In front of a sell-out crowd full of anticipation and excitement, the Dallas Stars began their season not with a bang but with a whimper.
A lot of that was due to Marc-Andre Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knights goaltender who showed every bit his veteran experience in net. Calm, well-positioned, and standing on his head, he led the expansion team to their first ever win in the NHL.
For most of the game, I thought we were going to witness a goalie duel, with Ben Bishop putting in a very good effort himself. Sadly, the hockey gods decided that it was fated for Vegas to win, and a puck to the mask and a cut in the upper body region to Bishop later, and that was all history wrote on this one.
Antoine Roussel was the most visible player on the ice in the first period, and not in the way you would hope.
First, he took a tripping penalty. Then, late in the first period, he was called for interference on the goaltender, a play in which he seemed to have gotten his stick tied up in the opposing players skates and wasn’t in a position to really avoid hitting Fleury. As soon as that penalty was over, he took a step out of the box as the puck came right to him, intent on
“What is illegal substitution?” was the first thing I looked up during the first intermission, because I have not heard that penalty in recent memory (if ever). It seems to be part of Rule 17: “(c) A player serving a penalty on the penalty bench, who is to be changed after the penalty has been served, must proceed at once by way of the ice and be at his own players' bench before any change can be made.” I think this is the part of the rule in which playing the puck from inside the penalty box is basically a no-no, and that’s what led him to get nailed for that penalty. But it might be a different one, we’ll have to consult the rules aficionados (paging Dr. Erin!)
Regardless, it was an exclamation mark on a really weird period of play for Roussel.
Even while outshooting Vegas 14-10, neither team found the back of the net in the first due to the amazing abilities of both Fleury and Ben Bishop. Both stood on their heads at times to keep the game scoreless. Couldn’t help but wonder if Fleury’s effort wasn’t at least a tiny bit motivated by the complete bombing the Pittsburgh Penguins took last night.
Holy shots on goal, batman. The Stars put up 20 shots on goal in the second frame. That kind of traffic in front of any goaltender is likely to lead to a goal against. Luckily, that was exactly the case for the Stars when Tyler Seguin tipped in a Devin Shore shot to send one right past Fleury on a redirected path he didn’t see. I can’t imagine how frustrated the Stars would have been had they not scored in that frame after the bulk of shots they were directing towards the Vegas goal.
Give a lot of credit to Fleury, though. His veteran experience and sound positioning served him well in denying the Stars so much tonight. I’m sure Vegas will look at his performance and not find much in the way of things they wish he would have done differently tonight.
Bishop took a shot to the mask early in the last frame, and it actually cut him. He had to leave the ice to get medical attention, and Kari Lehtonen came into the game cold. He looked pretty good in relief, making several big saves through some traffic. Particularly good positioning on a four-on-four caused by offsetting minors to James Neal and Jamie Benn that led to some defensive breakdowns in their own zone by the Stars.
Sometimes you just can’t have nice things.
Lehtonen coming into the game completely changed the complexion of the play, especially after he went down too early on a Neal shot and it seemed to go right over the top of his pads, blowing the shutout for Dallas. Bishop did return to the bench in the third period, but head coach Ken Hitchcock decided to leave Lehtonen in after the first TV break when he could have made the change.
That….may not have been the best call. Lehtonen would get pulled way, way, way out of position and allow Neal a gaping net to put the puck in to seal the win for Vegas.
It’ll be interesting to see what Hitchcock decides to do with his starting goaltender tomorrow in St. Louis, considering both of his played tonight. It’ll be dependent, partly, on just how good to go Bishop is as well after getting cut by his mask tonight.
*I am here for all the two-way play of Martin Hanzal. He made so many good plays on the penalty kill, and had great positioning to cut off many passes when shorthanded.
*Number one penalty kill unit in the making? The Stars took eight penalties tonight and didn’t surrender a single power play goal against. Sample sizes and all that considered, it is a promising start to the season in that department.
*Before going out of the game, Ben Bishop looked like he was on fire. Great positioning, lots of flexibility and agility in net. When he was playing and the Stars were shorthanded, there was a sense of calmness and a confidence that they wouldn’t get scored on. It was a very different feeling than last year, that’s for sure.
*Alexander Radulov is going to be kicking himself for a while after missing that wide-open net in the third period. Had he scored, the Stars would have taken a lead, and who knows how that could have changed the play of the Golden Knights.
*It’s just one game, guys. Plenty of good things to take from this one, even if the result wasn’t what we all would have liked to have seen.