All of the talk about a fresh start for the Dallas Stars franchise in the preseason was nice, but when it came time to see it in action Thursday night it was evident there is still much work to do.
The Florida Panthers weathered an early storm in the first period, failing to put a single shot on net until nearly seven minutes into the game. In the remaining 53 minutes they would pour 39 shots on a defense that hoped to change that about itself, and took the game by a score of 4-2.
Kari Lehtonen was stellar in net, and he had to be, rather unfortunately. Tim Thomas was equal to the task at the other end of the ice, but it was his teammates who blocked 24 shot attempts in front of him that frustrated Dallas throughout the night.
Dallas had earned at least one point in each of the last 14 home openers (11-0-3), but that streak dies tonight. The Panthers have now won six of their last seven games at American Airlines Center dating back to the 2001-2002 season.
0-0-1 to start, and Washington Capitals come on Saturday night. It's a work in progress under a new coaching staff and so many new faces. And it's just one game.
Dallas started strong, controlling play early and keeping the Panthers shot-less through much of the early going. The Stars led 8-3 in shots about halfway through the period, and pure five-on-five even strength play was suiting them quite well. A failed power play gave way to Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel fighting, electrifying the crowd, but putting the Stars on the PK.
From that point on it was all Florida as the momentum swung, and the Stars began to lose puck battles, eventually leading to a goal from... Scott Gomez...who apparently is still playing. The Stars' woes were compounded when Erik Cole took a hooking penalty immediately following the goal, but they were able to kill it off to end the period, shots then 12-9 in favor of Florida.
The problem-period for Dallas last season opened with more of the same. Stagnation from the Stars on offense stemmed from confusion on their coverage, making for slow (or non) moving feet and frustration from the faithful in victory green.
A Kris Versteeg penalty helped liven things up a little, though the Stars failed on the power play once more, not recording a single shot. Less than a minute later, Alex Chiasson found a Ray Whitney point shot off the end boards and wrapped the puck around past a diving Tim Thomas to break the seal on the season and knot the game at one.
Dallas pushed and made Thomas work for the middle portion of the frame, but Florida, led by Barkov, tilted the ice once more in the Panthers favor, peppering Kari Lehtonen with seven shots in the frame's final five minutes.
Vern Fiddler appeared to die of death late in the period after falling to the ice and hitting his head and shoulder violently, but returned without visiting the locker room.
Repairs to the tall glass made for an extremely awkward dismount to the period and 25 seconds were carried over to the other side of the intermission as no horn sounded, and the players made their way off the benches all of a sudden.
Quality chances for Stephane Robidas, Alex Goligoski, Tyler Seguin and Shawn Horcoff came and went early in the third, then another for Alex Chiasson on a power play before Erik Cole yanked the Stars off the job with an interference penalty.
Too many missed opportunities and penalty trouble generally spell impending doom, but Vern Fiddler poked a puck loose on the kill, charged hard to the net and got the puck to Antoine Roussel whose rebound was pounded into a gaping net by a hard charging Brenden Dillon.
The lead was not to be enjoyed, however, as Lehtonen continued to be peppered and right out of a TV timeout a scrum ensued in the crease with Kari making the first and second saves, but not the third as young Barkov found room unmolested at the top of the crease.
Then following a shift on which the Benn line hits a post and misses two apparent empty nets, the Panthers break out of their own zone, waltz past a four-man front the Stars had stacked across their own blue line, and beat Lehtonen to take a lead. Call it defensive confusion on responsibilities, call it karma after so many missed chances. Whatever it was it was ugly and it essentially ended the game.
-Concerns about the Eakin/Chiasson/Whitney trio's ability to hang defensively were well founded, if some sequences were any indication. Against much, much, much better Western Conference foes that might bite them, and Rich Peverley may be an option somewhere there if it continues. It's just one game.
-The official explanation on the Kulikov and Garbutt game misconducts is starting another fight after the initial altercation, which apparently is left up to the referees discretion. Even though it happens all the time. So... still a head scratcher.
-Nichushkin for Calder, say the talking heads? They're just reading headlines. How about Alex Chiasson?
-Chiasson scores goals, sure, but he also broke up (or at least made a little difference) back-checking on that Florida shorthanded opportunity in the first, then was out there a few minutes later on the penalty kill. Is he an NHL level penalty killer right now? Perhaps not, but if they have conviction in making him into one, rounding out his game all the more, then that could be an exciting development.
I- couldn't help but look down at Krys Barch's name on the scratch list for the Panthers as Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt were simultaneously and demonstratively WINNING fights, not just participating.
-13:45 remaining in second, Stars on power play. People yelling "SHOOT IT" and Stars do, indiscriminately and without great design or forethought. Quickly lose possession of puck and the power play ticks away. But at least they shot it, so, you know...
-The players already have hybrid icing down to where they're not expending one iota of energy they don't have to chasing after a puck when there's no real race. They look around, they slow down. It will be funny, or otherwise tragic, the first time a player gives up on a play and then watches with horror as an opposing player cruises right by him.
-That Tim Thomas can still play a little bit. He was sharp, and could give the Panthers some chances to hang around in tough division matchups if he plays like that. Nice pickup for them.