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Afterwords: Shore-Handed Goals and More Rads Sink Sore Habs

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Ben Bishop did some of his best work while the Stars were on the power play, fortunately/unfortunately

NHL: Dallas Stars at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Shore was really going full Wingardium Leviosa in the second period of this one, and thank goodness; Dallas needed some magic to defeat their road demons Tuesday.

***

Posts hit by Montreal: 3

Posts hit by Dallas: 2

That margin is about right for this game. Montreal was a bit unluckier, a bit less fine, and couldn’t quite get out of their own way down the stretch. But if you’re hitting more posts, then you’re probably getting good chances, and Montreal really did get the better chances in this one tonight. Thankfully, Ben Bishop was exceptionally stable, helping to defuse the Montreal forecheck while also calming the game down when needed. That the only Habs goal came when Bishop was engulfed by Brendan Gallagher’s personage says it all.

Jim Montgomery is clearly unhappy with the production (or lack thereof) from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, particularly after he reunited the top line for the final two periods in an effort to get some offense, and was rewarded with goals from Esa Lindell, Devin Shore and Miro Heiskanen without the big guys on the ice. Montreal has gotten off to a good start this year, but this team isn’t a juggernaut or anything. Dallas has better skaters, and they were getting outskated at times. That shouldn’t happen, but road games are tough for a reason.

You really knew this game was going to be weird when the power play began. After some initial retrieval, the Stars didn’t go with the usual drop pass on their first power play to start the second period, and John Klingberg seemed utterly lost. He flubbed a pass and surrendered a breakaway to Artturi Lehkonen, then had to concede a penalty shot. Thankfully, Lehkonen’s attempt was a bit of a muffin into a patient Bishop’s pads, and the Stars got back on the job. Still, that’s not the John Klingberg we’ve been seeing this season. But Bishop covered for him, and things continued in that fashion for much of tonight.

Throughout most of the ample power play time (after getting nearly zilch in Detroit), Dallas’s first unit was downright uninspiring. And, just as I was about to say something about how Julius Honka was skating well and would be a good option on the second power play, Esa Lindell reminded me that he has him some scoring chops, too. The second unit managed to brute-force an entry by teasing a turnover against an aggressive neutral zone play by Montreal, and the off-balance Canadiens suddenly saw themselves defending an odd-man rush. Esa Lindell easily finished a great bit of puck-lugging by Devin Shore, and the Stars had a lead they probably didn’t deserve. But as they say in lots of hockey rinks, ahem, “who cares?”

The penalties in this one were weird tonight. Rick Bowness gave a particularly nice interview between periods—I’m not joking, it really was just the most pleasant and informative one of those hits I’ve seen in a while—when he mentioned that the Stars just hadn’t been skating earlier, and that they finally managed to draw some calls after beginning to move their legs. Indeed, the Stars did draw some calls in motion (John Klingberg’s drawn tripping call comes to mind), but the Canadiens also racked up some unnecessary ones, none worse than Max Domi’s vintage-Domi nonsense with Roman Polák that earned him an extra 2:00 for unsportsmanlike conduct after his fifty-two cross checks had already earned him a matching minor trip to the bin. Domi and Jonathan Drouin both looked useful tonight, but Jesperi Kotkaniemi was the one who made you stand up and take notice.

The Habs remind me of the Patrick Roy version of Colorado a couple years ago when they had that surprising finish atop the Central before falling back to the basement again. There are good, young players here and a functional whole, but I’m not sure if the team is quite cohesive enough to really be a sustainable threat for another year or two or three. I suspect the growing pains will be strong with this one, but maybe that’s just me looking at their defense corps for too long. Carey Price covers a multitude of sins.

One other penalty I wanted to mention was Brendan Gallagher’s crafty call drawn on Seguin early on:

You can see it all here: Seguin reaching for the poke check, Gallagher grabbing his arm, Seguin willingly accepting the invitation to swing his pardner ‘round, and Gallagher going all noodle-legged to accentuate the effects of the play. It’s a stupid thing all the way around the mulberry bush, but you can’t really say anything other than “Yes, this is how this is usually called.” I’d personally like to see this evened up, as Gallagher at the very least initiated the hold himself, but officials are looking at the puck carrier as a target, and if you don’t attack him the proper way, you’re getting a penalty.

Still, if you’re the Canadiens, you might almost have preferred to take a call instead of earning one, as the Stars’ top unit was surrendering chance after chance to the penalty killers, including the Klingberg hook that led to the penalty shot. Montgomery’s terse postgame comments were appropriately muted, as the Stars didn’t seem to have the right tool in their Swiss Army Knife© to get through the neutral zone and set up the man advantage against the Canadiens at times. I’m not sure if that was everyone trying to do too much or just a case of not taking the penalty killers as seriously as they ought to be have been taken. Maybe it’s just a penalty kill that happened upon a power play with a particular vulnerability they’re coincidentally trained well to exploit, like having the right Mega Man weapon or something.

Time will tell, but if the PK can keep being amazing (and due credit to Blake Comeau, Mattias Janmark and Roman Polák for some good, solid, boring work on that), and if the power play can keep scoring when the game is close, special teams are going to earn the Stars a decent amount of extra points over the next 71 games.

