[Ed. Note: Be sure to check out a live perspective on the game by LilEagle. Read his FanPost here.]
The Dallas Stars took to the ice for the first time under new coach Glen Gulutzan, playing the Montreal Canadiens in an amped up Bell Centre in what was described as a middle-of-the-season atmosphere. Perhaps this was the best possible way to kick off a new era in Stars hockey; playing a game in front of 22,000 and getting all of those nerves out the way in a hurry. The Stars certainly looked like they more than ready for the big lights, jumping out to a 4-0 lead just a few minutes into the second period.
If you take away an extremely shaky six minutes in the middle of the second period when Gulutzan challenged a number of young players with prime minutes, the Stars dominated the Canadiens to the tune of perhaps the most exciting preseason game we've had in Dallas in a very long time.
"We got off to that good start and then they had a real good push for about 10 minutes in the second there, and then I thought we responded pretty well in the third coming back," said Gulutzan after the game. "The power play goal that helped us make it 5-3 gave us some breathing room and I think we played pretty well in the third."
What stood out the most was the outstanding effort by what is obviously going to be the top line for the Dallas Stars, with Brenden Morrow, Michael Ryder, and Mike Ribeiro all picking up a goal in the contest. Ribeiro and Ryder were the only Stars to finish with two points each. The line showed incredible chemistry in just their first game together but more importantly showcased the aggression and energy that showcases the style of play being preached by Gulutzan.
More thoughts on the game after the jump.
Ever since Ryder was signed on July 1 we've speculated that his place on this team was the right wing next to Ribeiro and Morrow. It made sense to do so, but these things aren't always automatic and sometimes the real life chemistry doesn't match what we'd love to see on the ice.
Fortunately, the Stars look to have built a superb top line that plays just as tenaciously with the puck as we'd seen in the past with the Brad Richards line. Michael Ryder, sometimes accused of long stretches of inconsistency throughout his career, appeared to be a man on a mission and was at times the best player on the ice for the Stars.
"Me and Ribeiro have been together in pre-season pretty much the whole time, and this was the first time we played with Morrow, and I think we clicked well," said Ryder. "We had a lot of chances. It's a good step for us and hopefully, we can get better every game.
"I'm still getting used to the system, getting used to the guys. This is our first game, so it's going to take a little adjustment, but I think it's going well so far and I'm looking forward to trying to help the guys make the playoffs."
Ryder is coming off of an incredible postseason performance and a Stanley Cup victory and he looked like a leader on the ice last night. The combination of that top line is going to be hard for most teams to handle, especially if they're already building upon the incredible no-look chemistry that exists between Morrow and Ribeiro.
While much of the focus after the win was on the excitement built by the top line, the Dallas Stars showed just how effective a team can be with four effective lines rolling throughout a game. It's something that Gulutzan mentioned from the day he was hired -- the desire to be a four-line team that never lets up on an opponent. He wants the Stars to be aggressive and energetic with the puck and that's exactly what we witnessed, not just from the top line but all the way down.
Heading into training camp and this preseason, there appeared to be some hand wringing among Stars fans that with Gulutzan and the players talking about defensive responsibility and a "responsible and detailed" system, the Stars would suddenly turn into a "boring team". While this is just one game and it's impossible to make far-reaching conclusions, it's apparent that the Stars are not going to become a trap team.
Gulutzan wants the Stars to be aggressive and energetic, to constantly put pressure on the opposition. At the same time he wants to minimize defensive breakdowns and odd man rushes and he wants to focus on the defensive coverage in the Stars zone. This is something the team had struggled with in years past and it's led to many of the issues that have derailed their seasons down the stretch.
Against Montreal, the defensive positioning was outstanding. The Stars play a "zone" on defense now under Gulutzan and while there were times the players stumbled a bit, it appears that this system plays to the strengths of each individual. The Stars were able to get the puck out of the defensive zone and up the ice more efficiently in one game than I ever saw with Crawford. Having players like Goligoski and Larsen on the back end certainly helped, but the differences were more than apparent.
If this is a sign of what is to come, then Stars fans should be extremely excited. What we saw last night was a disciplined and tenacious hockey team that once again looks like the players are having fun playing hockey. It's a long season however and the games aren't counting just yet. This is certainly a step in the right direction, however.
More thoughts on the game:
- Tomas Vincour showed why he earned so much playing time in the NHL last season, taking over the ice late in the game when Gulutzan decided to give his top line a rest. Vincour, along with Wandell and Petersen, showcased a physicality and tenacity that overwhelmed the Canadiens at times. While Vincour still hasn't found that switch that allows him to turn scoring chances into goals -- he certainly knows how to make plays.
- Alex Goligoski and Philip Larsen were paired together on the power play in the second period. The speed that the Stars had on the blue line with that lineup is not fair, as Larsen used an incredible burst up the wing to back off the Canadiens and open up room for Goligoski, who had a clear shot to Ribeiro for an easy tap in.
- Tom Wandell looks like he's back after an up and down season last year. He was fast and tenacious and more importantly he was near-unbeatable in the faceoff circle.
- We haven't talked much about Jake Dowell but I think we should start soon. He's been described as an "Adam Burish clone" and last night it was made known that he led the Blackhawks in blocked shots last season. He certainly looked to be more than just a fourth line player last night, with strong defensive play in his own end and a nifty play along the boards to set up Barch's goal.
- Andrew Raycroft started the game well enough but completely broke down in the second period. Tyler Beskorowany came in and settled the team down and was a perfect 8-for-8 in saves and looked extremely comfortable in net. We all talk about Jack Campbell and his future with the franchise but we forget that the Stars have a stellar goaltender in the making with Beskorowany. It's a great problem to have.