The first thing I thought as I walked into the arena tonight was, “has it always been this cold in here?” As I made my way onto the concourse and walked towards the frozen ice at the American Airlines Center, I took a moment to breathe in the quietness that is seemingly only found with an empty sheet of ice before you and not many souls in the building.
It’s nice to realize that Dallas Stars hockey is back tonight.
Granted, it wasn’t pretty hockey by any stretch of the imagination. How could it be - the Stars had committed 9 minors and the Blues had committed 6 by the time the start of the third period even rolled around. By the end of the game, the penalty minutes read: Dallas - 11 (22 minutes) / St Louis - 8 (16 minutes). Nearly 20 combined penalties in a game without fighting majors is rarely seen on any given NHL game night.
At 5-on-5, the Stars seemed to dominate the puck possession game. However, as is often the case in hockey games, special teams ended up being the main story. After all, it is the first game of the preseason. The NHL referees have been asked to crack down on certain types of penalty early to send a message to the players about what is/isn’t acceptable this season. And there were a few of those kinds of slashing penalties that the refs called against both teams tonight.
But there were a lot of others that were just indicative of rusty play and getting caught flat-footed at times. Not wholly unsurprising, given that tonight was the first time the players on both sides had seen game action since their seasons ended last year.
But more than 16 penalties combined? That’s....a lot.
The Blues did most of their damage to the Stars on that man advantage, scoring two in the game that way. The Stars for a while didn’t look as lethal on the man advantage, but finally managed to convert on one of their many chances in the third period.
In other words, Dallas did most of their damage at even strength, which in a preseason game like this I take away as a positive. It’s really hard to judge individual games given the distorted nature of this one tonight with all the special teams. For example, it’s hard to say that one PK unit looked better over another, when there’s no telling that the personnel on those units would be what’s used in a regular season game in which you aren’t spending half of it on special teams. (Somebody has to play when your top PKers are gassed on the bench...)
Goals from the Stars came from the following players:
Mattias Janmark, to score his first since returning from that rare knee injury
Nick Caamano, to score his first ever NHL goal
Brett Ritchie, straight out of the box after committing one of the many penalties tonight (like a boss)
Jamie Benn, off a feed from Julius Honka redirected smoothly by Tyler Seguin (wipes drool from mouth, will dream of these three on the ice together tonight)
Tyler Pitlick, empty netter for his first as a Dallas Stars player
Some other positives tonight:
*Ben Bishop seemed to get better as his ice time rolled along in the game. The team looked a little out of sorts in general in the first period, causing the Stars to go down early, but Bishop kept them in there while they found their legs and picked it up down the stretch.
*Mike McKenna, who played the third period of the game for Dallas tonight, had some big saves on a power play to also keep the Stars in it. It may not have looked as smooth as some of Bishop’s play (he had a few Marty Turco moves in there) but all-in-all a solid period from him as he vies for the starting job in Cedar Park.
*Mattias Janmark looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. He looked comfortable next to anyone just as he did before the injury. He’s going to be a big glue guy for whatever ails a line this season, I’d wager - like a spark plug to get some guys going in the right way.
*Alexander Radulov makes some good plays away from the puck that sets his linemates up for success. It’s an often missed or understated part of the game, but the top line for Dallas should have great success with play like that on the ice.
*For a blueliner fighting for a spot in the defensive rotation, Jamie Oleksiak didn’t necessarily stick out all that often tonight. That could be either good (not too many obvious mistakes) or bad (not enough to set him apart from others).
*Jamie Benn looked like he was in mid-season form, and his excitement this year is plain to see. He’s got constant grins on his face, and appears to be having a ton of fun on the ice. It’s not unlike we saw from him at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season when the Stars won the regular season Western Conference title.
*Give credit where it is due - the Blues penalty kill had a stout assignment tonight, and they managed to keep the Stars in check for much of it. Carter Hutton also did his part, coming up with some big saves on the firepower Dallas can roll out there.
*Dallas completely owned the Blues in the faceoff circle, winning 69% of their draws. At the end of the first period, St. Louis had won just 11%, so they improved as the game went along.