The Dallas Stars visited their old hometown tonight to take on the Minnesota Wild for the third of four meetings between the two clubs this season. The teams have split the difference so far, as the Stars won their first tilt 6-3 and the Wild won the second in a shootout.
The biggest story for the Stars tonight is the return of Stephen Johns after missing 22 months to post-traumatic headaches. The last NHL team that Johns played against? You guessed it, the Minnesota Wild. This is also the first game that Miro Heiskanen has missed in his career. Heiskanen is on concussion protocol after an upper-body injury sustained Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Wild have had a less-than-stellar season so far. At the start of tonight’s game they were eight points out of the second Wild Card spot, but they also started tonight’s game on a win streak of five games, so things have been turning around for them recently.
Within the first five minutes, the Stars were already at a deficit for possession and shots on goal. Stephen Johns (welcome back!) and Luke Kunin both took matching penalties, Johns for interference against Marcus Foligno (Johns sat on him behind the goal) and Kunin for roughing against Mattias Janmark.
There’s nothing much to report about 4-on-4 play except that the Stars still didn’t make use of the extra ice and the Wild didn’t score because Anton Khudobin does his job well.
Denis Gurianov had the closest chance for the Stars in the first period with a breakaway from the top of the zone:
Prior to the Spurgeon goal, Gurianov got a breakaway, but Stalock shut the door on both chances. pic.twitter.com/b9mqqpCQ8f— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) January 19, 2020
He even had the chance to bury his own rebound, but Alex Stalock got his leg back to block it.
Unfortunately for the Stars, the play resulted in a rush back the other way and Mats Zuccarello, well known to Stars fans for his creative playmaking abilities, carried the puck down the ice. He eluded Jamie Oleksiak, who probably has at least a foot on him in height, and passed the puck to a steamrolling Jared Spurgeon.
It would be great to report that the Stars responded well to this goal, but they didn’t. Instead, six minutes later, John Klingberg turned the puck over in neutral ice to Jason Zucker, who then sped into the zone and passed it off to Carson Soucy, who scored over a sliding Jamie Benn.
The Stars had seven shots to the Wild’s 12 in this period, and most of that effort wasn’t made until they were already down two goals.
Alexander Radulov took a slashing penalty against Victor Rask at two minutes into the period. The Wild have had a lot of success against the Stars with the man-advantage with two goals scored on the power play each in the previous two games this season.
Zucker got a bounce off of Andrej Sekera on the power play to make it 3-0 Wild.
It’s hard to predict a bouncing puck, and Zucker was almost behind the goal line when he scored. Still, you’d like the guys in front of your net to be a help and not a hindrance, and that wasn’t the case here.
The fourth goal, scored about 40 seconds after this one, ended up chasing Khudobin out of the net. The announcer was still calling the man-advantage goal from Zucker when a turnover from Johns drove play down the ice and led to Ryan Donato getting his ninth of the season.
A lot of things went wrong for the Stars tonight, but most of it can be summed up in this next factoid: the time between the fourth goal for the Wild and the Stars’ next shot on goal was more than three minutes. The Stars need to find a way to get shots on goal. Playing catch-up hockey isn’t working for them and was never a sustainable model.
Corey Perry and Mats Zuccarello got into a dust-up in front of the Minnesota net, during which time Matt Dumba and Jason Dickinson had a nice chat.
i dunno what was going on here pic.twitter.com/Mh1kjhtzH3— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) January 19, 2020
With a little under a minute to go in the period, Jason Zucker took a shot on net. Ben Bishop stopped the shot but didn’t swallow the rebound, which allowed Zuccarello, left all alone in front of the net, to scoop it up.
So the Stars ended the second period down by five goals, but the scoring wasn’t remotely over yet.
The third period was more of the previous two frames. The Stars tried a little harder but still didn’t manage to outshoot the Wild or, in fact, get a goal at all. All night, the Stars struggled with the puck. They couldn’t hold onto it, they couldn’t shoot it, they had trouble finding one another on passes, and dumps into the zone turned into rushes the other way. It was a struggle for the Stars in every way tonight.
Marcus Foligno left the game after deflecting a shot off of Oleksiak’s stick and the puck bouncing right into his own face. He wears a visor but it definitely got up underneath it.
The next goal came from Zach Parise, because somehow seven different Wild players managed to score tonight.
This goal was also a goal on the power play, after Dickinson went off for interference. Three minutes later, Corey Perry’s knee collided with Alex Stalock’s head and Perry was assessed a double minor for roughing against Luke Kunin and a game misconduct. So he left, Gurianov served his penalty, and Ryan Hartman scored another goal on the power play.
That’s three 5-on-4 opportunities for the Wild and three power play goals.
Daryl Reaugh, color analyst for the Dallas broadcast, described the Stars as “rancid meat” and “Egyptian cotton soft in front of their own net” within a three-minute span tonight, and he’s not wrong.
The Stars have been winning games despite themselves for a bit now, and this game was a highlight reel of all of the underlying issues.
Final score: 7-0. The Stars enter the January break on a tough loss. Tyler Seguin will take part in the All Star weekend festivities, and the Stars will be back home against the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 27, with puck drop at 7 p.m. CST.