The headline might be unfair, since every single win is going to feel cathartic this season. Dallas is a really good team, I guess, but they still have to prove it to everyone, including themselves. Wins will mean a lot until they become expected, and what can you really expect from this Dallas Stars team other than heart-pounding angst and potential, only potential, joy?
Connor McDavid scored a goal tonight, and it was the least exciting thing about this game. Tyler Seguin had 10 shots on goal tonight, and I am not joking. Ales Hemsky has put 10 shots on goal through three games, and that's still a lot, for him. I'd normally say the Stars were "throwing" pucks at the net tonight, but this wasn't a team trying to win a Corsi Medallion to help them level up. Dallas was creating chances with cross-seam passes, shooting off the rush, and testing Anders Nilsson from almost every area you could imagine.
Initially, it felt like Edmonton was doing a good job of protecting the most dangerous scoring areas, but it became clear after a while that Dallas's game plan was to get quality shots and not overthink things. Edmonton appeared to have copied the second part of that game plan, at least.
Jamie Benn had a beautiful chance from Seguin right off the hop, but he put it into Nilsson's belly. I'm not much for foreshadowing in hockey games, but when the entire sun gets blotted out for sixty minutes, it's hard to ignore. We knew that Dallas was a great hockey team with some flaws, and we knew that Edmonton was technically a hockey team. Tonight, we witnessed Dallas out-hockey a team that is awful and will be awful until they finish excising the organizational rot that has festered for far, far longer than any fan base deserves. Dallas can have sympathy for those fans most of the time.
Here is the hockey game: Nail Yakupov, former first-overall draft pick, heads in alone on Kari Lehtonen with the score tied at two. Jason Demers has just fired a shot into shin pads, and Johnny Oduya's desperate attempt to break up a 3-on-1 has resulted in a breakaway for Yakupov. McDavid trails him, but Yakupov knows this is his chance, his shot. He makes his move, and the first-overall draft pick is stopped by the second-overall draft pick:
You've surely watched the Spezza goals by now (and his game-winner was the shot no one else could score on all night, somehow), but don't miss this: Kari Lehtonen had exactly the sort of game that his team begged of him to have last year on so, so many occasions.
Yes, a couple of deflected shots got past him, but everything that Kari could have stopped, he stopped. This save led so directly to the Stars' taking the lead that Kari actually got an assist out of it. You couldn't have asked for any more from Kari tonight than what he gave. Probably this means that something absurdly disastrous will happen on Thursday just to keep us on edge.
For all the talk of the Oilers' first-overall picks playing tonight, the Stars iced a trio of second-overall picks tonight, and all of them played superbly. Seguin, who can't possibly play the Oilers without a side-eye at Taylor Hall, peppered Nilsson to no result, but he's doing the right thing. Seguin shooting is Seguin doing the right thing, and since he tallied an assist on basically just dumping the puck along the boards, I'm confident that his points will accumulate as expected. He's one of the best players on the ice, and everyone knows it.
As for the other two second-overalls, what do you need to know that isn't obvious? Lehtonen tracked pucks, stayed in position, and saved every puck that wasn't tipped by the spirits of Wayne Gretzky or Trevor Daley. Spezza got one fluky goal against a shaky young goalie, which is only fluky insofar as it was shot from down low. Because despite the save count, this was not a goalie turning everything aside with ease and aplomb. Tobias Stephan's spirit was also hanging around until he had to go answer the phone.
For all the talk of the Stars' misfortune, you do need your power play to make up for some bad bounces, and that didn't happen. Granted, they were still creating plenty of chances on most of their power plays; granted, they should have been awarded another three power plays if not for McDavid's being given License to Board and the officials having an internal power-play-differential cap in mind; granted, they hit posts and John Klingberg is still great. All those things happened, and they didn't always execute the finishing touch.
If you're worried about that, I understand. It's irrational given the ability of this team to score, but I get it. Colton Sceviour drew two penalties tonight, by the way. That sentence just doesn't fit anywhere, so it fits here, just like Colton Sceviour.
It's a shame that we're so scarred from last year, because tonight really was a joy to watch. Jamie Benn's bounce-pass off the boards (I think the broadcast referenced billiards) was just next-level, and Travis Moen's shot off the post after the great interception of a breakout pass by Vernon Fiddler's face was (since Fiddler is awesome and stayed in the game, apparently all right) thoroughly amusing.
At the time, though, you just asked why, why, why. You bought back into the hype this summer, exposing yourself to pain and hurt and all the stupid sports things that sports do to fans. Was this new method of thrilling torture to be your reward for attempting reconciliation with this fickle squad of wonderful athletes? Well, no, it wasn't. This team is really good, and that usually beats really bad, and by the way, maybe they should request a "no-goal" call after a potentially early whistle, since that's apparently the most effective catalyst for late third-period goals thus far discovered.
Patrick Sharp and Tyler Seguin are probably going to score fourteen goals Thursday just to balance out the universe. Sharp had one more scoring chance than Spezza's six, while Seguin had a whopping nine(!). Creating scoring chances is harder than it's been in a long time in this league, but the Stars can do it at will. The finish portion of their play is approaching manic groundhog levels, but they have scored ten goals in three games, and it seems like they've barely approached their true capability.
The goaltending has not been the problem so far. The defense hasn't really been an issue either, except for the meltdown in Colorado and a couple of ebbs tonight that found their way into the Goals Against Vortex. Jordie Benn and Jyrki Joooookipakka demolished their opposition tonight, easy as it was. Antoine Roussel assisted on the game-winning goal. This is what things look like when they work.
If the Stars get their mojo going and string a few great games together, this season could be wonderful. It won't be perfect, and there will be explosions, but even those are beautiful in a melancholy sort of way when the right ingredients are there. Volatile folks make for stressful relationships, but the reward can be so tantalizing when you get glimpses of it. More frequent glimpses would be great.
I think I land somewhere in between the "here's the real Stars team!" camp and the "congrats, you barely beat the terrible Oilers" folks. Tonight was more the former than the latter, given just how thoroughly Dallas dominated Edmonton, but you don't hang your hat on beating the team that drafted first overall last year. This was a necessary win, and you'd like the score to be bigger, but Spezza, Kari and Jamie Benn did enough to fight back the composure goblins tonight. Against the Oilers, that's a pretty decent feat. That team is just weird.