(Hi! I've been lurking on Defending Big D for a while now and have finally taken the plunge in creating an account for commenting and posting.)
A handful of random observations from attending Round 1, Game 4 at Cedar Park Center:
~ I am liking this Cameron Gaunce-Kevin Connauton thing. I like them separately, and I like them together; they compliment each other well. Gaunce seemed quite solid in the defensive zone, and Connauton held his own while providing smart offense. That shot he took that Alex Chiasson tipped beautifully in signature Chaser fashion (which turned out to be the game-winner), that was no fluke. It was something I'd noticed him trying in the shifts leading up to the goal. It seemed to me that the Stars had a plan and were circling in on making it work, until it finally did -- but it wasn't like there was mounting frustration. More, they just kept doing their thing, as if they knew that eventual success was inevitable if they stayed steady... and it was. I hope Connauton keeps developing that strong, confident shot from the point, and keeps taking it often. So far, so good!
~ I thought Joe Morrow showed potential as well. I definitely noticed him do some good things, including one very nice end-to-end rush, carrying the puck at speed deep into the Milwaukee zone. He also seemed pretty good at finding the puck in the defensive zone and clearing it, and at least once he used a quick stick to break up a Milwaukee rush -- I liked his efficiency, calm, and positioning on that play. I wasn't watching him carefully enough to know how he stacks up against the other offensive or two-way puck-moving defenseman in the system, I'd have to do a lot more study to be able to really compare, but I'd say he made a decent first impression on me.
~ Jamie Oleksiak, Jordie Benn, and Maxime Fortunus were pretty much exactly as they have been, both the good and the bad, which is to say mostly solid with the occasional mild gaffe or less than smooth play. Oleksiak-Benn and Fortunus-Gaunce were (separately) on the ice during the last minute or two of play as the Stars attempted to preserve their 2-1 lead. Overall, I'd say the D looked pretty darn good. Especially the Connauton-Gaunce pairing; upon first blush, it looks like we got pretty good value in the trades that brought them here (a soon-to-be UFA Derek Roy to Vancouver for Connauton and a second round pick in the 2013 draft, which is projected to be quite deep; Tomas Vincour to Colorado for Gaunce).
~ The Mike Hedden-Alex Chiasson-Justin Dowling line looked dangerous all game and were effective at both ends of the ice. The only flaw that jumped out at me was in faceoffs. I love Chiasson a LOT and would be very interested to see if he could develop into a good top-6 center, but Dallas is pretty weak on faceoffs already. Really, what we need is better faceoff work across the board, but finding at least one offensive center that can also win faceoffs consistently (Vernon Fiddler was probably the best at them this past year, but he is at best a secondary offensive threat and it's not like he was dominant in the dot, either) would be incredibly helpful. What I don't really know is how much faceoff win percentage can really be improved by hard work. I mean, I know it's something that gets worked on in practices, but the really good faceoff guys seem to have some level of instinctive talent for it that I'm not sure can actually be learned. But presumably it can at least be improved, and if Chiasson can do that, then maybe a conversion to center could really work. It would certainly solve one of the club's most pressing problems. Still, even if Chiasson stays primarily a winger (or if by some miracle the Stars acquire a couple of true top-6 centers in the next year or two and can move Jamie Benn back to wing), having him work on faceoffs is probably a good thing. One of the many ways in which Steve Ott was missed this year -- he mostly played wing, but he often took faceoffs, especially if he was on Benn's wing, and he was much better at them than most of the Stars' other forwards. Otter, I miss you! I mean, I totally get why that trade happened, and well, Kevin Connauton and a second round pick (plus a partial season of Derek Roy) is looking like a pretty darn good return for him, so. But I still felt all warm and squishy inside when I saw that the guy sitting in front of me at the game was wearing an Ott jersey.
~ Reilly Smith seemed a little out of sorts. I'm not sure the line of he and Brett Ritchie with Scott Glennie centering them has really clicked offensively yet, and they're not exactly a natural checking line, so. But they've only been together a couple of games at this point, so perhaps they'll find some chemistry soon. They certainly have enough collective talent to make a difference in a game.
~ I thought Brett Sonne played well after being inserted into the lineup on the first line for an injured Travis Morin between Matt Fraser and Colton Sceviour. He got the second assist on Fraser's goal (the always-important first goal of the game) and looked comfortable and competent on the top line whenever I noticed him, no mean feat after having been scratched for a few games.
~ The crowd was sporadically into the game, and by the third period was pretty much all-in. They seemed somewhat resistant to following the cheers that the jumbotron attempted to incite, but there were a few instances of excellent spontaneous call and response cheers, particularly in the third. I also enjoyed the chorus of voices calling out "Luuuuuuuuuuuke" whenever Gadzic did anything even moderately useful -- kind of adorable!
~ Cristopher Nilstorp and Magnus Hellberg hugged it out at the end of the handshake line. Swedish goalies stick together! They were both terrific -- all series, really. There were only 12 goals total scored in the four games of the series, two of which were shutouts, one for each goalie. Pretty darn impressive.