Serious personal note: Love you, J & A.
Hockey’s back, and boy, is it ever different from year to year around here, eh? Two years ago was the debacle against Chicago (loser point though, so hey) and last year was the shutout of the eventual Cup champs. What would 2016-17 bring as an amuse-bouche?
It brought Adam Cracknell, Lauri Korpikoski, and okay, some of you are checking the URL bar to make sure this is still the Dallas Stars you are reading about. It definitely is! Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were there and everything. Also, Jason Spezza killed like five minutes’ worth of penalties and Jordie Benn played on the top defense pair. Now you are getting up to check for carbon monoxide leaks and, well, that’s always a good, safe thing to do. Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors while you’re at it.
The biggest thing that felt “off” about this game was that Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were, well, “off.” They still had some beautiful sequences (particularly on the power play), but these are two players facing top competition with but a single preseason game between them, and it kinda showed. The Stars still won. This team is not a one-trick palamino.
I’ll get the Razor/Ludwig review out of the way now: they were okay. Razor was helping Craig Ludwig along a fair bit, but I’m not sure if that was just because of Razor’s proclivity for analysis or because Razor was trying to grease the wheels of the broadcast. Either way, it felt like Razor was doing a good job of describing the action, but his tonality still felt very analyst-y, which might just be association by me. Luds wasn’t John Rhadigan doing Texas Rangers PBP or anything, and he had some moments of insight out there, even if his cadence is going to take time. (I would agree with Jordan though, that Ludwig could cut down on the first-person words like “our” and “we” during the broadcast. Just feels a little too homerish.)
Overall, it is weird to hear a voice so familiar as Razor speaking on the other side, but he really did do an all right job, all things considered, and his ability to pad the analysis himself was nice, at times. I think I speak for all of us (including Razor and Ludwig) though when I say that we hope Dave Strader is back in the saddle before too long.
Bemused is the word for how I felt today upon seeing that Jordie Benn really was going to start on the top pair. It isn’t insane to think that he could hold serve there, but that’s just never been the sort of role he’s been asked to play, so it was odd to see him up there all of a sudden, even if I was cautiously hopeful.
Well, an almost immediate 2-on-1 given up after Jordie Benn got caught pinching destroyed that hope with a giant cartoon sledgehammer, but Klingberg kept the lane closed, and Nick Ritchie’s shot found Niemi’s chest, so maybe everything is all right, no, the other Benn just tossed the puck over the glass, okay, this is not ideal.
The first PK was notable, as Faksa had a nice stick on to break up a cross-ice chance, which was bookended by a Nemeth stick later on to finish the PK. During said penalty kill, we were graced with the following personnel: Oduya/Johns and Roussel/Faksa, then Spezza/Korpikoski and Hamhuis/Nemeth. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either, but it appears Jason Spezza is going to be a penalty killer while Cody Eakin is not playing hockey. It makes sense from a skill and faceoffs perspective, but still, it’s weird.
Also, Jason Spezza led the forwards in ice time tonight, and he looked every bit the number one center, even if he doesn’t show up that way on the depth chart. Do you appreciate Jason Spezza being a Dallas Stars player? He is so very good. Also, because he is now a branded and certified leader, Spezza had a wide-open look that clanged off the post in honor of Ales Hemsky, who couldn’t be here with us tonight.
Stephen Johns had no such trouble with posts, as he was the lone Star to tally in the first, and he started the whole sequence with a beautiful breakout pass to Eaves, who would eventually find him again on the back door to make it 1-0. Cam Fowler should probably have cut that pass off, but when you have people yelling about a defenseman pinching while you’re also trying to keep tabs on the puck, it’s easy to get mixed up, and props to Eaves for threading the needle back to Johns in return for the slick breakout pass.
Oh, and by “tally in the first,” I mean “shoot the puck at the net and have it get to the goalie, at least.” That 17-1 SOG differential at the end of 20 minutes wasn’t a phantasm, not at all. We’ll get to it.
