Happy to be home? Well, following an 0-3 road trip one can only assume the Stars are happy to be home. But they now face a Montreal Canadiens team that sits in second place in the fiercely competitive Atlantic Division. I only say that half-facetiously.
The big question tonight? Can the Stars hold the Habs to fewer than five goals? Ordinarily, one would give fairly decent odds of an NHL team being able to accomplish such a thing. But the Stars have conceded five goals, and five goals exactly, in each of their past four games. I predict a hat trick for P.K. Subban.
For the low down on the Montreal Canadiens, we talked with avowed non-analytics expert Veronica Canete of Eyes on the Prize. So be warned, there are no fancy stats in this piece. It's great.
Our questions, her answers:
Defending Big D: Before the season a lot of national pundits were predicting great things from the Stars. In a kind of 'mark this day on your calendars because it's going to be a good game' kind of way. What's the sentiment outside of Dallas now though as the Stars experience this tire fire, for lack of a better expression? Did you even remember you were playing the Stars this weekend?
As you put it, Saturday's game was not a ‘mark your calendar' game for me. I mark in my calendar the big divisional games, or games when we'll meet a team that embarrassed us last time, or like a game against Winnipeg, who after last year when Gallagher got beat up and manhandled in the O zone when he was trying to get back up the ice. Teams I want revenge on. Dallas is none of those things for me. Dallas is doing terribly, but to hear a lot of the talk out of Montreal, so are the 17-8-2 Habs. And, you've got one of the more exciting players in Seguin, we've got a couple of those guys too, add to that a Dallas team that needs to get its confidence back, and a Habs team coming in a night after playing the Hawks but having a lot to prove after a disappointing start to the western road trip ... it's going to be interesting. Or HORRIBLE.
Obscene Alex: How is Gonchar doing? I can't exactly say we miss him, but we don't wish him ill...
I wouldn't wish the guy ill either. I like him. He played with a ton of energy his first few games in, seeming to immediately change the complexion of our dismal power play. But now, a few games later, he's slowing down. He's probably getting too many minutes for a player his age, but he is smart. And seems to have instantly earned the respect of his teammates. Probably a combination of a tightly knit brotherhood that adopts new members automatically, his personality (we haven't had any experience with refreshingly talkative Russians), and the respect you have to show for a veteran. How's Moen? [Ed. note: Who?]
DBD: A 2-1 loss to the Wild on Wednesday evening, and the Habs will be on the second night of a road back-to-back when they visit Dallas. How are the Canadiens playing right now, and will they be able to take full advantage of the many defensive breakdowns and scoring chances the Stars offer them?
Right now, I think the team's experiencing equal parts bad luck and bad effort. The Minnesota game is a good example of this, with the first goal that was an utter fluke and happening in the opening seconds of the game. The team then proceeded to produce only 10 shots in the first two periods. Ten!!! It's okay that maybe the wind got taken out of their sails early, but at some point these guys, who are proud professional hockey players after all, have to shake that off and pepper the other goalie. They've had a pretty consistently bad first and sometimes second period so far this season but are still enjoying a lofty spot in the standings. Still, there is a serious urgency to show effort in all three periods. It's that simple. And a little bizarre. So - if they're facing a team of many defensive breakdowns, the talent is definitely there to capitalize on those, but I can't predict that they will considering the effort level required given their performance so far. I'm hoping they come crashing out of the gate in this Chicago game Friday night. The first period will say it all.
OA: Once upon a time, the Stars had Brett Hull. Montreal has PK Subban. Remind us how it is to have a real personality on the team.
