I think Jason “Dickie” Dickinson might be edging his way out of healthy scratch purgatory, folks.
It was neither Friday nor the 13th, but the Jasons really showed up to hunt the Ducks on Thursday night. Behold:
- Jason Spezza continued to look like the Stars’ most consistent offensive threat in the top six, setting up a few players before finally getting his eighth point in eight games on Miro Heiskanen’s first career NHL goal. Spezza still isn’t playing gobs of minutes for Dallas, but he’s looking as confident as he’s been in years, and it’s murder on teams like Anaheim, who just couldn’t figure out their coverage or passing sequences enough to keep the puck away from Dallas. And while Spezza may not actually be any quicker than last year in physical terms, his confidence seems to have him anticipating plays and being a step ahead more often than not. There are multiple ways to beat guys in this league, and Jason Spezza knows a lot of them. He really did sell the shot marveously before passing to Heiskanen, too.
- Jason Dickinson, meanwhile, went ahead and had a three-point night with two goals, including a singlehanded effort to open the scoring after stealing the puck at the blue line and then undressing John Gibson. You know, just your average Thursday night. Dickinson is likewise looking confident and hungry. While Tyler Pitlick’s marvelous forechecking certainly created a scoring chance wholecloth, you could see Dickinson just waiting for the puck, easing into the low slot at just the right time to fire the pass on goal. Dickinson was hungry all night, but he wasn’t cheating on pucks to make things happen. This is the Jason Dickinson that so many NHL GMs suspected might have existed last year, but Jim Nill refused to trade him. Seems like a good decision in hindsight.
- While Tyler Seguin has been vocal about all the things he learned playing for Ken Hitchcock, Dickinson and Spezza are two players who have probably benefited from Hitch’s retirement, at least in the early season. Dickinson was a frequent scratch last year when Nill would recall him from Texas. While that’s any coach’s prerogative, that made it tough for the Stars to get that much more information about Dickinson, so he more or less languished when up with the big club. Spezza, of course, also saw a sharp drop in production as well as the press box under (well, over) Hitch, whereas this season, he’s been almost effusive in his praise for Montgomery.
In sum, it appears the Stars’ new approach this year of adopting Name Twins has been a huge success so far for everyone named Jim, Jason, and Rea/Reaugh.
For all the good in a 5-2 game, you can’t help but wonder what happens if Josh Manson doesn’t fumble the puck on a breakaway after the Stars botched a line change. I don’t fault John Klingberg for changing when he did, but there seemed to be some confusion from the bench on who was going out for him, and that left the blue line totally undefended for far too long. If Manson scores, it’s 3-2 Anaheim with Dallas feeling frustrated. Instead, the Stars go the other way and take a lead they never relinquish. Hockey.
One other thing I noticed with regard to last year: the Stars’ second power play Thursday was at one point made up of Dickinson, Val Nichushkin, Justin Dowling, Miro Heiskanen, and Esa Lindell. All but Lindell are essentially brand new additions to the Stars’ offensive approach this year. The Stars didn’t overhaul the team this summer, but there are some new looks for opposing teams, for sure.
Ben Bishop makes me wonder what last season would have looked like if he hadn’t gotten hurt early on. Bishop’s injury against Vegas on opening night last year seemed to reveal the Stars’ vulnerability (whether psychological or otherwise) when he was off the ice. This year, he’s played most of the games so far, and looked quite good quite a lot of the time. The first half of Bishop’s contract was always going to be the better one, but it’s great to see him really calming things down so much.
Meanwhile, how have we gotten this far without writing a dissertation on Roman Polák’s Cutco job to make John Gibson look negligible? My goodness me, did the Ducks ever vacate the front of their net on Thursday, and did Polák (like Dickinson before him) ever hit the “highlight goal” button on his Xbox controller when the seas parted. Watching this goal happen might be the closest thing Stars fans ever get to the Marek Malik goal. Roman Polák has seemed to work his way up to the 5th spot on the blueline depth chart, but I’m not so sure he shouldn’t be running the power play in practice for a week after that goal.
Of course, we also happened to choose another play featuring Polák to discuss here, but I assure you that I’m only putting it right after the goal talk so that the supernatural experience of witnessing that goal won’t have a chance to really unleash our minds from this mortal coil before the fullness of time. We still have jobs to do, Roman Polák Goal. Don’t you go working your wizard magic on us.
