Head coach Jim Montgomery liked what he saw on Wednesday night in Calgary, as the Dallas Stars pulled out a 3-1 “complete game” victory over the Flames.
Perhaps it was a return of 2018-19 Stars hockey. Facing his first shot of the game, Ben Bishop pulled off a miracle save instead of opening up a first-shot hole. The entire first period seemed like a first from last year, up to and including the 0-0 score line at the end of 20 minutes.
The second period showed the Stars tilting the ice in their favor, only to be followed by a bit of turtling down the stretch in the third. This type of hockey took Dallas to the playoffs last year, so if by “complete game” we mean tried and true “comfort zone,” then I suppose that works.
It doesn’t take too deep a look to find the blemishes on this one. From the turnover by Jamie Oleksiak that forced Bishop’s opening save to the 3-on-1 breakaway that somehow found the glass instead of the net, the Stars dodged some bullets.
On the plus side, Andrej Sekera and Esa Lindell turned a shot-share disaster into a tranquil, low-danger board battle. They gave up shots in bunches, but they were from distance and Ben Bishop had a bead on all of them. And Sekera surprised us all by releasing his inner John Klingberg (at least on the defensive end), using a combination of dangles and patience to exit the zone.
Forward lines went into a hat and saw some in-game shuffling, but it all came out fine in the end. Milestones were hit for future hall of famers and lifetime minor leaguers. This is a confident group and the bounces are going in their favor. All this while hitting posts and crossbars, and the team’s best players still looking for a return to form.
The Vancouver Canucks have cooled of a bit since their 9-3-2 start. Team critics point to one of the easiest schedules in the NHL to start the year, and a 2-3-2 record since the start of November coincides with an increase in schedule difficulty.
That said, the Canucks have been unexpectedly good this year, and not just with their young, star players. Elias Pettersson continues to be “must see,” and rookie Quinn Hughes has established himself firmly in the Calder Trophy conversation.
What has been driving Vancouver’s play has been offense, and — especially during their hot start — shooting percentage. This has fallen off significantly in November, and what’s left is a team that shoots in bunches regardless of quality.
What is emerging as the team’s identity is a young, trigger-happy team that pushes pace, but does so by emphasizing volume. Much of the offense is also driven by the top two lines, and there is a significant fall-off on the third and fourth lines.
Defensively, the Canucks push play to the outside, and have been successful in doing that this year. Tyler Myers was the big, offseason acquisition, and he and Alexander Edler eat a lot of minutes as first pair. Hughes has been noticeable, working his way into a spot where he is running the top power play unit as a rookie.
In net, Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko have both been well above average, especially at the start of the season. Markstrom is still the 1A, but Demko’s performance has been getting him more starts as the season has progressed.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Andrew Cogliano is day-to-day with a lower body injury, plus Roman Polak is likely available to return to the lineup for the first time since opening night. Rhett Gardner has been recalled from the Texas Stars, so if Cogliano isn’t a player, the Stars would likely slot Gardner is as center of the fourth line or go with a combination of 11 forwards and seven defenders.
Jamie Benn (14) - Justin Dowling (37) - Tyler Seguin (91) -
Denis Gurianov (34) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Nicholas Caamano (17)
Alexander Radulov (47) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Esa Lindell (23) - Andrej Sekera (5)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Joel Hanley (39) - Taylor Fedun (42)
Anton Khudobin (35)
Vancouver Canucks Lineup
Josh Leivo (17) - Elias Pettersson (40) - Brock Boeser (6)
Tanner Pearson (70) - Bo Horvat (53) - Jake Virtanen (18)
Sven Baertschi (47) - Adam Gaudette (88) - J.T. Miller (9)
Tim Schaller (59) - Tyler Graovac (44) - Loui Eriksson (21)
Alexander Edler (23) - Tyler Myers (57)
Quinn Hughes (43) - Christopher Tanev (8)
Jordie Benn (4) - Troy Stecher (51)
Jacob Markstrom (25)
Keys to the Game
Vancouver has two top lines that can push pace and that have been scoring at a high rate. They volume shoot, and Dallas has been great at keeping play to the outside. No goals on low-danger shots.
The Canucks are sneaky good at the defensive end. This could be the game on this road trip where Benn and Seguin need to step up. This is the type of game that could easily turn into a shutout.
This is a game where you can watch two young high-end defenders show their stuff. Ignore the score and enjoy the amazing play of Miro Heiskanen and Quinn Hughes, with a side of Elias Pettersson.
Did You Know?
First NHL goals are better when your entourage is there to share it with you.