Well, Saturday night was fun.
The Dallas Stars thrilled the home crowd with a dynamic offensive attack led by high-priced free agents that did exactly what they were brought in to do - Score goals and possess the puck. The penalties were adventurous but they held the Coyotes in check at even strength with strong first and third periods. Kari Lehtonen looked solid. A promising beginning.
Then last night in Minnesota the reality of a six day training camp without a preseason hit everyone like a big pie in the face before the good feelings from opening night had a chance to fade. The chemistry is not established. The conditioning is not where it needs to be. The roster is not where it needs to be. The result was that a one-goal loss looked much worse to ye old eyeball test.
The Stars actually out-attempted the Wild by a margin of 62-51 (shots, shots blocked, missed shots) but, as Josh tallied it last night, got badly out-chanced 19-11. Quantity is good, but the quality wasn't there last night and Josh Harding was the recipient of a pretty easy shutout as a result.
It isn't all bad. You could make an argument that the Stars haven't really surrendered an even-strength goal yet this season. The Parise blast from the point was technically scored a 4-on-4 tally, but the Stars were down a man in the zone and scrambling. It was effectively a power play goal with Goligoski just out of the box. The even-strength Phoenix goal off the Jordie Benn turnover isn't on the Stars' team game either. That was an aberration. The overall 5-on-5 play has been solid. The Stars out-chanced the Wild in the first period at even-strength, even.
The flurry of puzzling calls from the officials derailed things to an extent as it did against Phoenix. The Stars lacked the legs, chemistry, home-crowd and outstanding individual efforts to make up for it in game two that they had in game one.
A single outstanding individual effort would have been all they needed to drag a point out of very sloppy night.
That's where everyone will scream for Jamie Benn.
If Detroit wallops Dallas on Tuesday night in their home opener will the Stars cry uncle and make Joe Nieuwendyk's vision for this 2012-2013 roster whole? It has been guessed that both sides would wait a few games and see to which side the leverage shifts based on what happens on the ice, but does it really have any bearing on the negotiations? The Stars are always going to be better off with Benn in the lineup than without.
Glen Gulutzan's challenge without him, as we saw last night, is how to manufacture scoring chances in the mean time. Derek Roy was double shifted last night as the game wore on. Tom Wandell played just 12 minutes as a second line center because he doesn't contribute to special teams. Cody Eakin played only nine minutes.
Is a shuffling of centers in the offering any time soon? The Stars need Eakin with Smith because that line has contributed effectively through 120 minutes by pushing the play forward into the offensive zone nearly every time they take the ice. On the other hand, Michael Ryder didn't have a shot on goal last night and had just two on Saturday. It's a bizarre season with a bizarre start, but a teams' best goal scorer from a year ago needs to be fed.
(Aside: Tom Wandell leads the team in even-strength shots on goal this season. He has four of them. They have come from distances of 57 feet, 69 feet, 49 feet and 37 feet according to the NHL play by play files.)
It's a delicate balancing act, and while the Stars have a LOT more information this morning than they did 72 hours ago, they still don't have enough. Do you panic and switch things up Tuesday night when the sample size is so small? If Loui Eriksson and Jaromir Jagr are rested could Tom Wandell work there while Roy is given a shot to ignite Whitney and Ryder a little bit?
There are options there, but sometimes the best one is patience.
There's also an argument to be made for Dallas' competition to this point. The Coyotes and Wild clog things up as much as possible as a rule, so the Stars could have better luck as the schedule unfolds. On the other hand, caution should be the name of the game across the league and coming up in the next seven games the Stars have two with the Red Wings, two with the Coyotes, the Blues and the Blackhawks. Finding balanced offense with a structured defensive game staring them in the face will be a nightly challenge.
This is the preseason, training camp and a playoff race all rolled into one. If the Stars get the goaltending they have so far they'll have a chance to exercise some patience and hope the chemistry coalesces. The Coyotes are 0-2-0. The Blue Jackets beat the Predators. It's going to take a while for things to sort themselves out. The teams that gyrate themselves into a tizzy to start will have messes on their hands.
The weekend offered a dichotomous glimpse of what this team could be in either extreme. Which way it goes with five more in the next eight days is still anyone's guess.