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Burnside: Five takeaways from Stars sneaking past winless Arizona

Dallas got to .500 with Tuesday's 3-1 victory, but it didn't come without some tense moments

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

The Dallas Stars evened their season record at 3-3-0 and posted back-to-back wins for the first time this season on Tuesday night, sneaking out a 3-1 victory over winless Arizona. The two teams will go back at it Thursday in Glendale.

Here's a look at a game that somehow seemed much more difficult than the outcome would suggest.

Video: Hamhuis nets first goal of season in win

 

1. Let's be honest

Back in our newspaper days, when it got close to deadline, a salty old editor would stand over our shoulder and suggest that the story wasn't for the Pulitzers, it was for deadline. In short, not everything's going to be a work of art, and that certainly applies to a game in which the Stars did just enough to keep the Coyotes in the hunt, and at the end, did just enough to find a way to get two points.

"They challenged us, for sure," said defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who scored what turned out to be the game-winner in the second period and then added an assist on Alexander Radulov's empty-netter with 51.7 seconds left.

"I don't think we played our best game tonight. I think we were a little bit sloppy and could have made some better plays in areas which gave them some life. But I think it was a great sign for our team that we found a way to win, and I think that's a sign of a good team."

Head coach Ken Hitchcock wasn't particularly enthused about his team's play, either, especially in terms of continuity and flow.

"From a continuity standpoint, this was our weakest performance," Hitchcock said. "And we know right now, the players and the staff know that we'll have to be much better on Thursday, if we expect to collect two points. We weren't impressed with our continuity. Now, was it them, or was it us?"

Video: ARI@DAL: Faksa cleans up Janmark's wraparound attempt

 

2. Well, let's give credit where it's due

Yes, the Coyotes are now 0-5-1 and are the only winless team in the NHL. But they showed impressive resolve in the third period, where they had 15 shots on goal and had 25 shot attempts in all, compared to 14 shot attempts in the third for the Stars.

They also got a terrific outing from 21-year-old rookie netminder Adin Hill, who was making his first-ever NHL start. He stoned Alexander Radulov in the first period with a great left pad save off a Tyler Seguin pass and also stymied Jason Spezza on a second-period breakaway. In all, Hill stopped 32 of 34 shots, and we'd be shocked if he doesn't get the start on Thursday, pending the health of starter Antti Raanta, who is out with a lower-body injury.

"They've got a lot of speed and skill on their team," Hamhuis said. "You make mistakes and they're going to turn it the other way quickly."

Hitchcock likewise praised the Coyotes for their tenacity and figures if they had a little more experience, they'd have three wins under their built. No question, they came closer to sneaking a win against a more mature Dallas team than one might have expected from the outset, and might have had Anthony Duclair not sent a rolling puck over an open net during a third-period power play.

"They caused us a lot of problems that normally we haven't had," Hitchcock said. "But they caused a lot of them for us today. Their pressure and their ability to exit (their zone) easily put a lot of pressure on us at times."

In short, Thursday suddenly looms as a very interesting contest.

"I think they're a good young team," Hitchcock said. "I think they're a really good young team. They can skate and they're competitive."

Video: ARI@DAL: Bishop shuts down Crouse on two-on-one

 

3. Ben is, well, good

If this was not a work of art from much of the team, Tuesday's win conversely was Ben Bishop's most important work of this young season.

The netminder, who signed a six-year deal with the Stars in the offseason, was especially noticeable in the third period when the Coyotes enjoyed back-to-back power plays that included 17 seconds of 5-on-3 action.

We thought Bishop looked incredibly calm, but for Hitchcock, he felt it was Bishop's competitiveness that set him apart.

"(Bishop) competes like hell, fights for his space," Hitchcock said. "He had to be sharp, because there was abnormal pucks coming back at him from turnovers high in the zone that he had to be really sharp on. With the way we were in our zone with the puck, I don't think he could be comfortable, so I was really impressed with his competitiveness today. Really impressed."

Bishop, who elevated his record to 3-1-0 on the season with an impressive .944 save percentage, said he feels the team has done a nice job of building leads, but then has shown a tendency to settling back against opponents.

True. But on this night, at least such tendencies didn't cost the Stars in the standings. And already, Bishop has established himself as a formidable force between the pipes and in the locker room, offering opinions on various aspects of how this team is coming together.

"He's really good, you know?" offered Radek Faksa, who might have been the Stars' best skater with a goal and an assist. "It's always nice to have goalie like. I don't know what to say. It's just nice."

Video: ARI@DAL: Hamhuis scores on a great feed from Pitlick

 

4. It wasn't all doom and gloom

One of the keys for this team moving forward is going to be getting all of the offensive machinery in sync. It's not there yet. But on a night when the big line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Radulov were dangerous only in stretches, the fourth line of Faksa, Tyler Pitlick and Antoine Roussel were crucial to the victory.

Pitlick out-worked Arizona's star defenseman and captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and then found Hamhuis sneaking in from the point for the game-winner.

And they were the most consistent forward unit on the ice.

"For sure, it's our job to be strong some games," Faksa said. "I feel like we had chances in games before we just didn't execute. Today, we scored two goals and the most important (thing) we have two points."

Video: Hitch speaks on win over Yotes

 

5. Dilemma time

So, we fully expect defenseman Jamie Oleksiak to return to the lineup Thursday night. Hitchcock has more or less guaranteed it, saying that Oleksiak didn't deserve to sit the last two games. But given the strong performance of Hamhuis and partner Stephen Johns, who has come in for high praise from Hitchcock in recent days, the Stars coach intimated neither of those two players would be coming out of the lineup.

So, who?

The obvious move is to give 21-year-old Julius Honka a rest in favor of Oleksiak, but Honka has been impressive in both this win and Saturday's win over Colorado. The youngster has shown more poise defensively, playing with Esa Lindell and still represents enticing offensive skill. He sprung Spezza for a breakaway in the second period on a pinpoint pass, and has shown some nice instincts playing on the team's second power-play unit, even if it has yet to deliver goals.

In short, tough choices in the coming days -- maybe weeks -- for Hitchcock and his staff.

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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