After last season’s downward spiral that led the Dallas Stars to miss the playoffs last season kicked off with a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s understandable that fans would have feared a repeat of history. The Stars were trounced by the Penguins the night before Thanksgiving. Flashbacks to days of yore played through their heads much like Sugar Plum Fairies this time of year.
Hopefully tonight’s win put to rest some of those fears, at least for the time being. There won’t be an eight-game slide starting today, for which fans are definitely grateful.
Outside of a three game stretch of losses early in the season, Dallas hasn’t strung together more than two losses in a row. Given the fact that Dallas has nearly a full NHL contingent out on defense these days, that fact is actually kind of amazing.
They haven’t strung together more than three wins in a row more than once, either, though. The decimated blueline likely makes that task difficult in the near future. There are going to be some stinkers like the Pittsburgh game. There will be nights like tonight where defense feels more optional than it should be.
But head coach Jim Montgomery thinks that all of this adversity will make the team stronger in the end. Games get harder as the season wears on, and dealing with a myriad of things will give the team a way of saying “we’ve seen this before, we’ve won in this circumstance before, we know what doesn’t work in this circumstance” as those games come at the team down the backend stretch of the season.
At the beginning of the year, Montgomery talked about how he wanted to have this team playing its best hockey in January. So long as the team can keep its head above water waiting on those reinforcements to heal up and get back into the lineup, it is still a very good possibility that we have yet to see what this team is truly capable of.
The lessons learned along the way will only add to their ability to play the best hockey in January and throughout the last three months of the regular season.
The start definitely wasn’t a good one as the Stars allowed a goal against just over three minutes into the game on the second shot on goal allowed. What stands out about that goal was the fact that Ryan Dzingel was standing in the middle of a green ring of players and managed to score anyway. The entire squad on the ice, including defensemen Joel Hanley and Taylor Fedun, was caught absolutely puck watching on that one.
Luckily, Jamie Benn’s line was really feeling it tonight, and the captain was able to tie the game up. He was left all alone in front of goaltender Craig Anderson. Alexander Radulov fired a quick pass to Tyler Seguin who spotted him right in front. Benn was able to tap home the pass a fraction of a second before Anderson moved across his crease to get fully square to Benn.
Dallas again allowed the first goal of the period on a penalty kill where the team did not do anything to help their goaltender out. Anton Khudobin made three or four spectacular saves on the penalty kill, both from point shots and some point-blank chances. He couldn’t bail water forever, though, and Brady Tkachuk put one over a sprawling Khudobin.
After that, the Stars finally started to dominate the game. Goals by Miro Heiskanen and Fedun would put Dallas in the lead. It’s funny how the Stars seem to play better when the blueline gets into the action. Tonight, they were a big factor in the win, scoring three of the five eventual goals.
If there is one area that is absolutely abysmal for the Stars right now, it is the power play. Going 1-for-20+ chances now, the man advantage isn’t so much an advantage right now. They’ve gotten a few looks in that time, but it seems that the units on the ice have become too stationary again. They got off to such a hot start at the beginning of the season because they were able to briskly move the puck. They haven’t shown too much of that lately, even struggling just to get into the offensive zone at times tonight. Of course missing John Klingberg hurts in this area, but the problem existed before he went out with injury. It’s just been exasperated in his absence.
Dallas continued their offensive push in the third period, extending their lead to three goals when Heiskanen scored his second of the night (his first multi-goal game of his NHL career) and Blake Comeau deftly redirected a Esa Lindell pass though Andersen’s five hole.
Unfortunately, Ottawa got themselves into a groove after Dallas seemed to let off the aggressive forecheck as the clock started to wind down the back half of the last period. Two goals against later and this game was way closer than it should have been.
After all, Dallas set a season-high in shots on goal with 54 total tonight (19, 24, 11 across the three periods respectively). They dictated most of the pace of the game. But the puck watching and moments where the team got caught flat-footed made the game exciting for fans due to the high-scoring affair (on both ends) but maybe not so much for defensive stats.
Gavin Bayreuther would seal the game away for good with an empty net goal scored from the middle faceoff circle as he got the shot off in a tangle of bodies on his way to the ice. His first career goal, that one will definitely be a story worth telling
*Radulov did not take any penalties tonight. It’s an area of the game that Montgomery recently emphasized as needing improvement. Radulov had two assists tonight.
*Shore said he didn’t really look for anything on his setup of Fedun’s goal. Just tried something as he had guys below him and “that’s the time to try something”. Montgomery praised Shore’s hockey IQ and said it elevates the team as a whole having him in the lineup.
*No word yet on what pairings the team will go with tomorrow night or who will start in goal. But the defensive effort displayed tonight is going to be eaten alive by Colorado’s red-hot top line if it plays like that again. My gut says Khudobin will be back in net facing off against a Central Division opponent that sits right above the Stars in the standings, but Landon Bow acquitted himself nicely in preseason and in his mop-up effort in Pittsburgh.
In the post-game media availability, Montgomery indicated that John Klingberg, Marc Methot, Connor Carrick, and Stephen Johns will not travel on the team’s upcoming road trip that starts tomorrow night when the Stars play the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center. (“Four of our top six” not going, joked Montgomery. At this point you have to laugh at it or else the sheer amount of defensive injuries this team is dealing with right now will hit like a ton of bricks.) Ben Bishop will likely fly and meet the team in Denver on Sunday after getting a few treatments for his lower-body injury, and Martin Hanzal will travel and start practicing with the team as he ramps up to return from spinal fusion surgery.