It was a weird day for the Dallas Stars.
The team got to morning skate at the American Airlines Center only to see general manager Jim Nill and other members of the front office staff in attendance, an oddity for that early in the morning.
After a team meeting was called, they knew why: head coach Jim Montgomery was relieved of his head coaching duties, effective immediately, due to “unprofessional conduct”. The air around the team was basically that of shock and confusion, as the team did not release many details about the decision — either to the media or to the players themselves.
But hockey can be a sort of escape during trials and tribulations, a place where the rules don’t change much and it’s the same game that they’ve played for years and years. “Been an odd day”, Joe Pavelski said after the game. “Not an easy one. At the end of the day, the talk was we know how to play hockey. We got to show up, we need a big effort. [We] showed up with that workman-like attitude and established our game early.”
All players made available to the media after the game mentioned that Montgomery had set a good foundation for this group, giving them an identity to play too. The game looked a lot like other Stars games before this morning, and it’s a system the players have had success in.
It’ll be interesting to see if that continues after the dust settles from the news this morning.
Dallas came out looking to play to their identity, and they more than imposed their will on the game. They obliterated any structure or pace New Jersey was looking to have from the drop of the puck.
The Stars spent much of the first two minutes with the puck on their stick and in the offensive zone. They were rewarded when Radek Faksa, who had plenty of time behind the net of Mackenzie Blackwood, came out to the left of the goaltender and whipped a wraparound attempt on net. Blackwood was not expecting it, trying to move over to cover his post and flashing a wide five hole for Faksa to shoot at. He banked it right through and put Dallas up 1-0 just 1:42 into the game.
Although it would take Dallas 10 minutes to score again, the Stars spent most of it pumping rubber at the Devils netminder.
The second goal was another finale off an extended shift in the offensive zone. This one was extended by Roman Polak, who kept the line at the blue line that a tired Devils squad had tried to clear out. Joe Pavelski, who entered the night with a four game goal streak and a six game point streak versus the Devils, extended that by scoring a rebound after the Stars created some traffic in front of Blackwood.
Throughout most of the first period, it would have been hard to guess that P.K. Subban and Jamie Benn were playing each other. The two are generally quite chippy with one another, but that didn’t come out much in the first 20 minutes of this game. Benn, who looked quite spry tonight and had a few very good shifts of puck possession in the game, drew the Stars’ first power play of the night when Kyle Palmieri slashed him.
On the ensuing power play, Roope Hintz came close to extending the goal lead to three, but the puck grazed across the cross bar and out the other side. That ended up being the story of the power play tonight: close but no cigar.
There wasn’t much to write home about for the Devils in the second period, as the Stars continued to own the possession portion of the metrics. Although Dallas did not score in the middle frame, they had the most dangerous looks.
Blackwood deserves some credit for keeping the Devils in this one and keeping Dallas to just two goals on the scoreboard. He had several incredible saves on Stars shots, especially in the second period as Dallas continued to push to extend the lead.
The Stars did take their first penalty of the game late in the period, with Benn finally goaded by Subban into an unnecessary offensive zone penalty with a slash to the back of Subban’s leg near the blue line. The Devils didn’t get much going with that power play, with Dallas limiting them to a single shot on goal, and that not even a very dangerous one.
The Benn-Subban rivalry ramped up a little bit more in the third period, with Subban punching Benn while he was down on the ice after the two had wrestled their way there. Subban took a roughing penalty for that one. Dallas wasn’t able to convert on the ensuing power play, though.
Not 10 seconds after Subban exited the box, he took a charging penalty as he appeared to line up Miro Heiskanen for a big hit. Dallas didn’t convert on that power play, either. All of a sudden, the power play that had appeared to be heating up finally had gone ice cold, and gave Dallas several missed opportunities to put the game away.
The penalties kept coming the rest of the period, with both teams sending guys to the box. Special teams for Dallas continued to be an icy hot tale, with the power play providing the icy and the penalty kill providing the hot.