Sometimes, you look at a team on paper and you think you know exactly what kind of game you’re going to watch.
The Edmonton Oilers came in riding a white-hot power play, but having won only three games in their last 10. They are a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde: sometimes, the games end 3-2 and others you get a 6-5 barnburner. They tend to lean towards the “high event” variety of games of late.
The Dallas Stars, on the other hand, have one of the stoutest defenses in the league. They led the league in goals against per game heading into tonight. They had a top three in the league penalty kill. They’ve struggled to score for stretches, and then had a pretty dominant stretch of scoring mixed in there.
So naturally this game ended 2-1, exactly as everyone* predicted.
(*As almost no one predicted)
When facing off against the top power play team in the league, I imagine that one of the last things the coaching staff would tell the Stars is not to put them on the job too often.
That last an entire 1:10 of game play. Andrew Cogliano went to the box for a tripping penalty, and the Stars had to kill off a penalty early. Dallas did, and they actually seemed to get a little bit of momentum from it as they ended the kill with a good extended shift in the offensive zone.
Any good feelings about the game, however, did not last too terribly long. A little more than eight minutes in, the entirety of the Stars unit got caught puck watching Connor McDavid (yes, he’s mesmerizing, but the guys on the ice shouldn’t be the ones admiring his body of work). He found the passing lane to Zack Kassian, who was completely uncovered. Because Ben Bishop had bitten on the shot by McDavid so much, he was pulled out of position in net and Kassian had a wide open space to put the puck in.
Jamie Benn committed a hooking penalty, the second of three Stars that beat a path to the penalty box in the first period, to put the red-hot power play of Edmonton back on the job. Not unlike the first penalty, Bishop was slightly overcommitted to the shot, leaving a gaping amount of the net open for Leon Draisatl to score his 21st goal of the season.
Blake Comeau would complete the penalty trifecta in the period with a tripping call of his own. However, Dallas finally drew a penalty of their own 1:25 into Comeau’s time in the box. The period ended at 4-on-4, and Dallas would get their first power play chance in the second after the penalty expired.
The positive of this period was that the Stars didn’t dig their hole any deeper. The negative was that they didn’t do anything to dig themselves out of it, either.
The parade to the penalty box continued, as Dallas gave Edmonton five total chances on the man advantage, four of which were for tripping penalties. The problem with taking so many in the first half of the game is that guys aren’t in a rhythm. Forwards and blueliners that kill penalties saw more ice time, and it was hard to get other forward lines that do execute that duty on the ice in between so that they could feel the game.
For the second best penalty killing unit on home ice facing off against the number one power play in the league, going 4-for-5 on the kill is one positive that the coaching staff and players can take from an otherwise fairly forgettable game.
Early in the third period, Joe Pavelski passed to an Oiler’s tape, serving as just another example of the discombobulation the Stars’ forwards displayed tonight. After the game, interim head coach Rick Bowness talked about how the team has over-passed since he arrived in Dallas 18-plus months ago. He said it’s something they address every day, but at the end of it, the players have to go out and stop that particular habit.
Nothing showed that more than two odd-man rushes Dallas had in the game. One was a 4-on-1 (which, to give credit where it’s due, an Oiler absolutely burned his nitrous to get back and make a play to help his sprawled teammate that was in the middle of the four players in green) and the other was a 3-on-2, neither of which the Stars even managed a single shot on goal from. Less than ideal odd-man rush play, that.
How do you stop the overpassing that’s rampant right now? “We’ll keep harping on them.”
Dallas did seem to get their legs under them as the third period ticked off, leading to some extended shifts in the offensive zone. The urgency Dallas showed with Bishop pulled for the extra attacker with nearly three minutes left in the period finally sparked some life, both in the team and in the building. With fans urging them on, Tyler Seguin finally snapped an 11-game goal drought as he put one top shelf over a sprawling Mikko Koskinen at the end of an extended shift in which Dallas started to really pepper the puck towards the net.
Sadly, it was a little bit too late. Seguin said after the game that he thought they had a point laying there for them to grab with some of their close chances at the end of the game. It just wasn’t meant to be, and sometimes, that’s just how hockey goes.
*Jamie Oleksiak and Miro Heiskanen had solid games. They were on the ice for some of the Stars’ best looks in the third period. Heiskanen especially showed his usual calm and poise when staring down McDavid in a 1-on-1 heading into the defensive zone. He used his stick to poke check the puck away from McDavid and turned it up ice for the Stars. Single best play in the game by a Star, even considering Seguin’s goal. Not many defenseman can go up against McDavid like that and not end up on a highlight reel for all the wrong reasons.
*I don’t usually make much of a game in which Dallas gets called for a lot of penalties. Often, it’s against a team that is much faster than them and many of the calls are well-earned. The thing that frustrated Stars fans tonight was that there were several instances of the Oilers holding sticks, interfering with the path of the puck carrier, and the like that went uncalled while it seemed that every instance of Dallas getting their stick near an Edmonton skater meant a call. You can only play the game in front of you, and had Dallas not been behind the play so often, maybe it wouldn’t have been so lopsided in terms of penalty calls.
*The Oilers were able to get a bit of an edge with favorable matchups in the early going. Often, McDavid’s line would end up out against the Stars’ fourth line of Denis Gurianov, Jason Dickinson, and Corey Perry. They also matched up against Roman Polak and Andrej Sekera. Polak and Sekera got absolutely smoked in those situations. Tough night for that pairing.