Rarely can a team claim a talented rookie's production as a Christmas gift, but the Stars got James Neal tightly rapped with a bow against Toronto on Tuesday night.
The 21-year-old Neal recorded his first career hat trick and looked truly dominant against the Maple Leafs. Even more special than scoring his first hat trick was doing it not far from where he grew up, as a Whitby native.
Adding to the specialty of tonight’s one-sided victory were local heroes Trevor Daley, a Toronto native who recorded two assists, and Krys Barch of Hamilton, who had a goal and was involved in two fights.
"I'm sure it's a big thrill for the guys that are from this area and come back and play here," coach Dave Tippett said.
"It's a special day, coming home and playing the Toronto Maple Leafs," Neal said. "It's a dream come true playing here because of watched them my whole life as a Leaf fan. I had a lot of family and friends here, so it's something special that I'll never forget."
The first period was all Dallas, with Neal beginning the scoring at 3:23 on a snap shot. Trevor Daley and Jere Lehtinen each recorded on the goal, Neal’s ninth of the season. At 8:55 Steve Ott shook the twine on a tip-in goal from Mike Ribeiro and Fabian Brunnstrom.
Not more than two minutes later Brunnstrom would decide it was time to score his own goal, recording his tenth of the season at 10:45 on a wrap-around. Steve Ott and Stephane Robidas recorded assists on the goal.
To complete the Stars scoring in the first frame Brad Richards scored a power play goal at 14:12 on a slap shot. Robidas recorded his second assist of the night and Mike Modano also received credit for an assist.
The Stars would keep the momentum going in the second period, with Barch recording his third goal of the year at 3:45 with assists from Landon Wilson Trevor Daley.
Ribeiro recorded his fifth goal of the season at 10:15. Landon Wilson recorded his second assist of the game, along with Matt Niskanen recording his ninth of the season. At 11:35 James Neal scored his second of the game on a tip-in with assists from Niklas Grossman and Lehtinen.
At 15:33 Jason Blake put the Leafs on the board for the first time with a snap shot goal, his seventh of the year. Dominic Moore and Tomas Kaberle recorded assists on the goal.
The third was much less of a scoring period. Mikhail Grabovski scored his 12th goal of the year at 9:20 with assists from Andre Deveaux and Lee Stempniak. James Neal recorded his trio at 18:34 with a snap shot power play goal from Andrew Hutchinson and Marty Turco.
Final shots at the end of the game saw Dallas outshoot Toronto, 37-22, with the Maple Leafs only outshooting Dallas in the final period.
"Points are so big right now, we're just trying to do everything we can to keep going here," Neal said. "It was a tough loss in Ottawa the other night because you don't want to have points slip away from you. So we have to keep going, and it showed that we were ready tonight."
"That team is fighting to get into the playoffs, too, so they had a lot at stake tonight," Daley said. "It was two teams that needed points tonight, and I felt we played a lot better."
"We were great tonight, and it's something to build on," Daley said. "It shows that we can do it. We looked good out there."
After the Christmas break Dallas will face the division rival Anaheim Ducks at home on Saturday. The game will be featured on Fox Sports Net Southwest at 7pm central. The game is the first of a three-game home stand with the completion of the home stand set for New Year’s Eve.
- Former Anaheim Duck Brian Sutherby made his Dallas debut tonight. He replaced Mark Parish in the Stars lineup. Sutherby recorded 12 minutes of ice time and was held pointless.
“In the time Brian Sutherby was here, he was always a Ducks kind of player,” Adam Brady, the Ducks Director of Publications had to say about the former Anaheim grinder.
“He always worked hard, got into the dirty areas and did the little things that don't usually show up on the score sheet. Unfortunately, the Ducks got into a situation where they had too many forwards and not enough salary cap space, so they had to trade him away. But while he was here, he was an easy guy to appreciate.”
The Stars will surely be helped by his hard work and willingness to do the thankless jobs.
- Joel Lundqvist is listed as day-to-day due to a nagging shoulder injury.
- Ribeiro’s goal tonight was the 100th of his NHL career.
- Dallas has recorded at least a point in nine of their last 13 games, posting an 8-4-1 record.
- Dallas improved to 7-9-2 on the road.
- Dallas was 2-for-3 on the power play.
Stars Quotes and Stars Notes: Courtesy of Dallas Stars post-game recap
Original Boxscore: Courtesy of NHL.com
Special thanks to Adam Brady for giving me some insight into the player Brian Sutherby was with the Ducks, and his quote for this article.
Ken Armer is the NHL Community Coordinator for Bleacher Report and also serves as the Community Leader for the Dallas Stars. He can be contacted on his profile or by e-mail at email@example.com.