The Dallas Stars are off to their best start in franchise history, proving that a potent offense coupled with a defensive mindset is quite a combination.
Patrick Sharp and Valeri Nichushkin scored in the first period and Dallas had two empty-net goals in a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 10 of 11 shots in the first two periods and finished with 21 saves for Dallas.
The Western Conference-leading Stars are 12-3-0 with three straight wins and victories in six of their past seven. They bettered their 15-game start in points during the 1980-81 season, when the Minnesota North Stars began 10-2-3, according to STATS.
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Last year, we thought we could outscore every team. This year we’re focusing on D zone, how we’re competing in our own end.
Stars forward Tyler Seguin
“We’ve got guys who can score, but the big key is we’re buying into playing well at both ends of the ice,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said during the first intermission. “In this league, though, you can never get comfortable.”
The Stars are far from satisfied, knowing they didn’t make the playoffs last season for the sixth time in seven seasons.
“We’re only a couple of wins out of sixth, seventh place,” said Tyler Seguin, who started the day with an NHL-high 21 points and had an empty-net goal at Detroit. “It’s a long journey ahead.”
Jimmy Howard stopped 20 shots for the Red Wings before getting knocked out of the game midway through the third period. Dallas center Jason Spezza’s right knee connected with the left side of Howard’s head when he skated toward the front of the crease. After Howard talked to athletic trainer Piet Van Zant on the ice, he was replaced by Petr Mrazek.
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Howard was not evaluated for a concussion.
“He wanted to come back in the game, but it had been too long,” Blashill said. “He had some contact [lens] issues.”
1 Goal for the Stars’ Valerie Nichushkin in the past two seasons, who scored for the first time since his rookie season two years ago.
Mrazek made just two saves before being pulled to add an extra skater, leaving the net open for Seguin with 1:08 left. Cody Eakin added another empty-net goal in the final minute.
Detroit pulled within a goal with 27 seconds left in the first period on a power play when Gustav Nyquist redirected Niklas Kronwall’s slap pass past Lehtonen. Detroit had won three in a row for the first time since opening the season 3-0.
Sharp scored first, taking advantage of a diagonal pass to the left circle from John Klingberg 7:22 into the game.
“I got a lot of room to move on the blue line,” Klingberg said. “I wanted to shoot the puck, but they had guys in the lane.”
The Stars were outshooting and outskating Detroit and were rewarded when Nichushkin skated with the puck behind the net, gave it up, got to a rebound and scored on his second shot of the dominant even-strength sequence to put them ahead 2-0. Nichushkin scored for the first time since his rookie season two years ago.
“It was a big relief,” Nichushkin said through an interpreter.
In the second period, both teams were limited to just three shots each because of tight checking and players clustering in front of the net.
“Last year, we thought we could outscore every team,” Seguin said. “This year we’re focusing on D zone, how we’re competing in our own end.”
The Stars had a man advantage with just fewer than 8 minutes left when Jonathan Ericsson was called for roughing after punching Ales Hemsky, who checked Ericsson’s face into the glass, leaving him bloody.
“It looked like a hit to the head and then we end up in the box,” Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said.
Nichushkin didn’t score in his first 12 games this year after a groin injury limited him to eight scoreless games last year. … Nichushkin had 14 goals and 34 points as a rookie during the 2013-14 season. … Detroit D Mike Green played for the first time since Oct. 23, returning from a shoulder injury. … Red Wings C Andreas Athanasiou made his NHL debut, getting recalled to replace D Kyle Quincey, who was put on seven-day injured reserve with an ankle injury.
First Period—1, Dal, Sharp 6 (Klingberg, Seguin), 7:22 (pp). 2, Dal, Nichushkin 1 (Jo.Benn, Jokipakka), 15:19. 3, Det, Nyquist 6 (Kronwall, Green), 19:33 (pp). Penalties—Larkin, Det (interference), 7:04; Oduya, Dal (hooking), 18:13.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Faksa, Dal (tripping), 2:57; Dal bench, served by Seguin (too many men), 10:53.
Third Period—4, Dal, Seguin 9 (Sharp, Klingberg), 18:52 (en). 5, Dal, Eakin 5 (Ja.Benn), 19:41 (en-sh). Penalties—Seguin, Dal (high-sticking), 3:40; Green, Det (hooking), 8:09; Ericsson, Det (roughing), 12:05; Fiddler, Dal (delay of game), 19:09.
Shots on Goal—Dal 15-3-8—26. Det 8-3-11—22. Power-plays—Dal 1 of 3; Det 1 of 5. Goalies—Dal, Lehtonen 6-1-0 (22 shots-21 saves). Det, Howard 3-3-1 (22-20), Mrazek (7:09 third, 2-2). A—20,027 (20,027). T—2:31.