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Burnside: Five takeaways from a skid-snapping Stars victory

Despite a lethargic start, Dallas never let Saturday's game get out of its grasp en route to a thrilling win

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

The Dallas Stars continued their impressive play at home Saturday, coming up with an emphatic 6-3 win over the struggling Edmonton Oilers in one of the wackiest, most entertaining games in which the Stars have participated this year.

Here are some thoughts and ruminations on an afternoon tilt that could easily have gotten away from the Stars but didn't.

Video: Stars grind out important win against Oilers

 

1. Raising emotional ante

It wasn't long into the game that we looked down to see Antoine Roussel charging into the offensive zone, beating an Edmonton defender to the puck and then bouncing the puck off of Edmonton netminder Cam Talbot and into the goal for an early Dallas lead.

That he was on the ice with Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov seemed to have been a fluke. Maybe Roussel, normally a fourth-line energy guy, had jumped on without head coach Ken Hitchcock's knowledge.

Nope. This was all by design.

With the team off to a sluggish start, Hitchcock threw caution to the wind and used Roussel on the top line all game. And if Roussel hadn't gotten a 10-minute misconduct, plus a two-minute minor at the end of the first period, who knows how many points he might have piled up.

As it was, he had his finest game of the season, scoring the first goal and then adding two assists, including the primary assist on the fifth goal by Benn that put this one away with 6:30 left in the third period.

"I looked at our body language -- fourth game in six nights -- and I just felt I had to give us every chance to win the hockey game, and I didn't like our energy at the start," Hitchcock said after the Stars had moved their home record to an impressive 7-2-0.

"We looked tired. We looked lethargic," he said.

Well, a little dose of Roussel certainly changed the dynamic.

"It was awesome to play," Roussel said after. "Everybody came up strong, and we had a hell of a start to the game. That was a huge two points from us."

Roussel played just 7:14 but ended up plus-3 on the night and said he just tried to keep it simple.

"Sometimes, you get good things that happen with that," he said.

Video: EDM@DAL: Lehtonen shuts down shorthanded breakaway

 

2. The hook factor

The same wake-up call dynamic was at play 42 seconds into the second period when Hitchcock pulled netminder Kari Lehtonen after Drake Caggiula's second goal of the game gave Edmonton a 3-2 lead. And it had seemed to undo all of the good that had been done in building a 2-0 Dallas lead before the first period was half over.

While we didn't like the Oilers' second goal, a power-play marker by Connor McDavid in the first where McDavid's first shot was blocked by Jamie Oleksiak and Lehtonen was still late getting across the crease for McDavid's second attempt. But Lehtonen made two fine saves on the sequence, leading to the third goal, and the Stars were sloppy in clearing the zone.

Still, as was the case the only other time this season Hitchcock made a goaltending change in a game back in Denver at the start of the team's long western trip, the Stars did respond.

Ben Bishop replaced Lehtonen and faced only six shots in the second and 12 in the third, stopping all 18 shots in total.

In short, guess Hitchcock knows what he's doing.  

"If it wasn't for Kari Lehtonen at the start of the game, the game's over," Hitchcock said, alluding to stop of Zack Kassian on a shorthanded breakaway and other nice stops among the 12 shots he faced.

"This had nothing to do with Kari. We needed a big time wake-up call. We were falling into the abyss again where we were putting skill ahead of work."

Video: EDM@DAL: Roussel scores from behind the net

 

3. Participation up across the scoresheet

One of Hitchcock's favorite sayings of late -- especially as it's related to the team's miserable road record -- is that they need more participants.

Well, Saturday's participation level was as good as it's been all season against an Oiler team that, like Dallas, has failed to rise to lofty preseason expectations.

Six different Stars scored on this day, and even when they fell behind early in the second, they did not implode, which had been the case in losses earlier in the week in Raleigh against Carolina and Thursday in an embarrassing 6-1 loss to Tampa Bay.

"I see a team forging an identity," Hitchcock said. "It's a process. I'm really enjoying the process, quite frankly, because I'm seeing a team emerge. But it's going to be hard. It's going to be very challenging, and we've got a long ways to go, but we've got some pieces in place that are starting to emerge different than what people were looking at."

Specifically, at least on this day, the Stars looked much less like a team that can only survive if the big guns Benn, Radulov and Tyler Seguin are going.

Both Benn and Radulov scored, but they were less a factor than in the past and more to the point didn't need to be as much a factor in order to enjoy success.

"The profile players become the focal point on the ice, off the ice -- everywhere for the team," Hitchcock said. "And that's not necessarily how we're built. You saw today how we're built. This is what we've got. This is our team. This is the way we're built, and we can really play greasy hockey."

Video: EDM@DAL: Faksa collects pass off skate, beats Talbot

 

4. Patience pays off on winning goal

Radek Faksa ended up with the winning goal after a fine spin-around pass on-the-fly from Tyler Pitlick with just 1:21 left in the second period.

Obviously, the goal was important -- but how it happened might have been the most telling part of this game.

Early in the shift, Stephen Johns was battling against McDavid's line down low. He gained control of the puck and looked for several options before finally moving the puck to Jamie Oleksiak moving out of the zone on the left side. Johns didn't give way to one of most talented players in the game, and he had the patience to make the right breakout play.

Then Pitlick -- who had a glorious chance earlier in the game to make a play after an offensive-zone steal but flubbed the pass -- put the puck exactly where it had to go for Faksa to score. And credit Oleksiak, who had a vigorous fight with another big man, Patrick Maroon, at the end of the first period, for having the confidence to head man the puck to Pitlick.

It's been a tough season for Oleksiak, moving in and out of the lineup and even at one point playing forward. So in some ways a redemption goal at a pretty juncture of the game. And if you want to look bigger picture, a pretty important part of the season as the win moved the Stars back over .500 at 10-9-1 at the 20-game mark.

"It was in his feet, so he made a heck of a play to coral and put it in. So it was a great play for him," Pitlick said of the Faksa goal.

"It was huge for me to get on the board there and get a point, because it was starting to seem like I was losing the puck and making plays that I don't normally make," he added. "So that was good for me, and the confidence, and I felt like I started hanging onto the puck more and making plays after that, so hopefully, I can keep it going."

Video: EDM@DAL: Shore one-times Seguin's pass for tying goal

 

5. Speaking of redemption ...

A couple of goals of note on this afternoon. First, after myriad chances throughout the first 19 games, Devin Shore scored his first of the season, and it was a big one, tying the game at three 7:57 into the second period.

Shore has had ample opportunity throughout the season to get on the board, playing top-six minutes and usually taking part in the first power-play unit. Against Florida last week, he had a grand chance on a shorthanded breakaway but couldn't get it to go.

So to break through in a timely fashion was big for the 23-year-old.

"It's good for the confidence, I think," said Shore.

Still, he said he hasn't been consumed with not scoring.

"The things I worry about are not getting the puck out as a winger on the boards, or not creating chances. If the chances aren't there you're starting to worry," he said.

"There's a lot of different ways you can affect the outcome of a game besides scoring goals. But you just trust it -- if you keep doing the right things, whether it takes 50 games or the next one, usually things have a way of working it out.

"You just tell yourself all the time to just try to play the right way and not worry about that stuff. Let it take care of itself."

And we'd be remiss if we didn't note that Jason Spezza, about whom we wrote last week trying to deal with another long goal-scoring drought, scored his second of the season, and the first on the power play, to round out the scoring late in the third period.

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

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