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Afterwords: The Road Trip of a Thousand Miles Begins with One Win

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This was not Detroit part 2

Dallas Stars v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Stars hit six goals for the first time this season, and I can’t imagine that anyone’s surprised it happened against the Isles.

***

It’s weird to say in a 6-2 game, but Ben Bishop sort of won a goalie duel in this one.

Thomas Greiss was looking sharp early, while Ben Bishop couldn’t stop a prime chance on a rebound in the slot. The Stars were down 1-0 after 20, and the second period looked like a rare uphill slog for Dallas. Visions of the lackluster start to the huge road trip in Detroit were unavoidable. How would the Stars respond?

Goals. Lots of goals. Dallas scored four of them in the middle frame, while Ben Bishop held down his end of the bargain, taking Dallas to a comfortable 4-1 lead after 40 minutes. What a difference, eh?

If Bishop did win that duel, his secondary opponent was undoubtedly Mat Barzal. Bishop had a nice glove save on Barzal that could’ve made it 2-0 New York in the first, and another arm stop late in the second. Then Bishop dished out a slick stop on Barzal early in the third as well, and while Barzal did get an assist on the Scott Mayfield Disaster, it’s safe to say that Bishop won this one. Greiss was chased midway through the second, and Bishop walks away from this one feeling like the team’s number one goalie again.

The second goal was a howler, no doubt (though it’s effectively just as bad as Anton Khudobin’s missed cutoff with his stick that led to a goal against the other night, if that helps you feel better about it), but Bishop’s overall game was plenty good enough to win on the road, and that’s just fine when you score six goals. Two posts on an Isles power play with the score 4-2 could’ve changed this game drastically, but that didn’t happen. You take these games, on the road, and you move on.

A quarter of the way through the season, the Stars are hanging in there in a tough Central Division. That’s fine, given our expectations to start the season. That might be much more than fine, given that Radulov missed half of those games and that John Klingberg is going to be absent for a bit longer yet.

As for the game early on, that Anthony Beauvillier goal early could’ve gotten the Stars chasing this whole time. Gleason and Polák got a bit overwhelmed, and forward coverage couldn’t get to the puck in time. It was a breakdown, of which there were many in the first period, and the Islanders cashed in.

And, through 20 minutes, that looked like a potential narrative to this one. Even Roope Hintz seemed stuck on hard luck, as he created a great chance on a 2-on-1 early with a slick steal in his own zone, but should’ve shot on the rush. Instead, he dried to drag it past the sliding defenseman, and nothing came of the opportunity. That could’ve been a big Moment of Regret, but when you score six goals, these events are just reduced to me typing the words because I feel obligated to do so. Now it’s over.

Thankfully, Thomas Greiss failed to come out of the locker room for the second period, and the Stars grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck and walked it home with no dessert.

As for how they did that, well, here’s the dirty truth:

Two things: Julius Honka played more shifts at forward this game (1) than Brett Ritchie (healthy scratched) or than Honka on the power play (0), which speaks volumes on both fronts. First, after Tyler Pitlick’s scratch with a recent illness, I don’t think the Stars would blink an eye at slotting Ritchie onto the right wing in that situation in seasons past. But with the propensity of this bench to mix and match with abandon, they chose to go with 11 forwards, a second power play unit with three defensemen, and Very Reasonable Ice Time for All. In other words, the coaching staff was also watching the last game for the big right winger, and they didn’t walk away with a hot pile of wonderful either. We’ll have to see is this was a one-time thing or a trend, but it’s safe to say that Ritchie is staring his Stars career fairly intently in the face at this point.

Honka also falls into that category, as he apparently isn’t trusted for power play minutes anymore and got the fewest minutes of the defense tonight, which included players named Joel, Gavin and Ben. You did not have Joel, Gavin and Ben in your program on opening night, friend. We are in Uncharted Territory, where Gavin Bayreuther is somehow more trusted than Honka on all sides of the puck. There’s a much longer article to be written about this whole thing, but for now, we take it one game at a time. Honka hasn’t Wally Pipp’d anyone but himself so far, even if I’m not sure I quite see everything he’s done to deserve it.

