The Stars finally got, in the words of Jim Montgomery, greasy.
Let’s back up a bit. It’s been four days since the Stars last played. On Friday night, the team lost its third straight game. Afterward, several players expressed their frustrations, particularly with the team’s lack of scoring.
Their head coach was noticeably frustrated, too. In speaking with reporters after that last loss, he said that not enough of his players were going into the “greasy areas.”
His players thoroughly remedied that situation during a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings at American Airlines Center on Tuesday night.
“It’s been a huge emphasis the last week of practice,” Stars forward Blake Comeau said.
“You look at most of the goals throughout the league, it’s tips, it’s rebounds, it’s screens. We have to make sure to make a conscious effort to do that going forward.”
Montgomery didn’t define a “greasy area” last week, but his players likely covered all their bases against the visiting team Tuesday.
In the first period, forward Jason Dickinson wrangled halfway around the right post to find Blake Comeau, who snuck down into the low slot and found the back of the net.
Dallas’ second goal also came from a forward skating into a highly concentrated area. On a borderline 3-on-2, Devin Shore burst up the middle and aimed a shot off goalie Jonathan Quick’s right pad. As he likely intended, the puck ricocheted out perfectly to Jason Spezza on the right dot. He then blasted it into a virtually wide-open net.
Spezza, who discussed how a little emotion helps him elevate his play after the team’s intense practice on Saturday, has three points in the past two games and 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) in eight games this season.
Goal number three went to defenseman John Klingberg on the score sheet, but the credit belonged to Dickinson, who perfectly screened Quick to give the Stars their first two-goal advantage of the night.
The Stars’ insurance goal, which extended their lead to 4-2, might have been Montgomery’s favorite.
On the power play, Jamie Benn tried to put home a rebound directly in front of the net. While Quick stopped Benn’s shot, he was unable to prevent the second-chance attempt from Tyler Pitlick, who netted his first tally of the year.
“I thought we did a much better job, whether it was the puck-carrier or people getting there (the net) for rebounds,” Montgomery said. “I thought it (the pressure) created a lot of scrambles we hadn’t seen in our previous three or four games.”
But the greasy areas are about so much more than goal scoring.
All night long, but particularly in the first period, Stars players got physical before, during and after the whistle in front of their net and the net of their opponent. Even Stars goalie Ben Bishop mixed it up with the odd Kings forward in several instances.
Late in the game, Comeau also back-checked his way into a charge to the net from Kings forward Ilya Kovalchuk that resulted in the latter getting a high-sticking penalty.
The Stars also blocked 19 shots in the game. In their three losses last week, they only blocked a total of 38.
A few stains were self-inflicted. Twice, the Kings split the Dallas defense for semi-breakways right up the middle of the ice. On those two particular instances, opposing forwards were able to beat Stars goalie Ben Bishop.
Yet, overall, the players accepted Montgomery’s challenge from last week.
“The way we started the game was the most desperate I’ve seen us start a game,” Montgomery said. “We have to be able to maintain that. I still didn’t think it was a 60-minute game for us. It was probably more like a 37-minute game. It was ugly at times out there, for both teams.”
The Stars will need to bring Wednesday’s attitude to the American Airlines Center on Thursday night when the Ducks come to town. Anaheim rosters some of the biggest forwards in the NHL, including centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, as well as winger Corey Perry.
“We should be more confident now, especially with a lot of different people getting points or goals for the first time this year,” Montgomery said. “But we have to keep getting better, because we’re nowhere near good enough right now.”