Alexander Radulov had a goal and an assist, and Andrew Cogliano scored his first goal of the season as the Stars put up a 3-1 win against one of the better teams in the NHL Saturday night.
The Stars and Islanders owned the month of November in the NHL. Both teams had big points streaks, and both of them play a similar style of hockey in a lot of ways. For a Stars team looking to get back on the beam after a four-game slide, the Islanders were going to be a pretty good test of where the Stars’ game was at after a five-game run against Central Division opponents.
“They’ve been the most consistent defensive team for the last and a half, so it was a good measuring mark for ourselves,” said Jim Montgomery. And given that defensive structure, the Stars made things infinitely easier on themselves with first period goals from Cogliano and Radulov. Forcing a team like that to play catch-up makes for a fairly rhythmic game on paper, and half of the second period passed without a whistle as the teams exchanged some chances but held firm in their overall gameplans.
By some measurements, the Stars were the better team in the second period. But players sometimes have a different perspective.
“I think they kind of rolled over us in the second there,” said Mattias Janmark. “There’s certain parts of the game where other teams take over, that you kind of want to put a stop on it, get the bleeding to stop and take over again.” Thanks to Ben Bishop, the Stars were able to weather the push from the Islanders later in the second, and they went into the third with a 3-0 lead to defend. Against Winnipeg Thursday, the Stars saw a 2-0 lead get cut in half right off the bat, and they eventually got sent to overtime after a tying goal in the final minute. But with a three-goal lead in the third, the Stars could afford to allow an unfortunate goal with about four minutes remaining. It was unfortunate to see the shutout get spoiled again—the team is still looking for its first this year—but the Stars had a much easier third period than they did against Winnipeg, and that’s something to build on.
As far as building on things, Alexander Radulov was the first star of the game after a healthy scratch by the coaching staff. And he was picked as the first star for good reason, as he had both a primary assist and a goal on the power play, both of which involved some good effort, puck retrieval, and hard work.
“Rads was really good for us tonight,” said Montgomery. “Moving off the puck, supporting the puck offensively and defensively.” “He’s an elite player for us. When he plays like tonight, it just elevates our team.”
It’s a fine line sometimes. The coaching staff loves a motivated Radulov, and he’s still second on the team in goals for a reason. He’s got a lot of elite abilities, and this Stars team needs what he brings. But when he’s canceling out the good with too much bad—whether with penalties, sloppy positioning, or selfish shifts that go on far too long—then you have to remind him of the first things. For the second time in as many years, Radulov responded to a scratch with a multi-point game. It may not be a sustainable strategy, but you can’t say it’s an ineffective one. So far, at least.
The Stars are now 11-4-1 at home, and (for the moment) in third place in the Central Division (though Winnipeg has two games in hand). One overtime win after a blown lead wasn’t necessarily a massive step forward, but two wins in a row against two good teams is absolutely something that can get you going. No matter where you were last game.
Things started with a chance for New York, with a high-sticking penalty on Oleksiak, but the Stars killed it off without allowing too many dangerous chances. The PK wasn’t the story in this one (with only one penalty to kill, and that’s usually a good thing.
They got some of their own after the kill, but Thomas Greiss was looking good early. In a way, he is sort of the Isles’ version of Khudobin, and I’m not just saying that because he looked like the perfect backup goalie for the Stars five years ago. Well, not completely, at least.
Dallas kept up the pressure, but both sides had some almost-theres that didn’t quite materialize in the first 10 minutes. It was a cagey game, but one with some counterattack chances and near 3-on-2s. So, like, an open cage where stuff is happening, at least.
Miro Heiskanen then finally made things happen against the Isles’ fourth line, with a slick move to set up Jamie Oleksiak, who then banked the puck in off Andrew Cogliano’s skate. Getting to the net is important, I am told, and no one adheres to that philosophy more than Andrew Cogliano. It was good to see the bottom six win a battle early and get rewarded for it, even if it was the defensemen who did a lot of the work on the front end. 1-0 Stars is much better than the alternative. And for Cogliano, who hadn’t scored yet through 30 games, any goal was going to be a sweet one. You could see the relief on his face, and you could hear it in his voice after the game, too.
“It feels good,” said Cogliano. “It’s been a tough stretch.” It was a reminder that even checking line forwards still want to score, and their team certainly needs them to, occasionally. That goal was a big one for Dallas, allowing them to play a structured game and be patient, so you really have to take the goals as they come in those situations.
“You’re gonna need guys down the lineup to score, whoever it is.” said Cogliano. “I think that’s the recipe for teams that go far in the playoffs is that you have secondary scoring at the right times.” And for the Stars over the last couple years, every time is the right time for some secondary scoring.
Jamie Oleksiak committing a high-sticking penalty is an opportunity for some fun little jokes; but Jamie Oleksiak getting high-sticked? Well, that should be a game misconduct every time in my book. Perhaps I am not cut out to be an NHL official. Anyway, Mathew Barzal went to the box, and the Stars were on the job with a chance to go up 2-0 for the second time in as many games.
And, of course, it was Alex Radulov, fresh from a game off, who would do the trick, as he snapped a shot from the slot that beat Thomas Greiss, who was looking past Corey Perry in front of the net. The Stars’ power play has been hit or miss this year, but that goal was exactly what the team has needed in a few games this year, and Radulov (of all people) was the one to make it happen.