***

  • With two in two coming up, Jim Montgomery continued his trend this year of keeping Jamie Benn’s minutes down when possible. Jason Dickinson played more minutes than Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov. Esa Lindell went down from 28+ minutes the other night to a Modest 23 (also the name of Lindell’s upcoming winter clothing line). The Stars rolled up their gameplans and pronounced “Minutes Managed,” which is quite a nice way to end a game that started with an ugly goal against to open the scoring.
  • If you’ve been concerned about Jamie Benn’s play lately, today was an encouraging one. On rubbish ice in Barclay’s Center of Basketball and Don’t Forget The Ice Hockeys, We Think, Benn and Radulov laid down a great forecheck to turn the puck over and feed Lindell in a great spot. This time, Lindell buried his shot, and the Stars were level again. Benn had a few good moments in this one, even if his season hasn’t been Vintage. I choose to take encouragement where it offers itself.
  • In that vein, Jason Spezza’s 900th point came on a really fun day for hockey. In fact, he won a tough board battle to set it up, which probably isn’t at the top of your list of “Things Jason Spezza Does Just So Well, Darn It.” Spezza stole the puck from Nick Leddy—and stepped on puck and dragged it to his stick, no less—and fed Roope Hintz for his first NHL goal (and Spezza’s 900th career point). It was beautiful for everyone, and it showed the hunger that Spezza still has in this, his re-emergent season. Spezza had 26 points last year. He has 13 points in just 20 games so far in 2018-19.
  • I’ve always loved Thomas Greiss, or at least I have for like five years. He sort of inherited the Johan Hedberg mantle in my mind of Other Teams’ Goalies I Follow who I Can’t Have for My Personal Hockey Team. So, to see him chased was a bit sad, but these are tough times. Give Esa Lindell all of the points, and don’t you dare complain. These Stars ought to pile on whenever a pile presents itself. It is the natural enemy of the hole, after all.
  • Lindell’s game isn’t John Klingberg’s and that’s okay. At least, in the short term. Give me a defense of six Klingberg’s or six Lindells and I’d choose the former every time, because I trust goals over “bad things don’t happen when he’s out there.” Sometimes, those bad things do happen. They happen to all of us, on or off the ice. Lindell is a sound defensive player in a lot of ways, but his two goals were just
  • Val Nichushkin seems to be missing some things from his game that may never arrive, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the things that already have. Good player in this one.
  • The power play is lost without Klingberg. They don’t seem to have a real quarterback, and the constant switching of the power play units can cut both ways. Might be time to just keep Miro Heiskanen up there and let it ride for a couple weeks. Especially since his skating can cover a multitude of sins on its own, and his offensive game is also quite good, instinctively speaking. They do not generally ask me for advice about these things, however.
  • Tyler Seguin added another goal to his recent reawakening with a fortunate bounce off a shinpad and the end boards (after Jamie Benn did well to get possession in the offensive zone, we must once again point out). These goals all count the same, and hey, it’s nice to see Seguin earning his new contract. Goals!
  • Alex Radulov’s second goal was really quite mundane, as he had but to tap it across the line behind Robin Lehner. Radulov’s first goal was all kinds of beauitful, reminding us that the Stars needn’t be terrified to enter the shootout if they ever get there. Backhand shelf is always a great move on a breakaway, but Radulov pulled it off with aplomb, restoring the three-goal lead while getting Gavin Bayreuther’s first career point chalked up. Radulov’s first goal came on a buttery finish, and then he had the tap-in to ice the game after a bit of butter-soft play by the Islanders.
  • Roope Hintz also joined an NHL Scoring Club, as he and Esa Lindell combined to Finnish the German in the second period with three goals between them (and with Julius Honka assisting on one of those, to boot). One wonders if Hintz might have a much better time of it in his second recall, with the Stars past the quarter pole and all here in a minute, rather than during his initial stint, when the whole team was trying to figure out a new system without setting fire to anything important. Good start, I’d say.
  • Roman Polák played 20 minutes when the Stars iced seven defensemen. The Stars scored six goals, and Polák was jumping into the play and pinching all over the place. What even is this season? I assume this is what Minnesota Wild fans must feel like every year.
  • Ben Gleason looked a bit shaky in this one. I wonder who sits in Madison Square Garden, but that remains to be seen, for now. My guess, if Pitlick can go, is that the Stars go back to 12F/6D and sit Gleason or Bayreuther, but we’ll see. It’s really hard to assign any sort of final ranks upon the depth defensemen right now, but I find it hard to believe Dallas would really scratch Honka against a poor team like the Rangers. Isn’t this the time to get everyone’s confidence flowing? Besides, I seem to remember Honka having some good memories in this building. Better than some, at least.
  • Alex Radulov is the most important player on this team with Klingberg out. I love watching him play hockey, but it’s a bit scary that this UFA from last season has become its de facto heartbeat. Still, if it works, it works, yeah? The Stars just need to hold down the fort until Christmas or so. They should probably also finish building said fort before holding it down, too. These are handy construction tips, these are.
  • This road trip (with a home game sandwiched in between) could really be something for Dallas. The Rangers are rebuilding, the Penguins are looking totally lost lately, and Western Canada, while certainly no cake walk, has often been kind to the Stars. There are points on the table here. Dallas has been keeping the feast lately, and there aren’t many terrifying obstacles awaiting them. The roster isn’t idealized by half, but Radulov is back and Doing His Thing, and the team as a hole is in “bend, don’t break” mode. That’s not the recipe for playoff victory, but given that the Stars are two years removed from that particular cookbook, they’ll be happy just to bring some store-bought snacks at this point. Every point is a good one, for now. Er, also, basically always. Points are sort of the, uh, point.