The Dallas Stars had a chance to make an early season statement this weekend. After winning the first game of a home-and-home against Chicago, the Stars traveled to take on the Blackhawks on the road against a very good team in their own building. If the Stars had been able to open the season with two wins against an obviously very good Blackhawks team then the table was set for the Stars to surprise the NHL with a surprising start.
Instead, the Stars played like a team with six new players on the roster who were also missing two very important defensemen. The Blackhawks ultimately had more firepower and more energy in front of their home crowd and the Stars were unable match the intensity of their opponent as the game went on. Throw in some questionable goaltending and we have a loss that is tough for fans to swallow after such a great start to the season.
After the jump, some quick thoughts on the loss on Saturday night.
** I know some were questioning the decision to start Andrew Raycroft in this game, but we all knew that for the Stars to even have a chance this season Kari Lehtonen needs to stay fresh. The Stars also play the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday and in reality that game is much more important than the game against Chicago, as the Coyotes are a team the Stars will be directly competing against in that middle-of-the-west pack.
I thought Raycroft player okay, but he had some trouble with his rebounds and allowed a few soft goals that really broke any momentum the Stars were trying to build. The goal allowed to Patrick Sharp was particularly frustrating as it was apparent that Raycroft was too far back in his crease and was ready for the pass.
** Mark Fistric is struggling right now while getting significant minutes. Glen Gulutzan has continuously talked about how each player and each line is just as important as any other and he's shown that so far, testing players in situations they might not have played in the past. On the Blackhawks power play goal, Fistric was in on the penalty kill and failed to provide a physical presence in the crease, which allowed the Hawks to get a rebound goal. Fistric is struggling with transition right now with the puck and last night was not the physical force he's paid to be and there's a very good chance he could be the odd man out when Grossman and Pardy return next week.
** The Stars have scored just four goals in two games, albeit against one of the tougher defensive teams in the NHL. What really stood out to me was the fact that the Stars were unable to get the puck into prime scoring position, that middle of the slot area where most goals are generated from. I'm sure we'll see this reflected in Josh's scoring chance update, but the Stars were consistently kept on the perimeter of the offensive zone. One goal was scored from outside this scoring chance area and the other was a tip-in by Steve Ott.
** The Stars offense was exceptionally anemic for the better part of two periods of play. Gulutzan finally decided to switch things up in the third period and we might be getting our first good look at what we'll see moving forward. With Ott on the second line with Benn and Eriksson, and Burish moving up to play with Dvorak and Fiddler, the Stars had finally found a bit of a balance in their attacks. Unfortunately, it was a bit too late and a bad penalty by Steve Ott took away any momentum the Stars were building.
** When your third line is the best line for your team two games in a row, you know things aren't going very well. I think that Vernon Fiddler is playing out of his mind right now and it was great to see them able to establish a big offensive push throughout the game. It wasn't until the third period that the other lines caught up, although the Stars were never able to generate much of a sustained forecheck. This is the key to the Glen Gulutzan approach, a strong forecheck that creates mistakes and turnovers by the opposition and right now the Stars aren't getting that done.
** What really stood out to me was the lack of "tape to tape" passes. Too many passes were hitting players in the skates or the legs, making a smooth transition nearly impossible. The Stars must clean this up moving forward.
** On a positive note, Sheldon Souray is looking like he's going to work out. So far he's been the best defenseman for the Stars through two games. Not only is his bomb of a shot still there but he's playing well in front of the net and he's making great decisions with the puck. He's a force in front of the goaltender and he's finally showing what a physical presence in the defensive zone can look like.
** In the end, the Stars have a lot of work to do. This is obviously a team that is trying to find chemistry and the best players aren't playing their best. Jamie Benn is showing some flashes individually but he's still working on being a playmaker for those around him. It wasn't until the final 15 minutes of the game that we finally saw Loui Eriksson come to life and the Stars' second line started to really come together. Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder are scoreless through two games, something that is going to have to change in a hurry if the Stars have any hope of putting together a good season.
** To me, the struggles from last night had nothing to do with effort or "want". While I think the Stars were lacking energy for most of the game, the Blackhawks weren't much better. The difference was that the Hawks just have more talent and are a better team and were playing in front of a big home crowd. I saw some good effort at times, mixed in with some bad mistakes, and it's going to take a while for Gulutzan to break this team of bad habits. To me, I'm not so much interested in how the Stars fly out of the gate as I am interested to see how Gulutzan and his staff correct mistakes and prepare this team moving forward.
** The Stars have played a very good team two games in a row on back to back nights. Going in, if you would have told me the Stars would walk away 1-1-0, I might have been okay with that. Right now, it's obvious that the Stars are well below that "upper tier" of teams in the Western Conference. The question is, where do they stand in comparison to the next group of teams in the conference? They get their first test on Monday when they take on the Phoenix Coyotes.