This is the first bona fide, all-around personality the Canadiens have had since Guy Lafleur. I live in Vancouver, so most of the Habs fans I know are exclusively on Twitter, and most of those belong to age groups that haven't experienced such a star on their team. On social media, I have never seen a bad word uttered about Subban by Habs fans. Good or bad, his face is plain with excitement each game. He loves it. This is so much more than a job for him, he is a Montreal Canadien and he embraces all that comes with that. This is a guy who has repeatedly talked about that Stanley Cup, and retiring a Canadien. It's the kind of feeling that Habs fans haven't known in a while, and thought we might never have again. His enthusiasm and unwavering eye on the prize makes us feel like it's a real possibility, and last season many had to finally admit it was even a probability. Carey Price got run and removed from the playoffs; had that not happened I'm convinced they would have eliminated the Rangers, for a number of reasons. With the way the Habs played, I think an L.A./Habs final would have been very even. Subban vs Doughty? Oh, man. I digress. The point is, Subban's incredibly talented, exciting to watch, has an affable personality off the ice, was raised exceptionally well by parents who should write a how-to book, and most of all, he loves Montreal and never wants to leave. Everyone knows it's an incredibly hard city to play in, probably the hardest. So as a fan, there is nothing else to ask for.
DBD: Give us your take on the Atlantic Division. Are the Bruins a little bit broken? Will Tampa Bay remain at the top of the group? Can Florida hang around long enough to actually challenge for a playoff spot?
Not being into the stats part of the game, I analyze the emotional and psychological aspect. Human behaviour and team dynamics are fascinating to me. It's fair to say the Bruins are a little broken. For me, that begins and ends with what happened in the playoffs against Montreal, however obnoxious that sounds. The most horrible fate to befall the Bruins is being eliminated by Montreal. I think that after that they reevaluated and decided that their bully style wasn't getting them anywhere anymore. They've lost three times to Montreal this season, Lucic made a fool out of himself and his team in Montreal, and since has obviously been on a tight leash. Thornton is gone, Lucic is minding his manners, and all of a sudden, they are awkwardly trying to adapt to this personality about-face. Had they eliminated Montreal in the playoffs, I'm not sure they would have changed a thing. Their start hasn't been great, especially in contrast to the past two seasons, and it's not so early in the season anymore to say, "it's still early!"
Tampa has been terrific, and it's no surprise. And again, they had a lot to prove to their fans after being swept in the playoffs. You have a healthy goalie, Steven Stamkos and the adjustment to losing part of the team's heart in St. Louis, and they're rocking and rolling. I see them maintaining their pace, a pretty well-oiled machine over there.
Florida is one of those teams flying under the radar and they're on pace to overtake Boston and Toronto in the division, having games in hand on both. I like their coach, too. With the exception of five games this season, they've not lost by more than a goal. And although they haven't yet beat a "hard" team, I don't see a reason at this time to count them out of the race.
OA: Will Price or Tokarski ever come anywhere near Roy or Dryden?
I think the key there is that Roy and Dryden are Cup winners. In terms of talent and skill, Price is among the top three, or two, in the league and has been credited by many as being the singular reason the Habs still have a good record, despite being involved in each of the blowout losses we've had this season. He's a gigantic part of this team's heart and he's my favourite goalie of the three, but he needs (a) Stanley Cup ring(s). It's just the ultimate comparison when speaking of Montreal goalies. He has to get us the 25th, full stop. No pressure.
Tokarski will be a starter somewhere eventually. I don't think it's in his career path to be a backup, not with his pedigree. But playing for the time being in Montreal, albeit as a backup, is obviously incredible for experience and his resume. I like him a lot, he's been good for us this season, and I find him very similar to Price in demeanour.
DBD: And lastly, the passing of Jean Beliveau was mourned around the NHL. Your thoughts on the legend?
It's incredible, as a Habs fan, I always thought he belonged to us. But the past few days proved he was respected and admired unanimously by hockey fans and players, and even people who don't know much about hockey. Of all the stories I have heard and read since he passed, the most wonderful have come from ordinary citizens that he touched briefly. He had such a respect for fans and felt such a responsibility for them, and he went to great lengths to do everything right. Each of these fans' stories of their encounters with Beliveau have confirmed what a gem of a human being he was, and magnified both the legend he was and the deep loss for the organization and the fans. His family is following his wishes by keeping mourning activities quote, "simple, and accessible to the public." The events over the next few days will be very emotional for fans, and his final wishes were one last tip of his hat to us. Even from beyond, the epitome of class.