Not every game is going to bring what you expect during the 82 times you sit down to watch the Stars this season. Yes, you'll have your prototypical 6-5 losses, but you will also, it turns out, get games like Tuesday's, which was just kinda “there.” Given the first two games, I don't think we are complaining.
I've been wondering lately if the Stars might have gotten used to being much quicker than their opponents, and hence, accustomed to having an extra bit of time in scoring areas. Now that the rest of the NHL is slowly catching up to them through adjusted coaching strategies, roster construction, and the sort of dedication that can only come from corporate team building retreats, it almost looks, at times, like the Stars aren't always a full step ahead anymore. Tuesday was kind of like that. Jamie Benn or Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza would have the puck, but either the passing lane would close too early, or their shot would end up blocked because they didn't have quite the full second they thought they did. Or maybe it's just rust. Rust is excusable, for now.
Additionally, Stephen Johns had a nice wide swing from "look at him go!" to "look at him...oh no." Johns is a skilled player, but he had a couple attacks of acute "I AM Paul Coffey!"-itis, and it nearly ended badly. Stephen Johns appears to like playing in the Stars' upbeat system, but he will need to occasionally be less upbeat when skating the puck out from behind his own net and trying out a toe drag. We appreciate the effort, but sometimes kids just need their dreams taken down a peg. I imagine that crushing young defensemen's overexuberance is James Patrick's job.
Razor also mentioned on the broadcast (if I understood him correctly) that Johns is fighting a "chest virus," which makes me suspect that Jiri Hudler's illness is already making the Yearly Sickness Pilgrimage through the Dallas locker room. Let us all hope this will not be Mumps 3.0. (Mumps 2.0 was the Blue Bell ice cream recall.)
Only broadcast note for tonight: I still bristle at Ludwig’s use of first person pronouns. We have been spoiled as fans with Emmy-winning broadcasts for many years. It is hard to suddenly feel like we are watching the game at an Applebee’s bar next to a knowledgeable but enthusiastic former player. Applebee’s has nice food for a reasonable price.
Adam Cracknell scored again, and it's getting close to time when that is going to make decisions tough. He is trying to play well enough to stay up, but was there ever a "play this well" sort of target out there for him to hit in the first place? I think I assumed from the preseason that this would be like one of those scenarios where you ask out a girl way out of your league, and she says, "Ppsh, I'll only go out with you if you run over my dad's Porsche 918 with the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile while wearing a woodchuck costume." Adam Cracknell has already rented the woodchuck costume, and it sure sounds like I heard something out in the driveway just now. Good problems to have, even if you never planned on that guy actually reaching the target in the first place.
That Cracknell goal, by the way, was 100% earned and then some (note: math). I didn't realize it ticked off his skate at first either, but Fate clearly decided that she would reward Adam for a shift well done.
Dan Hamhuis, to me, played like a younger, bigger Stephane Robidas tonight. I don't know quite what that means, but it was a good thing. He was physical at times, but more importantly, he was safe. John Klingberg tried on a few players, and Dan Hamhuis was a good safety valve. I'd expect that pairing to stick, for now, and Hamhuis is certainly serviceable on the second power play unit as well. Those are good players to have, whatever other holes the lineup might hint at still having.
Speaking of the defense, Esa Lindell also seemed to earn himself another game. He had a couple of really nice keeps in the offensive zone, and he also did a lot of that "you don't notice it until it's not there" work in the defensive zone. He was a third-pairing defensemen, and he played well. His best zone will always be the attacking one, but if a rookie can make a third pairing look all right, then that is a good thing for Dallas.
One note on Jamie Oleksiak: He had an all right night as well (with less flash in the offensive zone), but this play on the Preds' goal was not my favorite:
Frame 1: Preds enter zone along wall. Oleksiak on far side, Oduya in right faceoff circle.
Frame 2: Oduya still down low, but Oleksiak's momentum is carrying him into the corner during the puck battle. There is an open Perd there.
Frame 3: Just as the puck makes it to the corner and Oleksiak really picks it up to head down low, Oduya, who doesn't see Oleksiak, bolts towards the puck carrier as well. You can see the problem here.
Frame 4: Oleksiak and Oduya can also see the problem here: a wide open gentleman (two, actually) in the low slot who are undefended. That is because the defenders are not there.
It's a bit of a calamity of bad timing, to be sure, but that fourth frame is pretty damning. Both defenders should have communicated better there, but either way, that is what I would call Not-Great Penalty Killing by the defenders. Tough situation for Oleksiak in his first game of the year, for sure. Still, the Stars would win, and he would otherwise have an okay game.
And while we're on calamity, I would like to point out that the Jason Spezza "goal" was, like, the goofiest goal in the universe. Nashville's broadcast has a nice slow-mo of it, but basically what happens it that Colin Wilson whacked the puck off Spezza's stick in front, and the puck flew up, bounced off Spezza's left pant leg and over Rinne's right pad into the net. I'm too old and lazy to GIF it, but here is the aftermath of Wilson's stick check. You can see that Spezza very much did not shoot this puck*
*(unless he is a wizard**)
**(JASON SPEZZA IS DEFINITELY A MAGICAL WIZARD)
This goal probably will not be on Spezza's personal highlight reel.
This game probably won't be, either. Still, Kari Lehtonen had a nice night, and that is always welcome. Rebounds were not a problem for Kari most of the night, and that's impressive when Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban are blasting pucks way more often than the Stars would be wise to allow. This game would have felt dumb to have lost, but there were quite a few instances where Nashville had some extended zone time and a puck just went wide, grazed the post, or got blocked. There were a lot of blocked shots, which is great! There were also a lot of shots to block, which is not so great! Still, there were fewer shots to block than there were shot by the Stars, and that, at least, is undeniable progress.
Devin Shore is great, still. Lauri Korpikoski is fast-ish, still. Jason Spezza played right wing, and while I don't think that, ahem, "goal" validates his presence there forever, I'm all for anything that makes the team better, and the Faksa/Spezza/Roussel line was all right. Jason Spezza, you may not be surprised to hear, can play a pretty good Ales Hemsky when called upon, although his goal was the exact opposite of the MAHPotG.
I'm still getting used to Jason Spezza killing penalties and closing out games. I am still getting used to the Stars and Nashville having "goalie duels," which I don't think was what this really was, the 2-1 score notwithstanding. Pekka Rinne was a little sloppy at times, and his defense gave the Stars a couple more opportunities than they earned (and the Stars' defense reciprocated at times as well). The Stars finally had a not-awful first period (16-4 SOG advantage!) and won the game. You could ask for a lot more from most of the players in this game tonight, but you cannot ask for much more than a win.