Throughout the preseason, most fans want to see the big players come out unscathed so that the team isn’t in a hole to start the season. Once those games start to count, it’s still a concern, but especially in the first period of opening night.
That’s when Dallas Stars fans found themselves holding their breath after captain Jamie Benn went knee-to-knee with Christian Fischer. Benn was trying to make a move around the Arizona Coyotes forward, but Fischer didn’t move his stance and Benn ended up taking the knee of the more stationary player to his own, which sent him flying up and crashing to the ice right after.
Suddenly, the enthusiastic and energetic home crowd wasn’t feeling so good about the home opener.
Luckily, Benn was on the ice for the ensuing power play. After a slight scare to start the second period in which Benn missed the first two shifts (as well as the last shift of the period), the captain appeared in his usual place and all was right again with the world.
“I just think, you know, he was just taking some time to get back out there,” head coach Jim Montgomery said after the game. There’s no worry from him about his captain, so Stars fans can be relieved to hear that.
He was a big part of the offensive push in the second period to put Dallas up over Arizona. Benn recorded two assists as linemate Alexander Radulov and blueliner John Klingberg scored. A Devin Shore redirect opened the scoring, and Benn and company took over from there. The Stars took control of the game in a big way with those three goals coming in just 95 seconds.
The big test then, was how the team would take a three-goal lead into the third period. In seasons past, Dallas had a tendency to “turtle” and try to protect the lead. After the outburst of offense in the span of just 95 seconds less than six minutes into the second period, Dallas kept applying pressure looking for goal number four.
But there’s a difference between still playing with that kind of pace and aggression to close out the period and having to do it for nearly half the game.
The first period was fairly even in terms of play. Both teams had shifts strung together where the offense looked to be clicking and then other strings of shifts where they couldn’t stop tripping over their own feet in their own end. Maybe it was opening night jitters or maybe it was a feeling-out process as both teams got up to speed for a game that finally counted.
Whatever it was, Ben Bishop didn’t have it.
The Stars netminder was cool in net, coming up with big saves when needed. And they were needed at times as the Stars and Coyotes played a very north-south game. A big chance on one end would be turned up ice and result in a chance at the other. Both Bishop and Antti Raanta were more than up to the task, and the teams would end the first 20 minutes scoreless.
Ninety seconds about four and a half minutes into the second period changed the complexion of this game completely.
The first goal was a diving effort off a bit of a scramble in front of Raanta’s net. The shot might have gone in, but that goal did not happen without Miro Heiskanen’s clean zone entry with possession. He found Connor Carrick as the trailer behind him, who then shot it towards the net where Shore and Tyler Pitlick had set up shop.
On the next shift, Alexander Radulov would tally on an individual effort in which he made a very nice juke move entering into the zone with speed. His shot wasn’t particularly hard, but it was hard enough to squeak through Raanta’s gear and right into the back of the net. John Klingberg walked in a minute later and picked the blocker corner of Raanta. I’m not even sure he saw that shot coming – Klingberg had a guy skating in with him, and Raanta almost reacted like he thought Klingberg was looking to pass instead of shoot, and it froze him.
Through the rest of the period Dallas had a few good chances, as did Arizona. Bishop again came up like a brick wall, but he also got some help tonight. He was living on the right side of the goalposts, with two goals prevented thanks to the heavenly sound of the crossbar ping. (It’s only heavenly when it isn’t your favorite team hitting the posts.)
Well, it wasn’t a “full turtle” effort in the third period, but Dallas definitely had the lesser chances in the last frame. Arizona did a good job getting pucks to the net and spending some extended time in the offensive zone, while the Stars had more one-and-done opportunities.
Bishop was the deciding factor at keeping that three-goal lead the team had built intact.
He was in very good form tonight, and outside of several instances in which his teammates didn’t understand that Bishop was going to play the puck (leading to one big oopsie moment described later here), it was a flawless performance from the 6’7” netminder.
Of course you’d like to see the Stars do more in terms of sustained offense in the third period as they protected the lead, but if you look at the shots on goal it was a lot closer than in games past. They were limiting the shots to more perimeter chances, and did a decent job of clogging up some lanes to avoid the direct rush in on net.
*Bishop’s puck-handling ability takes some getting used to, and some of the younger guys are not used to it yet. They got tangled up behind their own net in the first period and tripped Bishop right off his skates. Luckily, the team had solid possession to exit the zone, so it’s a laughable moment, but that could be disastrous in a different setting.
*It happened behind the play, so not sure if it was caught on the broadcast. Esa Lindell had his stick slashed out of his hands by Fischer. He turned around and essentially grabbed his stick in retaliation. Kind of funny in the moment, but it did negate a power play for his team because he was called for interference over that move.
*If you’re going to go to the penalty box, it’s better if you take someone from the other side. Dallas did that twice tonight. They only had to kill off two penalties tonight – one for a total of 45 seconds in the first period when Jason Spezza committed a hooking in the midst of a power play for Dallas. The other was the free space on your Stars bingo card where Alexander Radulov does something and gets called for it. Tonight’s penalty of choice was an interference off a face-off.
*Tyler Seguin did not feel the love tonight, as he missed a gaping net for a sure goal in tight on Raanta. Not sure he’ll be using that stick another game.
*In the second period, Pitlick went skating into the corner with Jordan Oesterle. On a play that had been executed on both sides, Pitlick took Oesterle into the boards with a full body check into the boards. The blueliner crumpled to the ground in pain, and did not return to the game. On first look, it didn’t seem like a borderline hit of any kind, but maybe in the morning after replays and a fresh look, it might become clearer how the Arizona broadcast team defined it as such.