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Burnside: Five takeaways from Stars' shutout victory over Blues

Kari Lehtonen's 21-save, bounce-back effort highlights Saturday's dominant 4-0 road triumph

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

ST. LOUIS -- Must have been the altitude. The Dallas Stars turned in their best effort of the preseason schedule on Saturday, downing the St. Louis Blues 4-0 and putting behind them a desultory effort in Thursday's 5-1 loss in Denver.

"It was a big bounce back game and there were a lot of players that played tonight that played in Colorado that was a tough a really tough game for our team," said veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis who had a goal and an assists. "We started executing a lot more, the things that we've been talking about team wise."

Here's a look at what transpired.

Video: Kari talks with Scott Burnside

 
1. Kari rebounds

The story of Thursday's loss was the Colorado Avalanche scoring on the first three shots on goal against veteran netminder Kari Lehtonen. Funny how that tends to ruin your evening. Lehtonen played the entire game Saturday in St. Louis (he and Ben Bishop had both played two periods in the first two preseason games), and Lehtonen looked steady, square to the puck and definitely dialed in.

Defensively the Stars were much better at clearing traffic and pucks but Lehtonen was sharp when he had to be in turning aside all 21 shots he faced. The 33-year-old was especially good in the second period when the play was a bit ragged.

"The first game is still so hard so many new things after five months or whatever," Lehtonen said. This game "felt more like a normal game in February or something like that."

Lehtonen also displayed some impressive puck-moving skills (we're not counting the one effort that was knocked down at the blue line and required Lehtonen to make a good save). Nonetheless, it reminded us of a conversation with goaltending coach Jeff Reese not long who was talking about Bishop, considered one of the game's best puck-handling netminders. And Reese made a point to remind us that Lehtonen is no slouch with the puck either.

Video: Hitch discusses tonight's game

 
2. Hintz down, not out

Head coach Ken Hitchcock has praised Roope Hintz as a guy that has put himself in the mix for one of the final forward spots on the Stars roster. And the big 20-year-old showed some impressive toughness after he was levelled by Klim Kostin near the Dallas blue line midway through the first period.

Hintz, who had collected a secondary assist on Hamhuis's power-play goal to open the scoring, did not return to action for the rest of the period. He did, however, return to start the second period and took a regular shift thereafter picking up a second assist on the team's third goal by Remi Elie.

"Hintz has not gone away," Hitchcock said. "He's been great for us."

Also returning to action after what looked like a potentially serious injury was Jason Dickinson, who went down awkwardly in the offensive zone during a third-period power play and left the ice favoring his left leg or ankle.

He returned almost immediately to action and was part of a penalty killing unit that denied St. Louis on seven man-advantage opportunities.

Video: Stars shut out Blues in St. Louis

 
3. No easy calls

Hitchcock saw this game as an opportunity for a number of players who didn't play particularly well in Denver to reprove themselves. For the most part, players took advantage of that opportunity.

Stephen Johns and Dan Hamhuis were a solid defensive duo and Hamhuis picked up a goal with a smart read, jumping into the offensive zone on the power play to stake Dallas to an early 1-0 lead and added an assist (although he was whistled for two minor penalties in the third period).

Hitchcock has also been watching a couple of natural centers who moved to the wing, and Devin Shore, who was solid in a losing effort in Denver, was even better Saturday setting up Hamhuis for a goal and creating a number of Grade A chances throughout the night.

Veteran R.J. Umberger had a strong outing as well, narrowly missing scoring on a nice individual play late in the third. Not sure it's enough given the competition but kudos for a strong showing.

"I think it was pretty simple," Shore said. "I think it was the effort and the compete and you can throw of lot of reasons for it but we got outworked the night before and I think it shows a lot about the character of this group and the leaders in getting us back on track."

The problem for Hitchcock with so many players impressing that with Martin Hanzal returning to full practice Sunday he figures he's got six forward lines capable of playing NHL hockey.

"We're going to have a lot of competition," Hitchcock said.

Video: Hamhuis on tonight's victory

 
4. Defense coming into focus?

Now the Blues didn't ice the most potent of lineups, but the defensive structure displayed by the Stars was impressive, and suggests the team is one step closer to identifying a top four of Marc Methot and John Klingberg and Esa Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak, who continues to come for high praise from Hitchcock Saturday night, although the coach was not surprisingly pleased with the entire defensive unit.

"I thought Johns was much improved and I thought Oleksiak on the right side was outstanding again," Hitchcock said.

"This is now 10 days of hockey for Jamie that he's played outstanding. If he continues at this pace he looks like a guy that can help." Hitchcock said. "I don't think you can win in the National Hockey League unless you can lock down your top four guys. It's got to be a given all the time. I think we look like we've got the potential to have four guys that can really play and then it gives us some real good flexibility."

Video: Shore on tonight's performance

 
5. Instant karma?

Jason Spezza was the last of the healthy regulars to take part in a preseason game (Martin Hanzal is still nursing an ankle injury and skated with his teammates for the first time on Saturday, and is expected join the full practice group Sunday) but Spezza showed little signs of rust and played with wingers Mattias Janmark and Brett Ritchie, with whom he'd been skating during training camp.

The trio were as dangerous as any on the ice throughout the night while chipping in a pair of goals including a terrific breakaway goal by Janmark in the third period after picking off an errant Blues pass.

Spezza led all Stars players with five shots on goal.

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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