After 10 days between games, it would not have been a surprise to see the Dallas Stars come out and lose what should have been a winnable game. Keep in mind that the Buffalo Sabres, their opponent coming out of their CBA-mandated break followed by the All-Star break with a few other days off thanks to the schedule makers, played a game last night. They had the jump on the Stars in the sense that they had played in game conditions out of the break while Dallas had not.
Luckily, three hard days of practice with pace seemed to pay dividends early for the Stars.
It was obvious that they did not want to get off to a slow start. They wanted to set the tone early. It makes sense, after all – the last few games before the break where the team came out with good speed early led to wins for the Stars. Success helps reinforce the habits you want to play with moving forward.
In a lot of ways, the Strs were just continuing where they left off before the break. But a 1-0 shutout over the Sabres was not necessarily what most would have drawn up given the rust the team was bound to have after so many days away from game conditions.
The first period of this one started off looking pretty good – as it should have, considering the Sabres played last night in Columbus. Dallas was skating and Buffalo was content to let Dallas dictate the pace of play. It led to a 7-2 quality scoring chance advantage for Dallas in a period in which Buffalo seemed to barely ever enter the offensive zone.
Dallas made sure the good effort from the first period reflected on the scoreboard for a change, too.
Blake Comeau and Jamie Benn hit the offensive zone with some speed. Comeau was able to make a play along the boards to tie up his opponent from clearing the puck cleanly from the zone. Taylor Fedun made a heads-up read, jumping up from behind the blueline to corral the puck and chip it forward to Benn, who was in the slot area. Benn took the puck, made a couple of dekes, and then delivered the puck into the back of the net via Linus Ullmark’s fivehole. Ullmark looked like he got frozen a little by Benn’ dekes on the play.
An APB was issued for the “pace” button in the second period. It was one of the most uneventful periods in which Dallas somehow managed to double up the opponent in shots on goal so far this season – and we’ve seen some boring ones. Though, to be honest, I think a good chunk of those shots came early and late in the period with a whole lot of turnovers and the two teams daring the other to try their hand at offense.
Two themes of this period came to the surface.
First was that Bishop must have been looking for a way to help spark something because he decided to engage “Adventure Time With Ben” a couple of times. He made some plays with the puck that were a little bit head-scratch worthy, though none of them came back to bite him in a bad way. It just made it a little more interesting than a typical play with the puck we’re used to more often than not from him.
The second was that this game was going to be a loosely called one. While both teams had a power play chance in the first period, the rest of the game was spent with both teams being allowed to play. That caused some frustration on both teams with uncalled sticks to the face, plenty of clutching and holding of sticks, and some plays that likely would have been called interference on other nights.
It was almost a little playoff-like in that regard.
Dallas looked much like the first period at the start of the last frame, a welcome change after the snooze-fest that was the middle. They held the puck a lot and spent a lot of time in the offensive zone looking for a good setup with not a lot to show for it.
Then, things got interesting.
On probably their best offensive push of the game, Buffalo had a guy streaking between Bishop and the traffic in front of him, setting a screen for a shot to go past a falling Bishop. The only issue was that it was immediately waived off and called goaltender interference. Nathan Beaulieu, the streaking Sabre, tried to cut between Taylor Fedun and Bishop while being covered by Jamie Oleksiak. His impediment of Bishop did not allow the goaltender to make the stop on the shot, thus completing the definition of goaltender interference.
He may have helped sell the call a little bit too by going stiff-bodied as he fell down. I also wonder if he was thinking about how Dan Hamhuis fell on his knee on a play not unlike this one last season, causing Bishop to miss time with an injury right before the Epic Collapse that led to the team missing the playoffs. Maybe he went stiff to try to avoid a similar scenario. Or maybe he dove a bit to get the call.
Either way, after Buffalo head coach Phil Housley challenged the call, the goaltender interference was upheld. As a result, the Sabres lost their time out (a penalty for failed coaches challenges specifically dealing with goaltender interference).
As the clock wound down, Dallas did one thing that we haven’t seen much of when nursing a one-goal lead late in a game: they were aggressively looking for offense instead of turtling up and hoping to not give the tying goal away. With the focus on being offense-oriented, the Stars continued to play solid defense the way they had been all game and it allowed them to play more often away from their net in the final two minutes than in front of it.
If the team can have this kind of game consistently, we’re in for some fun hockey down the stretch run here. (Except for that whole part where they nearly lulled the crowd to sleep. Let’s not keep that part of the game plan moving forward, ok?)