Jordie Benn, former top-pair defenseman took a double minor with a high stick on Nick Ritchie that the Stars’ bench did not seem to agree with, but I coudn’t tell you why without revisiting it, and I’m busy. During minutes three through six of the Stars’ penalty kill, Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp(!) would see PK time as well (I predicted Sharp would get PK time last year and was wrong, mostly, so this is my sweet vindication, or something), but the Ducks were largely unable to get shots through (1 SOG in total), and the double minor was killed off just in time for the previous penalty participants to reverse roles. Jordie Benn would return and get tripped up by the selfsame Nick Ritchie, putting the Stars on the job for the first time with about seven minutes remaining.
The goal against was not a result of the drop pass, but just good old-fashioned bad decision making by, wait, Jason Spezza? Yes, I guess even big brothers have some goober passes at times, too, and Spezza’s cross-ice pass on the power play was easily jumped by Andrew Cogliano at the blue line. Niemi made the save initially, but Cogliano was able to find the puck after the save and stash the rebound for the Stars’ first shorthanded goal of the season. Given how the rest of the power play ended, it did not feel like it would be the last shorthanded goal of the season, either.
Patrick Sharp’s knee on Josh Manson was pretty unnecessary with 3:03 left in the first, but given how things had gone at 5v5 and on the power play, you couldn’t really fault him for going back to what worked earlier: the penalty kill. That’s some great veteran planning right there, and it worked out just fine.
Real talk: if you’re being outshot 17-1 after 20 minutes, you’d better be able to explain it. The Stars could point to the penalty differential and say they were on the kill for almost half of the period, but the PK was actually (outside of Niemi) the best part of their game in the opening frame. The Stars were a bit discombobulated by the penalties, sure, but it was very much not a great 20 minutes for them, and being tied at the break was a gift straight from the hands of Antti Niemi.
Things tilted the other way early in the second, and I’m not just talking about how Ruff moved Nemeth up in place of Jordie Benn on Klingberg’s left side. First, Stephen Johns was able to walk in on the short side and force Gibson to make a save (giving Johns both of the Stars’ only two shots on goal to that point), and then a resultant scramble in front of a butterfingered Gibson looked promising, but to no avail. However...
Lauri Korpikoski was playing his first game as a Dallas Stars player, and in keeping with Mark Parrish and Friends, he took his first shot and put it into the net. Devin Shore led a nice little rush in and dished it off (after two Ducks played bumper cars at center ice), and Korpikoski wasted little time in burying it. The assist was also Shore’s first NHL point, and, to use the same flourish twice, I doubt it will be his last.
If I had told you before the game that the Stars would be trailing in shots on goal 17-3 in the second period and that those shots would all have come from Johns and Korpikoski, you probably would not have been optimistic. Stephen Johns...well, Stephen Johns would amass four of the Stars’ first five shots on goal, although Jason Spezza cried a bit after the third one, which saw the new alternate captain begging for a cross-ice one-timer as Johns wound up for a tummy-testing slapper instead.
Adam Cracknell would have the sixth shot for Dallas (it was fun to keep track at this point), but John Gibson managed the save by virtue of being on the goal line. I was not expecting Cracknell to be on the ice with Benn and Seguin at that point, but it was that sort of game. Adam Cracknell was a name I did not expect to type so many times in this writeup.
The Stars’ second power play opportunity created more chances than their first, and it also confirmed that, yes, the Klingberg/Spezza drop pass entry was still going to be a staple of the Stars’ power play. I’ll say it just once: it works. It gets the forechecking penalty killers moving, and it usually allows the Stars to gain the zone with possession and structure. Sure, it is bad if the dropee or dropper accidentally gives the puck to the wrong team, but that is also bad any time of the hockey game. Don’t do that, hockey guys!