Stars play about as perfect of a first period as you could hope.— Josh Clark (@Josh_Clark02) December 8, 2019
16 shots on goal, a power play goal, and a 2-0 lead against one of the NHL's best defensive teams. #GoStars
Roope Hintz drew another penalty on Mat Barzal, who sent Hintz into a Superman pose (we won’t say dive) to put the Stars back on the job. After two shorthanded scares without result in their own end, Alex Radulov once again made things happen for Dallas on the power play, this time finding Denis Gurianov with what looked like a partially deflected shot that Gurianov easily tapped past Greiss. When you’re hot, you’re hot, right? The concept of the power play and Alex Radulov were made for each other.
Mattias Janmark helped create that goal as well, even if he didn’t get a point for it. His zone entry was quick and efficient, and it allowed Radulov to get the puck in a good spot and work it over to Gurianov. Jim Montgomery actually said in the postgame press conference that Janmark was specifically on the power play for his zone entry ability, and that he was on the top line in part because his speed helps to back off the defense. Against the Isles, it’s safe to say the power play benefited from Janmark’s presence, even if he had one or two opportunities (including a one-timer that didn’t threaten much) that didn’t find the net. And when you go 2-for-2, you are going to be pretty okay with just about any methodology.
If you felt like the second period flew by after that goal, you’re not wrong. The Stars and Isles basically went from 15 minutes to 5 minutes remaining in the second without a single whistle. It made for some fun up-and-down action, and that sort of kinetic hockey can remind you of just how beautiful this game can be. Line changes and backchecking for ten straight minutes, sounds sarcastic, but it really was engaging, especially in person. I love this sport sometimes, despite its best efforts in other ways. Hockey is beautiful.
Jamie Oleksiak wasn’t limiting his moments of glory to offense, for the record, as he punctuated that 10-minute stretch with a critical poke check to prevent a potential 4-on-1 led by Mat Barzal, who had to be feeling frustrated through the first two periods of this one. He would eventually get something to show for his efforts, but the Stars scored power play goals after both of his penalties, so that’s probably not something that makes for a fun plane ride out of Dallas.
Denis Gurianov got—can you guess?—a breakaway late in the second, but he put a backhand effort just wide to keep things at 3-0. The Stars’ speed was very noticeable through 40 minutes, with the Islanders often having trouble even getting the puck to the neutral zone, let alone through it, with possession.
The second period ended with the Stars feeling good, up 3-0, and outshooting the Islanders 29-20. The Stars have been dominant at home this year so far, and this game was pretty emblematic of it through two periods. The Stars were rolling four lines with pretty even ice time to that point, which is a luxury that leads afford you.
Ben Bishop has taken some hits in his career that weren’t punished as severely as they perhaps should have been, but he didn’t help his reputation much when he went to the ice after a one-handed tap on his leg pad by Ross Johnston. Roman Polak responded with a verbal objection, but the two weren’t looking to fight at that point, and play continued.
Ben Bishop deserves an Oscar for that performance pic.twitter.com/Hky0B5PzcB— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) December 8, 2019
When asked after the game about the play, Bishop mentioned he was surprised by the contact and that there isn’t much padding on the back of the leg. In looking at the replay after the game, I still don’t see anything excruciating, but then it wasn’t my leg that got hit, so what do I know? Maybe an NHL player’s stick would splinter my padded leg like so much balsa wood.
Ben Bishop also kept things at 3-0 with a nice save on Brock Nelson off a rebound, flashing some good pad movement twice in a row. It was easy to forget at times that Bishop was working on a shutout, but that sequence was where you really started to think he might be getting his first horse collar of the year. In fact, if you spoke it aloud at that point, then thank you, now we know whom to blame.
The Stars played a lot of hockey in the third period. That’s usually a nothing statement, but for a team that’s had a lot of uneven performances lately—even in their last win—seeing a complete performance against a very good and fundamentally sound team was pretty encouraging, for this fanbase. Good teams have to play some steady, systematic hockey for stretches here and there, and it was reassuring to see Dallas not hemmed in their own zone while doing so.
And then, of course, Things Got Interesting. Mat Barzal tipped a Devon Toews point shot past Bishop, and the shutout was gone with four minutes to play. It was a fairly innocuous sequence, but one could argue that Oleksiak got caught a bit high and wasn’t there to box out his man. In any case, it’s the sort of goal that reminds you just how hard it is to get a shutout in the NHL. At least, it’s seemed that way this year.
But the Stars were able to hold on, because it turns out a two-goal lead is a lot safer than a one-goal lead. In fact, Jim Montgomery even double-shifted Alex Radulov in the final minute in what looked like a charitable move by the coach to get his player an empty-netter. A bit of goodwill after a bit of discipline is never a bad idea, safe to say.
But no one would fill the net, as the most exciting thing to happen in the final two minutes was when Blake Comeau rang the crossbar from distance after Tyler Seguin sent it to him at the blue line. Normally, hitting a crossbar is Rather Exciting, but this game was not one you’d have marked down as a thriller going in. The fact that a 3-1 contest ended up being pretty darn watchable was a gift, and one fans stayed up an extra hour for. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to watch 8pm hockey when your team is defending a biggish lead for half the game, but the Stars can be a pretty interesting team to watch when they’re rolling four lines and moving the puck. And wins are always interesting, no matter how they come.