The Stars were hoping to get back to normalcy during a three-game road trip that followed the 10-day All-Star Break, and while there were some bumps on the journey, Saturday’s 3-2 win over Montréal at Centre Bell was a pretty good step in the right direction.
Heika’s Take: Stars continue surge up NHL ladder with comeback win over Canadiens
After two very contrasting games to open the three-game road trip up north, Dallas got back to its roots and secured a 3-2 win in Montréal
“Montréal is a good team with a lot of skill and a lot of speed,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “I thought in the first 10 to 15 minutes, they had us on our heels with their speed, and then as the game went on, we got more to our identity, we clogged it up a little bit better in the neutral zone and we started to get heavier in the offensive zone. I thought we started to take the game over a little bit.”
Dallas moves to 32-14-6 (70 points) and remains in the battle for first place both in the Central Division and in the NHL overall. As of Saturday night, Dallas sits four points behind Vancouver for the top seed in the League. What’s more, the Stars are now 6-1-1 in their past eight games after going 4-0-1 before the break.
“I think the Toronto game we had a really good start, but I think we ran out of gas,” said forward Matt Duchene, who had two assists Saturday. “Back-to-back coming off a 10-day break is tough. I know we had a lot of guys who weren’t feeling it physically that game. But I thought tonight that Jake held us in there early and then we kind of took over from there. It was a big win for us.”
Oettinger has been impressive coming off of his appearance at the All-Star Game, and he was crucial in keeping the game in reach until the Stars found their bearings. Duchene, Tyler Seguin and Mason Marchment connected for two goals, and defenseman Thomas Harley continued his hot streak with his 13th goal of the season.
It was a challenging game, but the Stars found a way to power through and get into the kind of groove they forged before the break.
“Buffalo wasn’t a good game,” Seguin said of Oettinger leading the way with 47 saves in a 2-1 contest. “The game in Toronto [a 5-4 loss] we were pretty good. They had a great power play and we weren’t happy with our kill. Tonight, I thought it was closer to a 60-minute effort for sure.”
In addition to doubling up the Canadiens in shots on goal, Dallas had a 68-49 advantage in shot attempts, won the faceoff battle, 29-22, and had 10 more scoring chances. Had they just been able to find a power play goal in six opportunities, the win could have been a bit easier.
“If we could have found a way to get a power play goal, we probably put them away earlier,” DeBoer said.
But the lack of man advantage success actually meant the penalty kill had to perform under pressure. The Stars killed two power plays in the third period and Oettinger came up with at least four key stops in the final 20 minutes. And for a team that had allowed eight power play goals in its previous 13 times shorthanded coming into the game, that was a big deal.
“It’s big,” said Seguin, one of the team’s penalty killing forwards. “I think between all of us, it was kind of expected. Between all of us, we had a long talk yesterday, and our penalty kill coach [Alain Nasreddine] is so good at addressing things we need to fix, and tonight we did a better job.”
Oettinger was huge early and the Stars exited the first period at 0-0. However, Montréal scored 38 seconds into the second period, and that seemed like a wake-up call. Harley walked down the slot in transition and converted a beautiful pass from Roope Hintz to tie the game at the 3:51 mark of the second period, and then Duchene found Seguin for a beautiful goal 20 seconds later.
That was the 18th goal of the season for Seguin, who had 21 in 76 games last season, and he tallied his 19th later in the period off another nice pass from Duchene. That proved to be the game-winning goal.
“We’re reading off each other well,” said Duchene. “We knew what was open.”
And that’s part of the good stuff that’s going on. Now, they have to continue ironing out the wrinkles to get even better.
“I think everyone in this room knows we haven’t reached our full potential, so there’s still a lot to do,” said Harley.
And that’s a great goal when you’re sitting on a bunch of wins.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.