Jared Boll took a pretty foolish run at Dan Hamhuis, and I was just thankful that Hamhuis was okay after it. That’s Jared Boll’s game, is “establishing the physical play” or something, but it was properly whistled for the charge it surely was. Jared Boll might be Randy Carlyle’s favorite player.
The third time was the charm in terms of everything but goals for the Stars’ power play, as a wide-open Spezza hit the post (as discussed), and the Stars were generally making five passes in a row low in the zone. It was the first power play that really reminded you just how talented the Stars’ first power play is, with Klingberg, Spezza, Seguin and Benn making the puck sing. Music is a gift from the gods.
Oh, also Klingberg had to make a perfect poke check from behind to foil another shorthanded breakaway, but talking about that is practically reporting the latest patron at the local library at this point, so we’ll skip it.
Radek Faksa got into with both Corey Perry (wash your hands, Radek) and Ryan Getzlaf after the whistles in this one. You wonder if Getzlaf in particular figured it was coming after Faksa’s concussion-by-drive-by in the World Cup, and maybe that’s why Ryan Getzlaf fired 10(TEN) shots on goal tonight. He did not score on those shots, but at least he tried. Great job, tryan.
Tyler Seguin didn’t look like he was quite up to game speed at times, but he still almost made it 3-1 Dallas on a breakaway at the end of the second period. He only had time for a quick deke and stuff attempt glove side, and Gibson stayed with him. It is beautiful to see Tyler Seguin playing hockey without torn muscles again.
Andrew Cogliano really isn’t earning any victory points in my book, but it was really the Stars’ fault he had the opportunity to even things up at all. Oduya couldn’t sort out the entry at the blue line, and Dallas began rotating coverage but never finished. Spezza rimmed the puck around to Hudler at the benches, but Jiri Hudler tried a touch pass instead of making sure the puck got out, and the Stars would pay for it. Andrew Cogliano threw a poke check that ruined Hudler’s plans, and Vatanen and Kesler managed to regain the puck for a pass to the re-appearing Cogliano, who was wide open for the immediate release, and Niemi never had a prayer. And that would have been a huge bummer of a way to start the final frame if not for Adam Cracknell, Jordie Benn and Antoine Roussel, the deadly offensive trio we’ve all been waiting for. It was a nice little sequence where a savvy Jordie Benn point shot got tipped wide, and then Cracknell made a blind backhand feed right to Roussel for the slam dunk (that nearly bounced over his stick, but got just enough of it). It was a Response, is what that goal was. The Stars out-shot the Ducks in the final two periods, which was another Response.
The fourth Stars’ power play was like the third, except less deadly. Still some shorthanded chances allowed, and still some nice puck movement generated in the offensive zone. I don’t know, maybe they should re-evaluate giving the team some charity chances when up a man? Just a thought.
Adam Cracknell got two A-grade chances halfway through the third, and he managed to put away the second one. Radek Faksa became the third member of the “feed the puck to the crease from along the goal line for a free assist” club, and Cracknell stashed it past Gibson while standing all alone on the doorstep. Do you think Cracknell was glad to have switched places with Brett Ritchie in moving up to that third line? He and Roussel tied for the points lead tonight with a goal and assist each. Dallas Stars hockey: It is seriously going to be this, sometimes, I guess. (We’ll workshop that slogan.)
Given the aforementioned crease club, you wonder if the Ducks could have benefited from having Hampus Lindholm on the blue line in this game. Maybe “wonder” isn’t the right word. Whether it was Randy Carlyle’s New Style or just some early rust, the Ducks were allowing the Stars to get into the danger areas way too frequently. Do I care? Not really. That’s for Randy Carlyle and Bob Murray to sort out (read: trade Lindholm to Dallas, please).
Bottom line: the Stars’ PK was very solid, and Antti Niemi was first-half Antti Niemi. The defensemen played well when they weren’t being first period Jordie Benn, and the Stars are undefeated after game one, just like last season. I am okay with reliving this sort of history, I guess.