I had the chance to attend last night's game between the Dallas Stars and the Pittsburgh Penguins, watching the contest from the seats of one of the nicest NHL arena's I've ever been to. It was the first time in a few years that I watched a game from the stands while cheering on the road team and it's always interesting to get the perspective of other fans on your team.
All in all it was frustrating night as a Stars fan. It was obvious from the very start that they just didn't have their normal jump and energy and the Penguins were just too good of a team not to take advantage of that. What frustrated me the most about the loss wasn't that they weren't able to win on the road in Pittsburgh, it's that the team never really put up a fight after Eric Nystrom's goal. I don't know the exact minute count but it felt like the Stars wen't well over 20 minutes between the second and third periods without a shot on goal.
The good news is that the Stars don't have time to dwell on this game as they turn right around and face Detroit tonight. After a loss like this one, where the team acknowledges and knows it was grossly outplayed, having the chance to redeem themselves against another great opponent is usually a very good thing. It's the measure of a good team; how can they respond after a bad loss? So far this season they've shown that's a strength of theirs as a team and I'm certain they're hungry to prove that once again.
More random thoughts on the Consol Energy Center (or Consol Center) as well as the game itself after the jump.a
Note: Just some random thoughts and observations on the arena and the game. In no particular order.
- I don't know how many of you have ever been to Pittsburgh, but it's an absolutely gorgeous city. Perhaps the most scenic big city in the United States. Incredible architecture, rivers, mountains, you name it. Unfortunately, the city just wasn't built for motorized transportation and without a public transit system in place it means that traffic is bad. I mean...bad. The roads make no sense, there's construction everywhere and if you think you're going to use a GPS to get around you are mistaken, my friend.
- The Consol Center is...well, I don't know what it is. I don't think there's a singular word to describe it. It's certainly much, much different than the American Airlines Center, that's for certain. I don't want to bash the AAC, since I really do love that arena and think it's one of the best in the NHL, but it's obvious that the designers of the Consol Center wanted it to be a very loud and very intense atmosphere.
- The stands are nearly vertical, with a very large upper level (probably twice the size of the AAC) that is designed to be a very loud place. What I really loved the most was how the concourse was open to the arena and the stands, there were no doorways to walk through to get to the seats. Pretty much the entire concourse is a standing room only type of area, where you can get your beer and still watch the game while waiting to go down to your seats.
- I can't wait for when the AAC is packed full of people. I don't care what the game presentation is or what songs are being played, when there's 18,000 people all packed into an arena they make their own atmosphere.
- How does a brand new arena have beer that tastes like vinegar? Also: try the pulled pork nachos.
- Final word on the arena: I have been to many, many, many hockey games in my life. This was the first game I have ever been to where the home team was winning and the crowd was streaming for the exits with about four minutes left. When the game was actually over the arena was probably only about 30% full. I have never seen that before and it was a bit jarring not to see the home crowd cheering like mad for the final minute of the game. People said it's because of the traffic that everyone was leaving early but I don't think I'll ever understand that.
- Final word on Penguins fans: They really were great. Very nice to us as Stars fans and very complimentary of the team after the game. I received several "good game" comments while walking out. It really was a very good experience overall and I can't wait to go back again.
- I thought that Kari Lehtonen was incredible during for most of the game, then it seemed like he started overcommit a bit as the game progressed. The second goal was just Lehtonen playing aggressive and it's something that is always going to be a big part of his game and most of the time it works while some of the time it hurts him.
- The Stars defense had a very bad game. Gap control was almost non-existent and they allowed the Penguins to have way too many chances in the Stars' zone. What I found encouraging, however, is that while the Stars defense obviously had some troubles, they still were able to limit chances against a very good team and only allowed two goals as a team (I don't count the penalty shot against them). It's also important to note that the defense was thrown out of whack for most of the game due to the injuries to Goligoski and Fistric.
- The Morrow and Ribeiro line is struggling mightily right now and we witnessed what happens when the Benn line is taken out of the game. That needs to change, and fast.
- I know much of this is negative, but I also thought it was good to see that the Stars not only had the lead in the game but kept it close, despite obviously being outplayed.
- Teams are now starting to gameplan for Souray. Everytime he touched the puck at the point there was a player right on him, playing very aggressive against him. For the most part it worked and it eventually led to a breakaway chance for Matt Cooke. The Stars are going to have to find a new strategy other than "get the puck to Souray" on the power play, because teams are now keen to that.
- Speaking of the power play: I don't know exactly what the Stars' internal strategy might be but they should take a good hard look at the Penguins' special teams. They move the puck fast and hard through the zone, getting the penalty kill unit to extend themselves and open lanes and are able to put the puck on net from prime areas on the ice. The Stars, meanwhile, try to play it much more patient and hold the puck on the boards, idly moving the puck around while waiting for the perfect play. It's frustrating to see, especially from up high and in person, how much of a difference there is between the Stars special teams and others'.
- I don't care what anyone says or how they feel about the trade, but the James Neal that is playing for the Penguins right now is not the same player that was in Dallas last season. This was the guy from three years ago when he broke into the NHL, not the one that suddenly had a case of the yips and lost his scoring touch. Last night he was physical, aggressive and he finally remembered how to get the puck between the pipes. Same with Matt Niskanen.
- Perhaps it was Marc Crawford, but I think Neal just needed a big change. He struggled last season in Pittsburgh as well, before the summer and he's obviously refocused his game. I think it's good to see and I wish him all the best and I really hope -- at some point -- we can all move forward and be happy with Alex Goligoski.
- Speaking of Goligoski, fans are about to see just how important he is to this team. While he may not be putting up Sheldon Souray numbers, through the first 15 games of this season he's been their best and most balanced defenseman by far.
- Finally, a quick word on the officiating. It was bad. Very, very bad. When the fans in the stands are even acknowledging how bad the calls were -- in favor of the Penguins -- then you know you've got some bad stuff going on. The boarding call was absolutely horrendous and perhaps one of the worst I've ever seen, especially considering that it was called from the referee on the far end of the ice. Of course, blame should also be put on the shoulders of the player that fully embellished that hit and it's something the NHL needs to take a good hard look at. The Penguins scored the game-winning goal on that ensuing power play and it was incredibly frustrating to watch.