Maybe it’s the fact that the Colorado Avalanche have had the number of the Dallas Stars over the last few seasons, even as the Stars have improved on-ice and the Avalanche have not kept up at the same pace. Maybe it’s a throwback to some of the epic matchups between these two teams in the 90’s. Maybe these teams just really don’t like each other.
Whatever the reason, the Avalanche and Stars played in a fairly even game tonight punctuated by several post-whistle scrums, a fight, and a metric ton of obstruction penalties (and non-calls) against one another.
Give credit to the Avalanche, who managed to be more disciplined than the Stars on the balance. They forced a lot of Stars shots to the perimeter. Their penalty kill was decent, with goaltender Calvin Pickard able to easily see most shots on goal because of the lack of bodies in front of him. And, most importantly of all, the goal posts sided with Pickard and not the Stars shooters tonight.
The Stars seemed to outplay the Avalanche to start the game, but as the period wore on the Stars committed a few penalties and had the ice tilt in favor of the visiting team. Avalanche goaltender Calvin Pickard made some very good saves and has his posts to think that a hard Jason Spezza shot did not give the Stars the lead on the scoreboard.
As these things tend to go, the Stars may have been outplaying the Avalanche but they found themselves behind on the scoreboard about half way through the period. Kari Lehtonen got caught out of position a bit, played the shot a little too much, and couldn’t get across the crease fast enough to save the shot off of a cross-ice pass. While that’s not exactly the best kind of goal to give up, you have to wonder where his defense in front of him was to keep that pass from occurring to begin with. Defense is an all-team commitment, after all.
The Stars continued their parade to the box, and provided their team plenty of opportunity to work on the penalty kill. Of significance was the 5-on-3 power play they killed off for nearly 1 ½ minutes early on in the period when Antoine Roussel interfered with Pickard and then Mattias Backman committed one of those fun obstruction penalties (in this case, hooking).
The penalty kill leading into tonight’s game was a pedestrian 71% or so, mostly thanks to one very bad game versus the St. Louis Blues that allowed three power play goals (ouch). For fun, we calculated the power play prior to tonight at 12.5%, which could also see some improvement before the season starts. (Please note, this is not including the one game that apparently did not occur according to NHL.com, which has literally no box score to speak of from Ontario, Canada.)
Goal post update: still siding with Pickard, as he gets their help on yet another couple of Stars shots.
The theme of taking penalties continued, with some momentum killers at times like “less than two minutes in the game and you’re down by a goal still”. Surprisingly, even with the penalty trouble the Stars had tonight (they took around 10 of them in my unscientific estimation, including one fighting major) they still managed to end the game with the advantage in shots on goal at 28-20. Unfortunately, the Stars had no finish to the scoring chances they did register, and ended up shutout tonight.
*Honka had several good offensive looks. That side of his game looks NHL ready at times. But the defensive side might still need some work. Another season in the AHL would be good for his development, most likely.
*Backman, Esa Lindell, and Jamie Oleksiak had their moments throughout the game, but no one stood out from the others. Each made some good plays on the penalty kill and each had some issues with turnovers and general puck possession things at times.
*Cole Ully had several good offensive looks on between the faceoff circles tonight. It’s the first time I really noticed him stand out among the young prospects vying for those last roster spots.
*Lehtonen didn’t look bad tonight. If you put Lehtonen and Niemi next to one another with the body of their preseason work, I think Niemi has looked slightly better and I’d give him the season opening start if the decision was made today.