The Canadiens, for their part, really started to sag after the second Stars goal. Maybe it was just demoralizing for them to see Miro Heiskanen score his second goal as a defenseman before Kotkaniemi has scored his first as a forward. But I bet it was even more demoralizing for Artturi Lehkonen when Radek Faksa roughed him up in front of Price, eventually kicking the puck to Shore for a shorthanded goal that all but sealed this one. If you’re Faksa, that’s probably a primary assist that goes on your short list when you’re lying in bed at night reflecting on your career. Radek hasn’t quite been scoring as much as we keep hoping he will, but plays like that qualify as gravy fully licked, every time.

Devin Shore had his best game of the season, and good thing, too. I found it amusing that, after spending so much of last year as a de facto top-six forward who struggled to score and ended up with a -30 next to his name, now he’s already got eight points in 11 games after having a minute chopped off his average ice time and seeing his power play time get reduced. Shore had two high-caliber primary assists in this one to Lindell and Heiskanen before pulling the old “club the bludger” play to beat Price himself, and after the last few games, no one’s talking about depth scoring woes anymore. All three plays by Shore were really good ones, but I had a particular fondness for the slick assist to Heiskanen, as Shore really had to manipulate his stick and draw it in a bit closer to his body in order to get the puck right onto Heiskanen’s stick. Watch it again, and note how high Shore’s follow-through has to be on the backhand in order to get this puck where he wants it to go with speed:

That’s a whole lot of skill deployed with intelligence in poor defensive coverage, and I’ll never tire of seeing my team score goals like that. Shore was one of the better setup guys on the power play last year even when he wasn’t scoring the goals himself, and you could see his hands in full evidence in Montreal. Tres bien, Devin!

Oh, and Miro Heiskanen’s shot into the top corner was all kinds of delicious and you should be sending him a thank-you note for playing on this team every day this season. Honestly, it sometimes blows my mind that the Stars really do have a player like that in Dallas for the forseeable future. We’re not used to these sudden good things, so quickly looking every bit as good as we might dare to hope. Even John Klingberg came with cautious optimism for most of his later development. Heiskanen has been Heiskanen, every bit. This defense is really fun to watch when all three pairs are skating the puck up on the breakout or sending a nice pass to get things started. Stars hockey is fun again, even if the record isn’t great yet. Top tier defensemen have a big impact on that.

Finally, don’t forget to bask in the fact that Alex Radulov scored the final goal of the game in front of Marc Bergevin.

A little salt makes everything taste better. Now, let’s all light a candle for Alex Radulov’s groin muscles, that they may recapitulate themselves with full speed. Okay, good job. Now I grant you permission to marvel that this Alex Radulov is playing on a sore groin muscle. These athletes are really just another species altogether.

***

This isn’t really germane, but in case you were wondering if coaches had more interesting talking points for the locker room than they do in interviews...well, I’m sorry to disappoint you:

From what I can see, Claude Julien’s card reads:

Screen/tips/rebounds

Keep puck away from Bishop

Puck support (Chips, [not sure])

Net front/Pts open/[not sure]

[Other stuff I can’t read]

Retrieve Pucks (I think?)

Hey, at least the message is straightforward, right? It ain’t rocket science when players are catching their breath in the locker room for a few minutes.

***

Jamie Benn is in a bit of a scoring slump, but I thought he had a pretty solid game tonight, all told. He was forcing things it a bit, but we’ve seen him throw the monkey off his back before, and one this makes me really confident we’ll see it again: his pass to Radulov for the empty-net goal was especially encouraging for how quickly Benn made the decision, as I thought that showed Benn isn’t overly fixated on snapping his slump himself. Yeah, Benn sort of got the equivalent of Nickelodeon Slime dumped on him when a Spezza feed on the back door for an easy dunk was blocked by the backwards-facing skates of a Montreal defender, but what are ya gonna do? If he ever gets frustrated, Benn always has an Art Ross Trophy he can polish if his confidence starts to wane. Honestly, I’m not worried. And hey, an assist on an empty-netter is a point, technically.

Tyler Seguin, meanwhile, didn’t quite have the high-quality chances tonight he did in Detroit, but you’re still waiting for the newly extended 1C to bust out that shot of his and beat a goalie, yeah? Goal-scoring is fluky and unpredictable from game to game, but Segin had better find a way to force the issue sooner rather than later. In a perfect world, you’d like to see Seguin and Benn pick each other up when one of them is slumping, and maybe that’s what Montgomery was hoping to manufacture by splitting them up for 20 minutes. Certainly, if Connor McDavid can score a thousand goals while playing with the likes of Ty Rattie and Milan Lucic, one would hope the two big dogs could rustle up some cheese among any conglomeration of Dallas’s top six.

No, the game wasn’t pretty, and Dallas easily could have lost this if a couple of those early posts had gone differently. “Hockey,” in other words. We’ve watched a few of those sorts of games already this year, and I, for one, am perfectly thrilled to finally watch one go the Stars’ way. Teams ride the ebb and flow of the season at different paces, and Dallas just needs to stay north of .500 until they get hot for a spell. Ideally, they’d be further along after a cushy early schedule, and ideally, they’d already have started getting hot. We don’t always get what we want. But if you wanted wins and goals, well, you got both of those Tuesday night. That seems like plenty to be happy about on the second game of a long road trip.

If, however, you’re still not pleased with Your Dallas Stars, then just re-watch the interviews in this game with Jason Spezza’s dad and Jim Montgomery’s mom. They are beautiful, wonderful people who radiated with praise for their children. I’m sure Rino Spezza is watching the games as closely as you are, but if he can wear a Spezza sweater in Montreal and grin for 60 minutes, then the least we can do is to be grateful for two points on the road in a tough building. We all would have taken this game in New Jersey, you know.