In his stirring recap fellow writer Robert Tiffin tried his hand at a slogan for the 2016-2017 season. While “Dallas Stars Hockey: it is seriously going to be this, sometimes, I guess,” is a mouthful, it’s an accurate description of their disjointed, at times disappointing, ultimately successful first game. You also cannot say the words without, for that moment, living in the weird uncertainty of current Stars fandom. Maybe if we go with an acronym it’ll be better (DSH:iiSGtbT). Nope.
The high-level headline is that, after a gruesome first period, the boys in Victory Green, and we should all maybe calm down a little bit. Relaxation is boring, however, and since we know we’ll be at Defcon 1 after a Typical Colorado Game ™ on Saturday, there’s no harm in getting some over-reaction in early. In other words, one game is ample sample size to draw some pretty serious conclusions.
Goal Party 2017
The Stars are currently on pace for 328 goals. Last season, they led the entire NHL with 269, so a 59 goal improvement would be nice. Pull back the covers a little bit, and the performance becomes even more impressive. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg combined for a single point, and that was just Benn’s vultured secondary assist on the opener. Considering all three topped 4 minutes on the power play, that’s a pretty stunning lack of production. Thankfully, the Stars had Antoine Roussel, Stephen Johns, Lauri Korpikoski, and Adam Cracknell to pick up the slack.
Just an aside, but was anybody else worried Roussel would spend his night chasing Ryan Garbutt around the rink instead of playing hockey?
The Stars had to get down-lineup contributions because they got a big ole Marchment out of the power play. Not only that, they got scored on! No, the unit isn’t going to be a minus all season, but an MIA power play sunk them against St. Louis during last year’s playoffs. It was decidedly not awesome to see it get off on the wrong foot against the Ducks.
“How About the Goaltending?” More Like “How About the Goaltending!”
Not on the wrong foot was Antti Niemi. In retrospect, should it have been as much of a surprise? Coach Lindy Ruff traded horses throughout the whole of last season. Whenever one man wobbled, in came his colleague to steady the ship. The much-maligned tandem won 50 games! That’s a lot of games!
Niemi will likely win a few more, and then struggle and get replaced. Then, Kari Lehtonen will come in and win a few games, then struggle. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yes, the Stars failed to improve their situation during the offseason, but last night was a nice reminder that their situation isn’t untenable. 17-1 and they were tied!
The Ruffle Shuffle
Jordie Benn played with John Klingberg, and then Patrik Nemeth took his spot. Dan Hamhuis played 7:53 combined on the power play and penalty kill. Five of six Stars defenders played between 17 and 22 minutes (Benn was the exception), and four of six (Hamhuis, Klingberg, Johnny Oduya, and Stephen Johns) played on both sides of special teams. Esa Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak ate the scratches. It was weird, and it’s going to get weirder.
The good news is that they bent without breaking, and ultimately won the game. The Stars never trailed, despite ceding the entire first period to the Ducks. They also went a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and contributed three points (1 G / 2 A) to the cause. The first substitution of the season could come over the weekend. Even if it doesn’t, it’s coming soon. What’s clear is that we’re nowhere near answers with this group.
The forwards present a slightly different problem. Significant pieces (Ales Hemsky, Mattias Janmark, and Cody Eakin) are hurt. New pieces (Cracknell, Jiri Hudler) played well in their debuts, as did some semi-familiar faces (Radek Faksa and Devin Shore). To use a slightly different lens: this team just scored four goals with minimal contributions from (roughly) seven of their top nine forwards. Just as a thought exercise, consider how last night’s lineup might look with Janmark healthy. It’s the happy yin to the scary yang of their defense.
Discipline is an Issue
Maybe the line Ruffling can, in part, explain the parade of penalties and generally undisciplined play. In particular, the Stars seemed perfectly content to punt on the first period and take their chances on a 40 minute game. They scrambled in the defensive zone, struggled on faceoffs (36%), and gave up a short-handed goal. During pre-game, Razor, Josh, and Sevy all had the Stars finishing in the top half of the league in terms of GAA. If last night is the norm, they’re going to have to be.
It’s Going to Get Better
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were not particularly dynamic last night. They had moments, but on the whole they played like a pair of high-end players working back from injury. John Klingberg doesn’t have a true partner yet, and excessive time short-handed ate into possibly-productive minutes for Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza. The team put up four goals without them. No big deal.
They’re going to get un-tracked, but for one night, they didn’t have to. That’s a significant margin of error, especially in the MDK division. Most teams can win when everything is working, great teams can find points when they’re off. Last night the Stars were in the second category, and that’s a big freaking deal.