The Dallas Stars are rolling now.
It feels like this team is night-and-day different than the one that started the season 1-7-1. Over the past eight games, the Stars have beaten the Colorado Avalanche twice, which is huge within the tightly-compacted Central Division. Every point that can be taken off a divisional foe just feels more emphatic, even if they count equally (in theory, anyway).
They’ve outscored their opponents 27-9, tripling the goals for compared to the ones they’ve allowed. It feels a lot like how the Stars looked down the stretch of the season last year that propelled them into the playoffs.
It’d sure be nice if that surge comes early — and then an be sustained throughout the season. It finally feels like the outcome of the season is within Dallas’ control again.
A lot of whether that can be done is dependent on how the Stars play with John Klingberg out of the lineup for at least the next two weeks. He was injured in the game tonight. Much like last year around this time, the Stars’ depth is being tested. They’ve withstood the losses of Stephen Johns, Andrej Sekera, and Roman Polak. When Klingberg was out last season, Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen took steps forward in their development and established a level of trust that they can be the guys on the backend for Dallas.
They’ll have to do much the same again now.
It’s actually fun to watch the first shot of the game go in, assuming it isn’t against the team you’re rooting for. Stars fans finally got a taste of the other side when Joe Pavelski separated the puck from Samuel Girard in the offensive zone. A very well executed give-and-go from Jason Dickinson to Pavelski and back to Dickinson saw the Stars score just 19 seconds into the game, on the Stars’ first shot on goal.
Colorado challenged the goal for goalie interference, presumably because of Pavelski’s placement right next to Philipp Grubauer in the cage opening. They lost the challenge, giving Dallas their first power play chance of the game thanks to this season’s new rules regarding lost challenges.
At 12:51 into the first period, the shots on goal read 10-0 in favor of the Stars. Dallas was absolutely swarming the Avalanche offensively, to the point where I’m not even sure the Avalanche even skated into the offensive zone for half of the period. It would take the Avalanche more than eight additional minutes of game play before they registered their first shot of the game.
The Stars were helped, of course, by three power plays in the period.
After that delay of game due to the lost challenge penalty, just a minute later, Joonas Donskoi sent the Stars back to the job thanks to a holding infraction committed versus Jamie Oleksiak. Though Dallas did not score on that chance, they scored almost right after the man advantage expired. Radek Faksa tried to put the puck past Philipp Grubauer three times before Grubauer deflected the puck with his stick and it snuck past him as he windmilled below to try to stop the inevitable.
As Dallas continued to push the pace offensively, they were afforded their third power play chance of the period when Nikita Zadorov committed a delay of game after shooting the puck into the penalty box from his own zone. While Dallas had some puck movement, they didn’t get much in the way of actual scoring threats on this one.
Nazem Kadri fulfilled the ill-advised penalty quota when he went after Joe Pavelski, who had been trying to hound a loose puck beneath Grubauer’s pads. Kadri went straight for Pavelski, earning a roughing in the process as the veteran Pavelski looked at him like he was crazy for trying it against him.
More than 16 minutes passed in the game before Colorado registered a shot on goal, even with a power play in which the Stars’ penalty killers had more offensive looks than Colorado did. The period wasn’t all rainbows for Dallas, though. J.T. Compher streaked into the zone with some speed and released an absolute laser past Ben Bishop with less than a minute left in the first. It ricocheted in and out of the net so fast that half the players on the ice didn’t realize he had scored until the refs finally whistled it down.
Jamie Oleksiak took an early penalty about a minute into the period. At times, this game felt like there was a siren in the penalty box for both teams, luring them under their call to spend time in there and feel shame.
While Dallas successfully killed off the Colorado chances through the first two periods, Colorado did finally find their legs in the middle frame. The shots on goal were considerably closer at 14-10 in favor of Dallas, though there were stretches of “unproductive” zone time by Colorado. (That’s when they’d get into the zone looking to set up for a good look on goal and end up more or less playing hot potato with the puck until Dallas could break it up and clear it into the neutral zone.)
The Stars did finally convert on a power play chance, their fifth of the game to be exact, thanks to Vladislav Kamenev’s tripping penalty.
That resulted in the most bizarre moment of the game when Bednar and company challenging the Faksa goal, claiming it should have been blown dead prior to scoring because his stick was broken. The officials ruled it a goal, consulted the video which didn’t show any conclusive evidence that the stick was broken prior to Faksa scoring. The goal stands, and because of the new rules allowing unlimited challenges (and escalating penalties for losses), the Stars got a four minute power play out of the whole sequence.
Unfortunately, Dallas didn’t make them pay for that loss. To be honest, it kind of seemed like the power play regulars for the Stars had been on the ice for a while and were tired. Not the power play you’ll write home about or use in the future to draw inspiration from.
Dallas returned the favor by giving Colorado two consecutive power play chances as the period wound down. Blake Comeau sat once again (for an interference call this time) and then Esa Lindell got popped for a trip to the sin bin when his stick got caught in the opposition’s skate and he fell to the ground.
The Stars killed off both successfully and finished the period with a Tyler Seguin breakaway that Grubauer had to stop as the clock ticked down.
Third period starts are definitely more enjoyable these days for Stars fans. The team looks less inclined to play the defensively stout, try to milk a lead home style that plagued them in the early aprt of the year. Instead, they’re coming out with much more offensive punch these days.
Tonight was no different.
Denis Gurianov had one of the best early chances by Dallas when he rang one off the bar. The Stars continued to push the offensive attack in waves, and Corey Perry broke through for his first goal in Victory Green scored in front of his new home crowd.
With that goal, the Stars secured their seventh win in their last eight games, bringing their record to 8-8-1. Now that they’ve gotten back to even, Dickinson says it’s time for the Stars to keep working and pushing their way to the top.
*John Klingberg did not play the third period thanks to a lower-body injury. This, after Klingberg took a puck to the neck earlier in the game. Jim Montgomery indicated that he was hurt on the same play. He’s expected to be out at least two weeks, though that time frame may shift after he’s evaluated by the doctors tomorrow.
*If you’re going to have a stretch of injuries (see: Roope Hintz and Klingberg tonight) now’s as good as a spot on the schedule as Dallas is going to get. They’ve got the next four days without a game, and only one game in the next week (Sunday at the Winnipeg Jets).
*It cannot be overstated how much joy watching Miro Heiskanen play defense is, really.
*Tonight was Blake Comeau’s 800th NHL game. Only about 25 percent of those that have ever played in the NHL have reached that milestone.
*Esa Lindell played more than 25 minutes in the game tonight, partly as a result of all that penalty killing time that was in the game. He’s a machine. Also a big reason why the Stars have one of the stoutest goals against per game averages in the league (7th best before tonight).
*Will have to look at it deeper, but though Pavelski’s faceoff numbers are nearly identical during that 1-7-1 stretch as this 7-1-0 stretch, it feels like he’s been taking more faceoffs in the offensive zone — and winning them.