Success in the game of hockey is predicated on the successful implementation of the very fine details of a game that looks and feels chaotic.
Make no mistake that the Dallas Stars and their coaching staff have a game plan going into every tilt. However, when the puck is dropped the game plan is really re-enforced in the details drilled into the players in training camp, practices, and meetings.
The cliche hockey player line, “get pucks deep,” is less of a line and more of an indication of the offensive system that the team wants to run over the course of the game. Forcing the puck in deep is forcing the puck behind the defense allowing the Stars or any hockey team, for that matter, to establish their forecheck.
The Stars played their first of 82 meaningful games against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins. The Stars are hoping that this 82 game slate will lead to a playoff birth, long playoff run, and a Stanley Cup. The Bruins are looking to make it all the way back to the Stanley Cup Final and secure the Cup that eluded them in 7 hard fought games against the St.Louis Blues.
The Stars would drop opening night to the Bruins by a score of 2-1, with one of those goals coming from an old friend in Brett Ritchie. However, the Stars did a little bit of ugly, a lot of good, and some great in this game that really drill down to the details of the game.
This season, I’m going to try to highlight some of the details of the game you may have missed, drawing on my own experience as a hockey player growing up. It’ll highlight some of the little things that help tell the bigger picture for how the team is doing, how a specific player is doing, or where things are trending.
Slow Starts Starting To Pile Up Again
A hockey game can be broken into three segments: the three periods of the game. While this sounds very simplistic, the reality is that teams and coaches stress winning these individual segments. If a team wins two of the three segments that game is probably a win and two points at the end of the night. If the club wins all three segments, then the game was handled from start to finish.
This thought process also works in reverse.
The Stars lost the first period, won the second period, and pushed the third. The result was a close loss. What ultimately did the Stars in again was a slow start to the game.
When Brett Ritchie tallied at the 1:09 mark of the first period, the Stars continued a trend of allowing a goal within the first five minutes of the contest. These slow starts haunted the team in their second round playoff loss to the St. Louis Blues in the Spring.
This is an issue that must be taken care of — and quickly. The first five minutes and last five minutes of the period are the tone-setting minutes. The first shifts are rolling, the players are feeling out the game and their competition. Allowing a goal in this time period is deflating and disruptive to the overall game plan.
Instead of pushing the pace of play or, at worst, matching the pace of play, the Stars are now forced to chase the game before the night has really started. Chasing hockey is losing hockey and the Stars are chasing too much in head coach Jim Montgomery’s system more often than not. Their dominant stretch down the season saw less of this, and it bred success.
Roope Hintz is a Force
I was very skeptical of Roope Hintz coming into this season. I was wrong.
In the first period Hintz displayed his speed, strength, and toughness all in a span of a couple seconds. Hintz would receive a pass from Alexander Radulov at the blue line, take two or three quick crossovers, dip the shoulder on the Boston defenseman, and drive straight into Tuukka Rask for a quality scoring chance.
It was incredible to see and more incredible to see it from a guy who is listed as 6’3 and 190lbs. You just don’t see world class speed coupled with world class hands in the same player every day. The strength and power in his crossovers, in his skating stride, is the product of no wasted motion or energy. For him to be naturally gifted enough to just have that is unique and I’d venture to say that only Miro Heiskanen skates more effortlessly than Hintz on this team.
Hintz’s night would provide Stars fans with the only tangible highlight when he streaked in and beat Rask on a wicked shot on a breakaway. I can’t do that goal justice, so here is the highlight.
With two quick crossovers and strides Hintz is able to completely beat the Bruins defense and gain a clean look at Rask. However, the most impressive part of the goal is the speed at which he elevates the puck. To whip that puck into the upper reaches of the net on a world class netminder takes elite skill, and shows that his shot and hands are equal to his skating.
Roope Hintz is the real deal and is going to terrorize opponents in 2019-20.
Jamie Benn Skating Improvement
This week Stars fans learned that Jamie Benn had been working this summer with former world class figure skater Luke Chilcott.
Working with figure skating coaches is something that can benefit a hockey player in ways that working with a traditional hockey skating coach really can’t cover. First of all, figure skaters have a unique marriage with the ice. It’s the ice and their steel all working in concert with their body to do things on ice that shouldn’t be possible.
For a hockey player their body is working in concert with the ice, puck, other players, and their stick. Skating is the propellent but not the only thing to worry about, which is where the details of figure skating technique can play a vital role.
Watching Benn last night you could tell there was something different in the way he was skating. His first step looked crisp, he looked tighter out of turns, and his crossovers looked sharp and powerful.
The Stars captain just looked quicker. That is very good news for Stars as he looks to rebound from a career low campaign in 2018-19.
Benn has the hands, the shot, and the powerful body, and it just might be that he has sharpened his skating to add to his toolbox.
Quick Roman Polak Thought
Seeing Roman Polak careen head and neck first into the boards last night was terrifying to watch. I instantly fired off a text to a friend of mine who also played the sport and the shared worry and panicked thoughts were there.
Hockey is a violent sport and the first lesson any player learns is to never go into the boards headfirst. Contort your body, brace if you have to, but it’s better to break an arm than to break your neck.
However, the game moves so quickly that sometimes it is not possible to mitigate the potential for a catastrophic injury. Thankfully Polak, an all around good dude and valuable piece on the Stars roster, seemingly avoided serious, life altering injuries as a result of a play in which either player involved could have been injured.
I’d like to point out that these athletes put their bodies on the line for entertainment and for the love of the sport. Blake Comeau hurt himself in two spots on one play, Jason Dickinson got hurt thanks to a crosscheck, and Roman Polak avoided the unimaginable.
Injuries happen in hockey and they happen often. It’s never easy to see a teammate go down and it’s never easy to ratchet back up when the puck drops again. How the Stars responded when Polak went down showed a lot about their team character and their willingness to battle for a fallen teammate.