I figured the Dallas Stars would have a little extra jump tonight after Jamie Benn's immigration paperwork was cleared, and the big center was a "go" for his season debut. He's the Stars' best player and a huge part of their lineup, so I was expecting a tenacious start from the visitors.
And sure enough, they brought it. The Blue Jackets, on a four-game skid entering tonight, didn't start this game with the same vigor as they showed Saturday night against the Blackhawks but they steadily got better as the game grew older. For a change, they got to play the majority of the third period in the lead and used their team-checking approach to wear down the Stars and close out the win.
Kari Lehtonen was excellent and probably deserved a better fate, but I thought Sergei Bobrovsky was equally strong in the Columbus net. He was big in the first period when the Blue Jackets were a tad ragged, and dialed up the most crucial stop of the game on Michael Ryder in the third period.
Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin did some yeomen work on the penalty kill and at even strength, ensuring that the Blue Jackets spent very little time inside their own end. The breakouts were on-point, they kept the puck out of danger (for the most part) and Tyutin provided the nice set-up pass for Derek Dorsett's game-tying goal.
Without further ado, here's my breakdown of tonight's game:
1. Big stop at the right time: Even after they took the lead on Vinny Prospal's first goal of the season, you just knew the Blue Jackets hadn't seen the last of the Stars in this game. With so much talent on the other side, there was bound to be another thrust before all was said and done, but Bobrovsky was there to put it on ice. Ray Whitney, dangerous as always (even at age 40), made a deft pass from behind the net and found Ryder wide open in the slot. Ryder stepped in but Bobrovsky stepped out, cutting down the angle and making a huge right-pad stop to keep the 2-1 lead intact. That save really gave the Blue Jackets some confidence and it helped that it was the Stars' best chance of the third period.
2. An Art-ful performance: Artem Anisimov probably hasn't gotten enough credit for how well he's played in the first six games of the season, and he was terrific again for the Blue Jackets in all three zones tonight. His back-checking set up the odd-man rush for Dorsett's goal, and he was usually the guy taking face-offs against the Benn line. Anisimov was 10-for-20 in the circle (only Benn won more draws), and in doing so, limited the possession time for the Stars' top line. He's shown that he has some skill and can also be a reliable two-way presence in the middle of the ice. The Blue Jackets are getting a lot out of one of their newest additions, and he's helping them in crucial situations.
3. Persistence pays off: The old cliche struck tonight, and especially so after the Blue Jackets fumbled a golden opportunity on a two-minute 5-on-3. Down 1-0, it was a great chance to make the Stars pay for some careless penalties but the execution wasn't there, and Todd Richards said as much after the game. But they stuck with it, as Brandon Dubinsky said, and made sure they had everything going right down to the last detail. When they got a chance, they capitalized, and even got some luck along the way. Despite the power play issues, they found a way to win a game they needed to.