Now I’m here, blinking in the starlight
Now I’m here, suddenly I see
Standing here, it’s all so clear
I’m where I’m meant to be
The Toronto Maple Leafs are 8-5-3, and everyone is grumbling up in Ontario. The Leafs—These Leafs!—have lost as many games as they’ve won, and that’s just unacceptable. It feels like something’s gotta give, either with a better record (my bet) down the road or a different face wearing a suit.
The Stars, meanwhile, have similar expectations for themselves. They made the sorts of moves Cup Contenders tend to make, and even national media members were picking them to give it the ol’ college try before the season started. In a vacuum, 8-8-1 would not be good enough. Heck, they were sitting at something like .500 back in December when Jim Lites was asked to provide some nuanced commentary about the team’s top players. Recency bias is a real thing. Just ask any fan, eh?
Still, these Stars are not the Stars of early October. The team’s defense has tightened up a bit more while also providing more transition play. That’s usually a dead giveaway that’s a team’s forecheck is functioning well, because it’s forcing the other team to rush their transitions, giving you a greater chance of forcing dump-ins at your own blue line and then gathering yourselves with one more tick before heading north yourselves.
It’s anecdotal, so obviously there is tape to review before I start hanging a BEST FOURCHECKINGS plaque above any treatise. But it’s pretty clear that this team is on the same page again, which just wasn’t the case in any meaningful sense for the first 10 games of the year. Winning cures a lot of things, even if there were some ugly ones mixed in at the start.
If you’re of cynical inclination, you might say that, had the Stars managed to start the year at roughly .500, this 7-1 run would have put them in a glorious spot to start the year. But we have no candy and nuts to go with these ifs and buts, so let’s talk about the things that were instead of the might-have-beens.
After the wonderful-if-not-perfect first period in which the Stars couldn’t quite get that put-away goal on the power play, the Avs started getting a lot of 3-on-2s early int he second period. That seemed like a pretty clear adjustment by the Avs in how they broke out, and the Stars were lucky not to get burned worse than they did. Nathan MacKinnon as the late man on a 3-on-2 rush is not a fun sight for any goalie, even one as on his game as Bishop was last night.
That was a lot of penalty calling. Razor mentioned that it reminded him of 2005, and then I started thinking about that bonkers first game post-lockout when the Stars used their power play to come back from a 4-0 deficit to the Kings. Safe to say that even as the Stars’ entries have improved—and last night was a good job of getting through a 1-1-2 PK forecheck with possession, which they weren’t doing earlier in the year—they need the results to follow. Their PK was good enough against a team missing some firepower, but good enough isn’t usually enough over the long haul when you have the start Dallas did to this year.
Jared Bednar and his coaching staff should be embarrassed, and probably they are. The first review was reckless, and the second one was comically inept. Maybe you can say the officials shouldn’t have let them challenge it, but I’m fine with calling that double minor a stupid tax, of sorts. Sure seemed like some coaches forgot to check their e-mail over the summer.
As an aside, I think the confusion is that Bednar, etc. thought the new overreaction of a rule that allows coaches to challenge for hand passes or pucks off the netting would apply to a broken stick goal like Faksa’s. All I can say is that it absolutely doesn’t, and shouldn’t. That goal was awesome, and if you want that play to be reviewable, then be prepared for hour-long reviews to see when a carbon fiber stick has actually started to splinter, and when it’s actually broken. I literally cannot wait.
-Val Nichushkin was shooting everything he could find last night. Dude wanted to score, and who could blame him? He did not score, as he generally doesn’t, these days. His whole career is still so nuts.
-Sean Shapiro called Corey Perry’s goal off Grubauer’s back a “goal-scorer’s” goal on the Carcast last night, and I think that’s fair. I also think it’s fair to say that Perry looks like a slower version of Jason Spezza so far. For the price, I guess that’s not too bad. But I think the Stars were hoping for more. Maybe he’ll bring it.
-Jason Dickinson really needed that goal. After a dynamite preseason derailed by injury on opening night, Dickinson has looked off for much of the year. If this game (and playing center more often) gets him going, then the Stars will be in good shape.
-Radek Faksa looked like old Faksa last night, and wow, he is still only 25 years old. That’s insane, right? I would have guessed like 28. He certainly looked like a two-way player last night, and deserved every goal he got. Confidence is brimming on this team right now, mostly.
-Last year’s Klingberg injury was sobering, and borderline disastrous. This year’s might be equally so, but for him moreso than the team. I also worry how Heiskanen is going to fare without the Klingberg pairing to defray the costs of playing big minutes. Then again, Heiskanen has allayed nearly every worry so far. Why would he start now? Nonetheless, Klingberg is having an extremely rough year, and I’m hoping Sergei Zubov can hang out with him for the next couple weeks and just get him back to level. John Klingberg is an outstanding player, but even the great players have struggles sometimes, especially when the team around them does, too. If ever a player can help him sort through those things, Zubov seems like the one to do it. Just don’t inhale too much, John.
-The Avs are really less potent without Rantanen and, to a lesser extent, Landeskog. They remind me of the Stars in 2017-18: dynamite top line, but not quite as dangerous as they ought to be with them off the ice, or only partially so.
-The Winter Classic sweaters are fun, if for no other reason than because Dallas haven’t had an interesting third sweater of any kind since the aughts. It is going to be a bit “safe,” I think, but you take that if it’s an improvement overall. That’s kind of the mantra right now on the ice, too.