Anyway, the play:
You may recall the Julius Honka stretch pass to Mattias Janmark for a breakaway that led to Janmark’s first goal of the season. Honka actually had a few plays with the puck tonight that had patience and vision, while he also had one or two decisions I didn’t like, either. Honka’s confidence occasionally tended into overconfidence again tonight, which seems to be the Honka Brand© lately. Still, Jim Montgomery probably loves having options, and the Honka-Polák pairing is a weird little symbiosis that I’m eager to keep watching for as long as it lasts.
The weirdness comes from the fact that Polák is a different sort of defenseman than Honka, which you knew already. But aside from the physical element and Polák’s elite goal-scoring talents that I am just now learning about, the breakout process is where I’ve noticed the biggest difference between the two players. Honka is deliberate and hungry with his breakouts (whether slow and delayed or on quick plays after turnovers), looking for a dynamic play. Polák is eternally content to chip the puck out, to ice it if danger seems near (a trait shared by Esa Lindell a bit much for my liking), or to otherwise just discard the puck as soon as possible in the defensive zone.
That’s where this play is so interesting. It’s a bad turnover by Radek Faksa after a buddy pass from Polák à la Comeau/Honka on Tuesday. Faksa deserves some criticism for his turnover, just as Honka deserved it for his, but there are a lot of similarities between the poor passes that started each sequence. Players don’t usually turn the puck over for no reason, after all. (And Faksa didn’t have a chance to play goalie to clean up his mess, either.)
By the way, this was undoubtedly Janmark’s best game of the year even before the goal, so it was doubly great to see him come alive. Janmark has been struggling to fit a groove so far this year, but he really seemed to settle in against Anaheim. If that continues, the Stars’ depth worries will continue to recede even more. This is what they mean by a great recession, right?
Some sundry notes as I prepare to sleep:
Justin Dowling earned high praise from Jim Montgomery for his work on the top line, and I continue to thirst for more of Justin Dowling’s vision and dexterity. I didn’t bother GIFing it, but Dowling had a really slick between the legs drop pass on a zone entry that made me gasp. Dowling has very quickly started looking like a player who is used to having the puck and having his way on the ice, and the Stars really seem to be benefiting from his recall so far. Dowling probably bears some guilt for Getzlaf’s second goal, but when you’re stuck on the ice at the end of a long shift, these things happen. Still, Dowling appears to be the best non-Radulov option we’ve seen on Seguin’s right wing so far this year. Too bad Gibson had to return to form with 16 seconds left in the game to keep Dowling out of the Goals Club. For now.
One note that maybe means nothing: Miro Heiskanen led the team in ice time against Anaheim.
One note that means something: Miro Heiskanen scored his first NHL goal on the rush. It will probably not be his last goal on the rush.
Kudos (or some tougher equivalent of Kudos that are made of raw meat and sandpaper) to Brett Ritchie for steamrolling Marcus Petterson on the first Dickinson goal. From the replay on the Anaheim broadcast—which I highly recommend watching if you’d like to hear Brian Hayward complaining about a great many things—it looked like Ritchie actually got the shaft of his stick up in Pettersen’s neck/face area. It was effectively high sticking, but that’s never getting called in that situation. It’s interesting to see Ritchie transforming into more of a physical depth guy after flashing some scoring ability a couple of years ago, but that’s essentially just a metaphor for what happens when we normal people turn 40, right?
It’s clear that the Stars desperately want to get Nichushkin going. If he finds Gibson’s five-hole on that Benn feed, maybe that does the trick. Instead, we’ll wait to see what happens in Detroit. The good news for Nichushkin is that, well, Detroit are sort of terrible this year, so he will probably get another chance or three.
Tough night for the Ducks’ defense corps, as Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Luke Schenn and especially Marcus Petterson (clocked by Radek Faksa after Getzlaf’s goal after getting mowed down by Ritchie on Dickinson’s first) all got victimized in one way or another in Dallas. Schenn in particular was -2 in six minutes of ice time, which probably isn’t going to make most coaches happy. Then again, this is Luke Schenn and Randy Carlyle, so who knows.
I really wanted to GIF that whole Blake Comeau sequence of him curling away from the net on the rush—yeah, I know—before eventually shattering his stick on an “I’m tired and out of ideas” slapshot. I did not, because lately I’ve been thinking about another UFA right-winger Jim Nill once signed to a three-year deal, and I don’t want to have to start the MBCPOTG. (But I’ll state for the record that Comeau is not making this easy.)
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn will need to start scoring again soon if this six-game road trip is going to be anything other than troubling. Alex Radulov is amazing, but he can’t be the vital catalyst for two other players when those two other players are Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. I bet they figure it out soon.
Finally, I would like to draw everyone’s attention to this video of Miro Heiskanen wearing a cowboy hat while Esa Lindell and Justin Dowling grin like a couple of lovable goofuses: