The 40-year-old Czech showed no signs of slowing down tonight, as his four points propelled the Dallas Stars to a 4-3 regulation victory in the season opener against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The rust associated with not playing for four months was clearly visible on both sides as the game began, but Phoenix spent much of the opening frame playing in their own zone. Phoenix came out shooting indiscriminately, pestering Kari Lehtonen with as many shots as they could take. Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and the Coyotes surrendered a late period goal to the ageless Jaromir Jagr at 18:36 in the first.
The Desert Dogs did manage to show some improvement on the power play, as they drew four Stars penalties in the second period. While they were unable to convert on a double-minor high sticking penalty on Philip Larsen, Lauri Korpikoski would get a power play goal on a beautiful feed from Radim Vrbata that drew Lehtonen away from the net and gave the Korpedo plenty of open twine to hit. The Coyotes would need just two more minutes and another power play to take a 2-1 lead after a perfect screen by Martin Hanzal disguised a Vrbata shot that bounced off of Lehtonen and in. But as in the first period, Phoenix would let Dallas tie the game on another late period Jagr goal, this one on a power play at 18:38.
An inopportune slashing penalty on Boyd Gordon at the end of the second put the Coyotes on the PK yet again to start the third. This time, the Coyotes' past would come back to haunt them as former Coyote Ray Whitney beat Mike Smith on a beautifully placed sharp angle shot to take a 3-2 lead. The sloppy play exhibited throughout the first two periods would continue into the third, as an errant pass from the Stars' D landed right on the stick of Radim Vrbata who beat Lehtonen five-hole to tie the game at 3-3. But the sloppy play went both ways; an unnecessarily risky pass by Steve Sullivan set up a Dallas rush that ultimately ended up in the back of the net. That would prove to be the game winner, despite the best efforts of the Coyotes to draw even down the stretch.
Five For Winning
1. No Late Goals. Phoenix's hockey club cost themselves too many points last season, including games against Dallas, because of late defensive breakdowns. That certainly hurt the Coyotes tonight, as they gave up two late period goals in the 1st and 2nd to give Dallas a lot of momentum.
2. Grumpy Old Men. Harass and be physical with Jagr & Whitney. Don't give them room on the ice. Despite some huge hits on Jagr by Derek Morris, the old-timers didn't seem fazed: Whitney had a goal and an assist and Jagr had two goals and two assists.
3. Test The Young Dallas Blueliners. Jordie Benn and Brendan Dillion have only played four NHL games combined in their careers. Philip Larsen has played 63 games total in the big league. At least two of them, possibly all three, will see ice time on Saturday. The Coyotes forwards need to be aggressive and force them into making quick decisions which could potentially lead to turnovers. The Coyotes did a decent enough job causing the younger D-men to take some ill-advised penalties, but it wasn't quite enough to get the win.
4. Win The Goaltending Battle. The Pacific division had three of the best starting goalies in the league last season. Two of them are the likely starters for this matchup. Phoenix needs the Mike Smith of last year to show up in Texas. Kari Lehtonen won this battle hands-down. He stopped 37 of 40 shots and shut the door on the Coyotes down the stretch. Smith was beaten four times on 26 shots, which simply wasn't good enough.
5. No Contract for Benn. No question the Coyotes can beat the Stars with Jamie Benn in the lineup. They did so last season. But with him out of the lineup, it will make it much tougher for the Stars to generate offense. Let's hope his agent and the club don't come to a contract agreement in time for him to suit up for the game. Jamie Benn did not dress, but the Stars had no problem relying on their seasoned vets for offense; Whitney and Jagr had 6 of the team's 11 points.
It was good to have everyone back in the GDT: we had 291 comments for the evening. Shoutouts to Carl Putnam, Carl Pavlock, Jordan Ellel, Acucrack, MyDearestObsession, NAU yotes fan, Giannaros, thatscrazytalk, Rudoug, TimmyHate, Rob1966, KholdStare88, Skii, and Newtonian Fluid for joining in on the conversation.
Our Three Stars of the Game
1. Jaromir Jagr - Not only did he have four points, but he had some back-breaking goals in the 1st and 2nd periods that gave Dallas a tremendous boost
2. Kari Lehtonen - He saw a lot of shots from the Coyotes, and came up with the big saves when he needed to.
3. Radim Vrbata - Vrbata had two goals and an assist on the night: Phoenix will be counting on him to stay hot throughout the shortened season.
Quick turnaround for the Desert Dogs, as they will play their first home game Sunday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. The building will be sold out as fans from across the Valley flock to see the Coyotes raise their first ever division championship banner into the rafters at Jobing.com Arena. Chicago pounded the Kings 5-2 in their opener today and will be looking to exact a little revenge on the team that bounced them from the Western Conference Quarterfinals last year.