The first game of the preseason isn’t supposed to be pretty. With only a few days of training camp before the first drop of the puck, players are still getting their legs under them and shaking off the rust. Practice is good, but it never quite emulates the conditioning needed for a full game.
Maybe that’s why they play preseason games – and why they don’t count for anything more than a way to get players ready for the games that do.
Head coach Jim Montgomery did not like the effort of at least the first two periods tonight. “We want them to make mistakes out of being aggressive. I thought we were a little too passive. But, you know, that’s the first game and we have a lot to look at and review and get better off of.”
He also said that maybe he did not get the team moving enough at pregame skate. “That’s on me,” he said. You get the feeling that Montgomery is a “the buck stops with me” kind of guy, and he isn’t afraid to assess his own performance as frankly as his players. Mark that in the column of why this team seems to enjoy playing for him so much already — and have spoken only great things about the rookie NHL coach so far.
Disjointed might be the best word to describe the first period of the game. Missed passes, miscommunication on positioning, and pucks in skates were hallmarks of the first 20 minutes into the preseason.
That’s not to say there weren’t good aspects.
The penalty kill in the first period was pretty good. Dallas spent almost as much time in their offensive zone as they did in any other during the two minutes shorthanded. It became obvious over the course of the game that Dallas players have been given the go-ahead to create shorthanded chances if the opportunity is there. They were able to create several turnovers by being relentless on the puck pursuit in the neutral zone, limiting the quality chances against.
On the opposite end of the special teams spectrum, the first power play opportunity was less than ideal. They didn’t look like they were on the same page and it led to not a single shot on goal being recorded on the man advantage.
Dallas was outshot 16-11 in the middle frame, and ultimately outshot 38-25 tonight, and it raised one question to me: does Montgomery worry about being outshot or is it more important that the quality of shots on net are even if the shot count is out of balance?
“Tonight, I thought we gave up too many quality chances. We weren’t good defensively tonight. Our goalies were really our two best defensive players and when they are you still have the opportunity to win the game, so credit Bish and Bow.”
We got a glimpse of what this Stars team could look like when Alexander Radulov finally opened scoring tonight. The goal came off of one of the only cycles in the offensive zone Dallas had been able to establish to that point in the game. The Stars were able to move the puck crisply in the offensive zone, and change the direction of attack a few times. St. Louis was eventually pulled out of position (and maybe extended in their shift) and Dallas was able to capitalize.
Unfortunately, Dallas was unable to hang onto the lead. Almost immediately after switching goaltenders, Landon Bow had a breakaway that he was unable to stop. Five minutes later, St. Louis took the lead and hung on to make it 2-1 heading into the last frame.
The last 20 minutes the team looked much better. Maybe it was because they had finally gotten their legs under them. Or maybe it was the coaching changes Montgomery made between periods that got the team back on track.
“You can tell Monty has a good head for the game,” veteran forward Jason Spezza said. “So he’s going to be able to make great in-game adjustments and that’ll help us as a group when maybe things aren’t going the way you want them to go, you make adjustment to what the other team is doing. We have some work to do, because we’re playing a different style, but we have the pieces to do it.”
Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson connected for the tying goal within the first minute of the third period off of the adjustments Montgomery made, and that started an offensive explosion by Dallas. They’d go on to score four goals (including an empty-netter) to complete a comeback and get a win in the preseason.
While there is definitely work to be done, you have to like the drive the team showed to mount the comeback. They didn’t look like they were gripping their sticks to get the next goal, something that was common in similar situations last season under Ken Hithcock. While they did allow St. Louis to score a goal in the third period, the lead also never felt completely untenable as it often could under Lindy Ruff’s run-and-gun style.
Montgomery’s style is different. If they can improve upon the areas they did not do well in tonight, it’ll be exciting to see how well it stacks up against the rest of the NHL rosters this season.
DAL Radulov (4:29 of the 2nd period, even strength) with assists from Bayreuther and Caamano
STL Kyrou (9:57 of the 2nd period, even strength) with assists from O’Reilly and Laleggia
STL Jaskin (15:49 of the 2nd period, power play) with assists from Sanford and Laleggia
DAL Hintz (0:56 of the 3rd period, even strength) with assists from Dickinson
STL Maroon (3:23 of the 3rd period, power play) with assists from Kyrou and Parayko
DAL Seguin (5:19 of the 3rd period, power play) with assists from Klingberg and Jamie Benn
DAL Spezza (7:03 of the 3rd period, even strength) with assists from Nichushkin
SOME PLAYER THOUGHTS
*Valeri Nichushkin: playmaker. I mentioned in the training camp scrimmage observations that Nichushkin seems to make plays better compared to how he executed them in his first stint with Dallas a few seasons ago. He made a very heads-up patient play with the puck where he hesitated coming down the wing, and waited a split second to catch Spezza streaking down the other side for a highlight-worthy goal. He was signaled out as one of the team’s best skaters by the head coach tonight.
*Mattias Janmark is going to be a great penalty killer under Montgomery. With the team seemingly looking to make plays off of aggression, his speed is likely to afford him the opportunity to score some shorthanded goals this season. He forced a few turnovers that went the other direction when the team was on the kill tonight.
*Jason Dickinson had a very good game as well and was also noted as one of the better skaters for Dallas tonight. He brought a lot of energy and hustle to pucks.
*Ben Bishop looked great. He was a big part of why Dallas was able to keep the scoresheet blank in the first period, and he came up with a few big saves. Bishop noted after the game that part of playing preseason games is to get the timing of the odd-man rushes that he doesn’t get during practice, and he was more than equal to the task, stopping all 16 shots he faced. Bishop’s ability to handle the puck surprised a few guys tonight, but once the team gets comfortable with that, they could have another weapon in the transition arsenal. Montgomery said after the game that he handles the puck as well as most defenders.
*Miro Heiskanen liked the bigger arena and ice at American Airlines Center. He’s also one of the smoothest skaters out there, and handled being paired with John Klingberg fairly well considering the two had not spent any time skating as a pair before tonight. He logged 22:14 of ice time and two shots on goal as well as an assist in the game.
SOME SYSTEM THOUGHTS
One thing that I thought was interesting watching the team play is how often the puck carrier had support. While it wasn’t always crisply executed, the Stars swarmed the puck carrier on the other side and provided themselves with multiple outlets to move the puck up ice quickly. That seems to be a product of Montgomery’s system more so than anything else.
However, do not mistake this for the same thing as the sometimes unstructured puck chasing that the Stars have done in seasons passed. The team was quick to recognize when they might get burned by doing it and tried to reposition to avoid any odd-man rushes or poor plays against that could come of it.
The trick will be getting the repetitions in so that it does not look as though they are thinking on the ice, but doing it by instinct instead.