Last season, the Dallas Stars were able to win only one single game on the second half of a back-to-back set. They could only generate four points out of a possible 28 points in that situation last season. That didn't change tonight, as the Stars lose 1-0 to the Minnesota Wild on the road in their first back-to-back of the season. The positive the team can take out of tonight's game, however, is that they were in it right up through the end - they were able to keep it to a one shot game. Often last season, the Stars would not even be close at the end of these games. With nine sets of back-to-backs this season for a possible 18 points in the standings, it will be imperative to get some wins in these games to make the playoffs - it could make the difference between getting in or being on the outside looking in (again) this season.
The other big positive out of the game tonight was the play of rookie goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp. He was the Stars' best player on the ice tonight. At the start of the first period, Nilstorp saw quite a bit of action which helped put him into a groove early and get over nerves quickly. He made timely saves, and was very positionally sound. He used his big body to come out and cut off angles. The only shot he let into the net was a big booming point shot by Zach Parise.
The team tonight was almost the exact opposite of what was seen by Stars fans at the AAC last night. Last night we saw what this team was capable of when all things are working well - even strength scoring, power play scoring, a good transition game and zone entries. The Stars benefited a lot from having last change last night, where they could dictate line matchups on home ice. Tonight, with first change, the Wild were able to focus their best defensive pairing on the top line of Jaromir Jagr and company and shut them down. When that happens, the Stars will need depth scoring from the other lines to come through to win games. Getting Jamie Benn signed and into the lineup would surely only help in these kinds of situations, where he would be freed up to generate some scoring chances for his line. Tonight, there were not a lot of scoring chances generated by the other lines on the ice and the Wild were able to shut down Jagr, Loui Eriksson and Derek Roy. The 'real' Dallas Stars team is probably somewhere between what was seen over the past two nights.
Some other thoughts on tonight's game:
The transition game struggled. The defense seemed content to wait for the long outlet pass instead of skating the puck into the zone, which didn't help them to establish any kind of sustained forecheck. Passes were often behind guys or overskated, often missing tape. The Stars spent a majority of time in the neutral zone fighting to just get into the offensive zone. They often dumped the puck into the zone, allowing Minnesota to shut off any opportunity to get anything going and get the puck out of the zone. Their best scoring chance came at the end of the third period when the Stars were on the penalty kill.
Special teams tonight had good and bad moments. The power play never connected, but they still had decent movement to get at least a few scoring chances. The good news is that technically they did not give up a power play goal. Zach Parise's lone tally of the game came a second after a penalty had expired. However, penalty troubles are what led to the goal - Alex Goligoski had a rare "closing the hand on the puck" penalty called on him, but the Stars were able to draw a penalty from Minnesota's Ryan Suter when he tripped Eriksson up to even it up to 4-on-4. Then Jaromir Jagr went for holding, which opened up the ice for a Wild 4-on-3. A fair amount of puck movement later, and the Stars were down by one.
Conditioning had an impact on the players tonight. Coach Glen Gulutzan said afterwards that the team had a "lethargic" start. There were shots of players on the bench breathing hard after shifts - harder than usually seen when the team gets a long camp and preseason games to get into shape. Because of this, the line of Cody Eakin, Reilly Smith and Ryan Garbutt seemed to be the one that generated the most tonight. As the game went on, they were put out on the ice to try to generate the tying goal.
DBD's Three Stars Of The Game:
Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild
Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
Cristopher Nilstorp, Dallas Stars