“We’re starting to see pieces come together.”
Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery was able to find some positives in his team’s 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild. The loss dropped the Stars preseason record to 3-3-0 and was the sixth straight game in which the Stars failed to score more than two goals.
However, one negative he took from the game was that no forward really stepped forward to make the case for being on the opening night roster. He cited a lack of spark and the fourth line’s minus-2 rating in the contest.
In a lot of ways, this was one of the better games the Stars have put together. They got better as the game moved along. We saw some shifts where there was some sustained pressure at times in the offensive zone. The penalty kill still looks fairly good. Goaltending is ready.
A lot of pieces are coming together. But there’s still work that needs to get done before the Stars open the season with three games in four nights.
Some observations on tonight’s game....
- At this point, the lack of consistent offensive zone pressure is concerning. You’ve seen all the various guys in all manners of combination throughout the preseason and it still looks anemic. (Although it did look better as the game plodded along tonight for a change, though part of that might have been a result of being down 2-0 by the midpoint.) With just a week left until the regular season opens and these games actually do count, it’s disconcerting to think that it will somehow magically work when the switch gets flipped.
- On the counter side of that first point, the Stars look aggressive in the offensive zone — when they’re killing penalties. After Jason Dickinson scored a shorthanded goal in the last game, Dallas looked to constantly be trying to go up-ice when down a player the whole game tonight. Will be interesting to see if that aggressive mentality becomes part of the team’s identity this season.
- In my mind, I’ve already penciled Justin Dowling into the fourth line in the NHL. I think the forward roster battle is down to that last spot, and it’s Denis Gurianov’s to lose. I’m not sure if he’s done enough in the preseason to prove he wants it, as Jim Montgomery wanted to see earlier this week. Then again, neither has anyone else really placed themselves ahead of the others.
- Gurianov, Nicholas Caamano, Rhett Gardner, and Jason Robertson all bring different skillsets to the table. If it comes down to it, the player that wins the last roster spot may depend on where Corey Perry is in terms of his broken foot bone and whether Montgomery likes a top six made up of Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov and Dickinson - Joe Pavelski - Roope Hintz, because Dickinson has made the strongest case for top six minutes this preseason. If that’s the case, you’re looking for a fourth line skillset to fill out the roster, and Gurianov may not thrive in that role — and Caamano and Gardner have shown they can play that bottom line role so far.
- Thomas Harley continues to make some impressive plays as the preseason moves along. He nearly scored his first professional goal on a point shot, but Radek Faksa deflected it in for the tally. It was the first preseason goal Dallas has scored at home so far this fall.
- The defensive pairing of Andrej Sekera and Jamie Oleksiak looked comfortable together on the ice. I think part of that can be attributed to Sekera’s veteran savvy, as he’s looked comfortable next to nearly everyone he’s been paired with throughout camp.
- The Faksa - Blake Comeau - Andrew Cogliano line appears ready to eat a lot of tough minutes against top lines this season.
- Hintz may be the fastest skater among the forwards on the ice for Dallas. The line of Hintz - Seguin - Radulov could give Montgomery another complexion to try when the offense is struggling (assuming he keeps the Benn - Seguin - Radulov trio together to start given how well they’ve performed together in the past.)
- Devan Dubnyk is a tall dude. He’s also a pretty good goaltender. Both were on display when Radulov had a point-blank chance at a gaping net that Dubnyk’s frame took the space of to bail himself out of being out of position. Sometimes that’s just how hockey go.
- The goaltenders for Dallas look season ready. Ben Bishop and Antoin Khudobin have appeared to be in mid-season form in their limited playing time this preseason.
Opening night is six full days away.