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Burnside: Five takeaways from Stars' emphatic first victory over Detroit

Tuesday might not have been a must-win for Dallas, but it couldn't have come at a better time

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

Okay, how big can a monkey really be just three games into the National Hockey League season? Not that big. Still, the Dallas Stars are happy to get the monkey -- no matter how diminutive -- off their collective backs as they ended a season-opening two-game slide with a solid 4-2 win over the previously undefeated Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.

Here's what happened and some of our thoughts, impressions and other meanderings as Dallas moves to 1-2-0 on the season.

Video: DET@DAL: Bishop shuts the door on Mantha's slapper

 
1. Some history afoot

So, off the top, Ben Bishop earned his first win as a Dallas Star, stopping 23 of 25 Red Wing shots, including nine of 10 in the third period when the Wings made things interesting.

"Big win for us," Bishop said. "You never want to lose three in a row in this league so big win at home and obviously now we're going on the road division opponent. So it's going to be an important game."

We'd be shocked if Bishop, who left the first game of the season Friday after taking a shot in the mask, doesn't start Thursday in Nashville, the second divisional game of this young season.

Other notable moments in this first win: head coach Ken Hitchcock moved into a tie for third place on the all-time coaching wins list with legendary New York Islanders coach Al Arbour. Martin Hanzal scored his first goal as a Star after signing as a free agent in the summer. He was the beneficiary of a selfless pass from Mattias Janmark with time winding down and the Detroit net empty. Still, a goal is a goal, no? And captain Jamie Benn, with an assist on Tyler Seguin's power play in the last minute of the first period, earned his first point of the season.

Video: DET@DAL: Seguin goes bar-down on blistering one-timer

 
2. Identity revealed

Hitchcock admitted that when the Wings drew within one score with an Anthony Mantha goal after some rare disorganized play in the Dallas zone with less than five minutes to go in regulation, it would have been a bit crushing for the team not to be rewarded for its otherwise strong play.

In fact, outside of brief moments that cost the Stars points in a 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Friday's home opener, and a 4-2 loss the next night in St. Louis, Hitchcock feels the team is actually coalescing into the kind of team he imagined it might become.

"We played three games in a row now we've played really, really hard," Hitchcock said.

And except for those brief lapses the team has been "close to our identity and you want to see the guys get rewarded for that and tonight they were," the coach added.

The stats bear that out as they outshot their opponents for the third straight game, 33-25, killed four of five penalties (Detroit did score on a 4-on-3 early in the second period) and they won 58 percent of faceoffs.

Perhaps more important: all four forward units created offensive chances, while the big line of Seguin, Benn and Alexander Radulov were a key part of shutting down the Wings late in the game -- especially when they had to stay on the ice after several icing calls and the Wings pressing with an extra attacker.

"That shift they had, which was almost two minutes, was incredible. They won all the battles, they won all the face-offs, they got the puck out. They did what they were supposed to do. I was really happy for them."

Video: DET@DAL: Hanzal steers home empty-netter to seal win

 

3. New faces, new units yield success

Although he played fewer minutes than any other Dallas player, Remi Elie made an immediate impact after being recalled from the American Hockey League after Adam Cracknell was claimed on waivers Monday by the New York Rangers.

Elie, who played 8:19, skated with Jason Spezza and Brett Ritchie, and showed his straight-line speed and physicality.

The best units on a consistent basis might have been Radek Faksa, Antoine Roussel, who managed to stay out of the penalty box for the first time this season, and Tyler Pitlick -- or a newly-formed trio of Hanzal, Janmark and Devin Shore.

"It's huge," Pitlick said. "If you want to be a championship team in this league, you need to have four lines that can play with everybody and we definitely have that here."

Hitchcock felt this was the best lineup the team had iced thus far, in terms of its depth.

"We look like we can really deal people some body blows with the way we're playing right now," Hitchcock said. "And that's the way we're built. You take away that top line, and those guys can play a heavy game, too. But we got three other lines that can play a real heavy game. And that's the way we're built, that's the way I think we're going to have to build our game. I think the players are starting to understand that."

Video: Pitlick's thoughts on win over Wings

 

4. Pitlick thriving in a new role

The penalty kill, a dreadful piece of business last season, is already showing signs of having turned a corner in the early part of the season.

What has been interesting is that Hitchcock and his coaching staff, most notably defensive specialist Rick Wilson, have been willing to give opportunities to players that might not otherwise have had a chance to play such a role. Like Pitlick, an unheralded free-agent signing in the summer, who has carved out a nice niche playing a third and fourth line role and -- maybe surprisingly -- killing penalties.

"I mean, obviously, we don't want to be in the box but we've been really good on the kill and I'm enjoying killing. I haven't usually killed in the past but it's been fun," Pitlick said. "I like getting up ice and making them uncomfortable so it's fun for me."

Hitchcock praised Pitlick's speed and his quick stick as reasons for his success. For Pitlick, the better he becomes, the more ice he's going to see.

"This is a first," he said of penalty killing. I'm enjoying it. I don't play power play so if I'm not playing penalty kill I spend a lot of time on the bench so I'm enjoying it."

He was even gracious enough not to give Janmark any grief over not converting on a terrific shorthanded pass when Pitlick found him alone in front of Detroit netminder Petr Mrazek.

Video: Bishop gets first win as a Star

 

5. Win the goalie battle

For the first time this season, the Stars won the goalie battle.

No slight against Mrazek, who was excellent for the most part, especially in the second period when the Stars has 16 shots on goal, but Janmark's goal midway through the second period that gave Dallas a 3-1 lead should have been stopped.

It's the kind of goal that didn't go in for Dallas against Marc-Andre Fleury and Jake Allen. Meanwhile Bishop didn't have to stand on his head, but he made the saves he needed to make to preserve the team's first win of the season.

"I mean obviously we've got some work to improve on in the third period just be a little bit more composed," Bishop said. "But we did what it took. Sometimes, it's not going to be pretty, but if you can find a way to get two points, that's all that matters."

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott Burnside on Twitter @OvertimeScottB and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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