The Dallas Stars preseason is finally over.
They went out not with a bang but a whimper, but that was as much a function of logistics and lineup as anything else, as the Minnesota Wild, boasting a relatively full compliment, beat a much less potent Stars lineup 5-1 in St. Paul.
While the Wild had a handful sidelined, the Stars were without their entire first line and top defenseman, and it showed. While the shots ended up relatively even, only a few forays from rushes featuring Jason Spezza, Antoine Roussel and Brett Ritchie had any sustained offensive pressure.
The most amusing (and perhaps telling?) moment of first came when the Minnesota announcers got confused between Julius Honka and Jamie Oleksiak in a scramble in the crease.
Jason Zucker had gotten a little too close to Ben Bishop, and Honka grabbed him by the scruff of the jersey to drag him out of the area. The Wild announcers spent quite a bit talking about how Zucker had no chance against the 6-foot-7 Oleksiak because he was only 5-11 as the 5-10 Honka had to be pulled away.
Things got a little more exciting in the second after Minnesota took advantage of some scrambly forward defense from Gemel Smith, finding a wide open Mikko Koivu to make it 1-0 90 seconds into the frame. Smith got a little puck happy and doubled the coverage of Marc Methot behind the Stars net. Brett Ritchie couldn’t adjust to the sudden 2-person coverage quick enough to slide over.
Minnesota doubled its lead as Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle took advantage of the Esa Lindell-Julius Honka defensive pairing. Staal skated away from Lindell to get off a cross-ice pass deep in the Stars end, catching Honka way out of position on Coyle on the back door.
A crowded lane early in the third period led to Staal getting a goal of his own when Bishop had no chance to see the shot coming.
Spezza got the Stars their own goal with a good crash to the front of the net a few minutes later, after Devyn Dubnyk made a strong save on his initial wraparound attempt. Ritchie dove into the crease after the rebound and caused enough chaos that the puck trickled in.
But just as a late power play expired, Stephen Johns got bumped off the puck deep in his own zone and the Wild suddenly had numbers deep in the Stars end. Bishop made the first save but a wide-open Staal found the rebound for his second goal of the night.
When given a chance, Bishop made some nice saves, including a breakaway save in the third period. But a late penalty to Ritchie for roughing and poor zone entry coverage from the Stars PK gave the Marcus Foligno a tap-in goal and made the scoreline look more lopsided.
Still, five goals does feel a little concerning in total. It doesn’t help that so many came on rebounds to uncovered players or traveled across the zone immediately prior to the shot. But you’d think the Stars would have wanted to see one very solid game in the preseason instead of a string of average starts and one throwaway loss.
In the end, it was a Stars lineup that resembled things at the height of their injury epidemic last year, missing their top defenseman and entire top line of forwards along with some depth. No one got hurt, some people got exposed on necessary flaws and, as always in the preseason, a few questions got raised. They have five days to rerack and fine tune for this coming Friday, when things really start to count.