By Craig Morgan, The Sports Xchange
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff has been harping all season on the need for his best players to play like his best players as the team attempts to survive a rash of injuries to its forward group. Ruff got the lift he needed from the Stars’ stars in a 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday at Gila River Arena.
Top-line wings Jason Spezza and Jamie Benn each had a goal and an assist, top defenseman John Klingberg scored an empty-net goal and goaltender Kari Lehtonen made 35 saves while picking up his 23rd career assist as Dallas improved to 6-4-1 in its last 11 games since a gut-check 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 1. The Stars are 4-1-1 in their last six games.
“After three days off you don’t know what to expect,” said Ruff, whose team arrived just two hours before the game due to airplane issues following the Christmas break. “I thought we really started to skate well in the third period. I liked the win.”
Mike Smith made 26 saves for Arizona, which lost its fifth straight game and is 0-4 on a five-game homestand that ends against the New York Rangers on Thursday.
Anthony Duclair scored for the Coyotes, who have 27 goals in their last 15 games (3-9-3). Radim Vrbata added a goal on a penalty shot with 6.6 seconds left after Dallas defenseman Esa Lindell closed his hand on the puck in the crease.
“We didn’t play too bad but we ended up losing a one-goal game again,” Vrbata said. “We have to find ways to win those close games. Tonight is not good enough if we’re just close.”
Dallas broke out on top when Spezza got around Vrbata during a second-period Arizona power play as Vrbata tried to cover the point for defenseman Michael Stone. Spezza brought the puck from his backhand to his forehand and flipped a puck over Smith’s blocker for a 1-0 lead at 2:48.
The goal came on the Stars’ second shorthanded chance of the same Coyotes power play. Smith stopped Benn on a breakaway moments earlier.
“When I got the puck, I tried to get my head up and knew it was (Vrbata),” Spezza said. “It’s a tough situation. I play the point on the power play too and it’s tricky when you’re not used to gapping up so I was fortunate to get around him. I don’t think he was coasting. I think it’s just harder for forwards to pivot; we’re not as good as the D-men.”
Arizona tied the game less than a minute later when left winger Tobias Rieder pushed a puck out in front of the net that right winger Duclair got four whacks at before jamming it past Lehtonen.
It was just the second goal of the season and the first in 22 games for Duclair, who had 20 goals last season as a rookie. After the goal, Duclair kissed his stick blade and smiled.
“I don’t know how many games it’s been but it’s been way too long,” Duclair said. “For that puck to go in was a pretty good feeling.”
Benn put the Stars back on top with a stroke of luck on a power play with Arizona’s Peter Holland in the box for holding. Stationed off the right post, Benn whiffed on Tyler Seguin’s pass from the left point but the puck hit his skate and stopped near the goal line, allowing Benn to push it in for 10th goal and a 2-1 lead at 12:03.