Worse yet, the Dallas Stars played with what should be a consistent and productive lineup. The “big three” of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov stayed together for the second game in a row, and with Roope Hintz centering what has been a solid second line, there was every reason to expect continued offensive improvement.
Instead, the Stars fell behind early yet again, this time after an unfortunate double minor high-stick by Joel Hanley. Before Dallas could muster any kind of attack, they were down 3-0 and head coach Jim Montgomery was shuffling lines in the hope that some kind of magic could pull a rabbit out of the hat. Radek Faksa’s wraparound goal averted a shutout, but at no point did it seem like the Stars were working their way back into the game.
It’s not like opportunities didn’t present. Dallas found themselves on multiple power plays, but rarely looked dangerous. Zone entries were problematic, showing yet again that nothing has been done to replace the deep drop with Jason Spezza that reliably allowed the first unit to establish possession in the offensive zone last year. The second unit is a mishmash of parts, with Esa Lindell in a bumper roll, and Faksa and Joel L’Esperance supplying the net-front presence. None of this has particularly worked.
Everybody knows that Dallas faced a tough few weeks to start the season and there was the potential for a rough start. If you look at the league standings, the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks are off to hot starts and at the top of their division. There is certainly room for significant regression. Any if bad teams can regress down, certainly Dallas can regress up the standings.
For the fans that booed the team off of the ice on Saturday night, it’s getting past the point where effort alone will turn the season around. It’s time to start seeing results, and a four-game East Coast swing just might be the right time and place to start.
That road trip begins with a Columbus Day matinee in Buffalo against the Sabres. Like last year, Buffalo is off to a hot start with a good, young player core.
Offensively, the Sabres’ top line has three players averaging a point per game or more, and a second line that has been surprisingly solid. They are young, somewhat quick, and are playing loose, which could mean an entertaining game.
Defensively, Buffalo has some issues. Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen are adequate defenders, but are significantly overextended in first-pair roles. Rasmus Dahlin slots in on the second pair, and it should be interesting to see his progress since last year, especially since he pulled in a Calder Trophy nomination just ahead of Miro Heiskanen. Dahlin is more offensively focused, but they both represent the puck-moving mobile future of the position.
In net, the Sabres are playing Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark as 1A and 1B. Through five games, this has proved successful.
Dallas Stars Lineup
(updated after Jim Montgomery statement)
Jason Dickinson (18) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Joe Pavelski (16)
Jamie Benn (14) - Roope Hintz (24) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Radek Faksa (12) - Nicholas Caamano (17)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Rhett Gardner (49) - Justin Dowling (37)
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Taylor Fedun (42)
Ben Bishop (30)
Buffalo Sabres Lineup
Victor Olofsson (68) - Jack Eichel (9) - Sam Reinhart (23)
Jeff Skinner (53) - Marcus Johansson (90) - Vladimir Sobotka (17)
Zemgus Girgensons (28) - Johan Larsson (22) - Kyle Okposo (21)
Jimmy Vesey (13) - Casey Mittelstadt (37) - Evan Rodrigues (71)
Jake McCabe (19) - Rasmus Ristolainen (55)
Rasmus Dahlin (26) - Colin Miller (33)
Marco Scandella (6) - Henri Jokiharju (10)
Carter Hutton (40)
Keys to the Game
Joe Pavelski has taken a few games to work his way into a flow with his new team. Pavelski as a threat makes Dallas more dangerous, and he’s due for a breakout game.
Special teams. The penalty kill has been solid, especially given the injuries to Jason Dickinson, Blake Comeau and Roman Polak. The power play has been a disaster, and a five percent success rate, especially since that one goal was on a rush, is unacceptable. If the Stars had an average power play so far this season, they would likely have more than a point a game instead of a 1-4-1 start.
Transition game. John Klingberg and Heiskanen need to lead from behind, especially in starting breakouts from the defensive zone.
Did You Know?
Buffalo has a starting lineup that sports five homegrown top-10 draft picks: Jack Eichel (second overall, 2015), Sam Reinhart (second overall, 2014), Casey Mittelstadt (eighth overall, 2017), Rasmus Ristolainen (eighth overall, 2013), and Rasmus Dahlin (first overall, 2018).