Opportunity knocked for Brett Ritchie Wednesday night, and the highly touted Dallas Stars prospect answered the call in a big way. Ritchie scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot to help the Stars defeat the Arizona Coyotes, 6-0, at American Airlines Center for their seventh win in the past eight games.
“There’s a lot going through my head. I am sure my phone is blowing up right now,” Ritchie said. “I wish my parents were here, but they were in Montreal (where Ritchie’s brother, Nick, is playing for Canada at the World Juniors). It’s just an exciting time for me and my family. I am just excited to be here.”
The 21-year-old Ritchie, Dallas’ second-round pick (44th overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft, was called up from the Texas Stars of the AHL Wednesday afternoon due to Shawn Horcoff being ill and Antoine Roussel being a question mark due to injury.
“I didn’t have a night to sleep on it last night. I only found out at 12pm today,” said Ritchie. “I think I sort of looked at it that way and settled the nerves a bit.”
Ritchie’s goal, which came seven minutes into the second period, gave the Stars a 1-0 lead and held up as the game-winner.
“For him to step in and make a difference and help us win a game, you couldn’t write a better script for a first game,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I am happy for him. I like seeing young guys come up and play that well.”
Ritchie wasn’t alone in playing well. The Stars rolled out an impressive effort – perhaps their best of the season – in dismantling the Coyotes.
“I think all-around it probably was our best game,” said Ruff. “Special teams were good and we defended the way we needed to defend. We moved the puck well and skated well.”
Kari Lehtonen stopped 32 shots for his third shutout of the season and his second in his past seven starts. It was the 30th of his NHL career.
“We are definitely playing better,” said Lehtonen. “I don’t know where the moment was when we found our way of playing. It has been easier for me there, no crazy stuff happening. It also helps that I have been able to make timely saves. It was a nice effort tonight.”
Colton Sceviour, Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin and Ales Hemsky also scored for the Stars, who improved to 7-1-0 over their past eight games and 8-2-0 in their past ten. They are now 17-14-5 on the season.
“We’re just playing better hockey,” said Benn. “Every line in contributing. We are taking care of the puck a little better. Our goalies are playing great right now. We just want to keep it rolling.”
The Coyotes (14-19-4) had a three-game winning streak come to an end.
“They played well and found a way to beat us in pretty much every facet of the game,” said Arizona captain Shane Doan. “We got to be a little bit embarrassed after that one.”
After managing just three shots on goal in the first period, the Stars stepped up the pressure in the second period and scored two goals in a 1:03 span to take a 2-0 lead. Travis Moen set up Ritchie, who scored from the slot at the 7:22 mark.
“Moen took the puck behind the net, and I beat my defenseman off the wall and just went to the front of the net,” Ritchie said. “He made a great saucer pass on his backhand and I didn’t have much work to do there, just knock it in.”
Just 63 seconds later, Sceviour took a pass from Benn and rifled a shot past Coyotes goaltender Devan Dubnyk off the rush to extend the Stars’ lead to two goals at 8:25 of the second.
Lehtonen came up with sharp back-to-back saves with just under nine minutes left in the second to keep Arizona off the board, stopping David Moss on an odd-man rush and then turning away Moss’ rebound bid.
The Stars poured it on in the third period, scoring four goals. Benn scored on the power play, putting a shot on goal that deflected off Arizona defenseman Connor Murphy and into the net at 1:19 of the third. Antoine Roussel won a puck battle behind the net and set up Eakin, who scored from the right circle to make it a 4-0 game at the 6:20 mark. Hemsky tallied on a blast from the right circle to make it a 5-0 game with 6:27 remaining. Garbutt wrapped up the scoring, tallying off a shot from the slot with 57 seconds left to make it a 6-0 final score.
“We executed the way we needed to execute. We didn’t create those goals by cheating. We created them by playing well and defending well in our own end,” said Ruff. “We didn’t give up odd-numbered rushes and didn’t get players caught. That’s a different team than in the first two months. That’s the team we want to be, and I think that room is starting to realize that if you’re going to play in the league you need to play that way. Any good team has to play defense, and the guys in that room did a hell of a job tonight.”
*Brett Ritchie is the first Stars player to score his first NHL goal in his first NHL game since Antoine Roussel did so on Feb. 1, 2013. Roussel also scored his first NHL goal against the Coyotes.
*The Stars improved to 7-2-1 in their past ten games at home. The Stars are 8-7-5 at American Airlines Center this season.
*Dallas was 1-2 on the power play and is now 5-18 (27.8 percent) on the power play over their past five games.
*The Stars were 3-3 on the penalty kill.
*The Stars won 35 of 60 faceoffs (58 percent).
*Cody Eakin won 11 of 15 faceoffs (73 percent). Vernon Fiddler won 7 of 12 (58 percent). Jason Spezza won 6 of 11 (55 percent). Tyler Seguin won 8 of 15 (53 percent).
*Alex Goligoski led the Stars with 23:05 of ice time.
*Erik Cole led the Stars with six hits. Brett Ritchie and Tyler Seguin were next with five each.
*Wednesday’s attendance was 18,532, a sellout.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Colton Sceviour
Erik Cole – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Travis Moen – Vernon Fiddler – Brett Ritchie
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: Jyrki Jokipakka, Travis Morin
Injured: Shawn Horcoff (illness), Patrick Eaves (ankle), Valeri Nichushkin (hip), Patrik Nemeth (arm)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.