and solid defense.
- Stars fans, you want to know why we think your team is full of whiners and idiots? Witness Adam Burish and Jamie Benn going stupid at the end of the game. I'm surprised at Benn and can understand his frustration, but Burish is just a moron who was carried to a Cup in Chicago and has little use except being a less talented Sean Avery. We just thank goodness that Steve Ott wasn't in the lineup so that all the Wings could make it out of the game uninjured (and save your Todd Bertuzzi jokes, because we don't want to hear them).
- Darren Helm sure made up for missing that SHG opportunity on the 2-on-1, eh? The only complaint we ever have about Danger is his lack of finish, and missing shots like that isn't going to alter his reputation any time soon. However, he took a nice feed from Hudler to convert and make it 4-2, which really seemed to take the wind out of the Stars.
- For what will likely be the 40th time, I have to shake my head at why Jimmy Howard was not included on the All-Star Game ballot. Another game, another .920 SV% performance. I actually thought that he had more quality saves tonight than he did last night when he shutout the Oilers, especially in the second where he only faced 7 shots while the Wings pretty much owned the puck. The second goal is one he should have stopped, but he more than made up for that with his play tonight.
- Dallas plays an interesting style that is quite in contrast to the Wings. While the Wings are notorious for their puck possession style of play, the Stars seemed content to collapse and keep the Wings to the outside, and try to use a transition game in an opportunistic way. It's not a bad style, but giving up over 30 shots/game (a stat in which the Stars are dead-last in the NHL) could be their undoing if their goaltending doesn't hold up.
- No Player of the Game tonight. We decided that the entire team was so good that everyone who made a prediction gets a point. Unless you picked Ericsson, in which case you actually lose any earned points.
Well, should we just declare the Wings the better team? They out-shot, out-worked and out-played a Stars team that played the night before in Pittsburgh (although every Stars fan I encountered this week was very quick to remind me that this was not an excuse as the Wings also played the night before), and the scoreboard was an accurate reflection of who carried the play during this game. I'm not about to sit here and declare that this one game was proof that the Wings are a better team, but I will repeat what I said earlier: the Wings have more talent than the Stars do, and if they play with the same amount of effort and execution and don't run into an insanely hot goaltender, the Wings should beat Dallas. That's not to take away from the Stars and what they've accomplished so far this season; that's just stating how good the Wings truly are.
The Wings have tomorrow off before kicking off their first West Coast road trip of the year. They head south to St Louis for a date with Ken Hitchcock's Blues before traveling west to California. The 6-game losing streak is now officially in the rear-view mirror and we'll see if the Wings can keep this new winning streak going.