Ah, it's good to be back, is it not?
The crowd certainly thought so as their Dallas Stars exploded in the third period for three quick tallies to thunder the home team past the St. Louis Blues by a score of 4-3.
It was a youthful night in Dallas featuring Jason Dickinson, Julius Honka, Remi Elie, Brendan Ranford, Jamie Oleksiak, Curtis McKenzie, Jyrki Jokipakka and others. And yes, the shiny new toys in Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky were there as well.
Youth was served early, or rather, it served its elders. Jokipakka opened the preseason scoring with a patient play at the point and a deft pass to a cutting Vern Fiddler, who gave the Stars a 1-0 lead.
The Stars had the better of the possession through one period, though little to show in terms of shots on goal, amassing just seven in the first and five in the second while the Blues put on the pressure with a Ryan Whitney point shot through a screen to tie things early on a second period power play.
Kari Lehtonen started in net, lasting a designed 30:15 while stopping 11 of 12 St. Louis bids, Steve Ott's net presence the only thing that got the best of him. He looked sharp. Anders Lindback entered in relief during a particularly turbulent passage in the second period, and though he was punctured by a Patrik Berglund breakaway, stood tall and was solid throughout.
With only 12 shots to show through 40 minutes the Stars turned it up to start the third, potting three goals on six shots in less than nine minutes. Curtis McKenzie kicked it off with an absolute laser beam to the top right corner off a nice pass from Travis Morin. Jordie Benn would add a snipe of his own after Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky set his table to Niklas Lundstrom's right.
Jason Dickinson, quiet in the game to that point (at least offensively), then got in on the action when he tipped an Erik Cole bid past an awkward Lundstrom to give the Stars a two goal lead. Dickinson and Cole would combine again a few minutes later, this time to draw a penalty on a hard driving rush, but nothing came of the power play. Ian Cole would cut the deficit to one on an absolute bomb from the left point that Lindback didn't have a chance on (not many would have).
Ultimately what people came to see tonight was how Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky performed in their first turns as Dallas Stars, and there were some encouraging signs. Creativity and deceptive speed for both were what I observed, and in a more competitive environment you can envision how they might thrive. They will definitely help the power play. Opposing coaches will have to account for them. The question is who will end up with them. A little Roussel tonight. A little Cole. Time will tell.
- Julius Honka is one smooth young man. He was not intimidated or nervous. He did his thing, and he did it effortlessly at times, though the occasional instance of mental flatulence crept in. Call it youthful exuberance.
- The real story of the night, and I'm serious, might have been the crowd. Over 14,000 announced- Sure, there weren't that many, but there were more here than for a handful of regular season games in recent years, and they were ready for some dang hockey. If that's an indication of the enthusiasm of a growing fan base, the Stars are in for a noisy house this season.
- You wonder about Erik Cole. Or rather, I do. He looks pretty darned good right now. He looked good in camp. Good jump. The hands are obviously there, and that veteran savvy. He's getting a chance to be a big part of the offense on a skilled line, as he did last season... But will it last? Last season it did not. He had noticeable jump sometimes... usually after an extra off day. Time will tell. For now it seems he's getting a nice long look, and why not.
- Vern Fiddler was assessed a minor penalty for closing his hand on the puck on a faceoff play... Announced as a "faceoff violation". This seemed like one of those new obscure rule changes on display, but is actually a change from two years ago in the summer of 2012. (Puck Daddy...)
- These things are always so hard to judge. Very little physicality, even minute distributions, not much in the way of matching lines... It doesn't tell you much about a hockey team. It's for the coaches to take what they will about the individuals, but this game might have been about getting the younger guys on the ice before they head back to juniors, and most availed themselves quite well.
- Steve Ott was booed after fighting McKenzie. Not sure about that. I am all about "he doesn't play for us any more," for the most part, but come on. It's Steve Ott.