Before you ask, there was no “Stark Reminders” after Thursday’s game not because they won (there were definitely some stark reminders present in that 60 minutes), but because I was on IR with a migraine. I actually thought I had hallucinated the final score of Game 2 until I checked the National Hockey League app Friday morning. Stark reminder to me apparently that the Dallas Stars can actually score more than two goals in a game and win it. And also stark reminder to me that Game 2 might have been a fever dream after all.
The Dallas Stars dropped Game 3 to the Calgary Flames, who now lead the series 2-1. Cam Talbot got the shutout, Anton Khudobin was hung out to dry by the defense, and the Stars once again showed their shyness about crowding in close to the net. Let’s dive in.
Reminder No. 1: This is not Switzerland
Neutral zone woes are nothing new for the Stars, and Game 3 was no different. Turnovers, offensive collapses, mixed signals between players — none of that is any different just because this is the postseason. The most egregious example came during the second period when the Stars were on a power play thanks to hooking call on Zac Rinaldo. Roope Hintz had the puck and was rushing into the neutral zone with it, the rest of his line hot on his skates, when Mikael Backlund materialized beside him. Before anyone knew what was happening, Hintz was flat on the ice, struggling to hook the puck on his stick and keep it away from Backlund. He was out of luck, however, as Backlund scooped it up and took off like a shot for the Dallas defensive zone. From there, Stars fans know the rest — a shorthanded goal for the Flames that came off an odd bounce of the puck and gave them a 1-0 lead just over six minutes into the second period.
I could pull more examples of turnovers, lost pucks, and player pileups from the 2019-20 regular season to add to this reminder, but I think we can all agree that one instance is more than enough. The Stars need to clean up their game in the neutral zone — and save many fans’ voices in the process from shouting, “Stop giving it away in the neutral zone!” (I can’t be the only one yelling that at my television, right?) The Stars had more than one clinical, perfect cross-ice pass through center ice in the game, proving that the lines know how to stay untangled and effective in that zone. All of that work is undermined, however, by one (and many before it) turnover that results in a goal. The neutral zone is not Switzerland; players can stick close to one another, can set up plays, and set off on odd-man rushes without suffering a collapse of hockey skills. They just have to remember to do so.
Reminder to the Stars to do some extra neutral zone work in practice.
Reminder No. 2: (Let’s Not) Hulk Smash!
Blake Comeau. Blake. Blake, buddy. We know that green is also the Hulk’s color, but that doesn’t mean you have to channel Dr. Bruce Banner’s internal angst when you’re on the ice. This reminder may be mostly in jest, but it does address a deeper issue: emotion on versus off the ice.
Instead of sitting on the bench, angry, or taking that frustration out on unsuspecting glass, channel it into the action on the ice. Be aggressive on pressuring the opposition into turnovers. Hammer at the puck with all the pent-up frustration of plays broken up at center ice. Slamming a hockey stick into the glass sends a clear message to the other team that the Stars are angry, frustrated, and penned in. It’s the signal that the Stars can be agitated and further frustrated into petty mistakes and easy-to-intercept plays.
Reminder to the Stars to become the Hulk on the puck, not on the poor pane of glass.
Reminder No. 3: Play “Closer” by That One EDM Duo
The Stars have demonstrated time and again in this postseason that they’re puck-shy when it comes to the opposing net. The Stars’ goals in the first game of the series against the Flames were from high in the zone and with few closer shots to back them up. Game 3 was more of the same. The first period began with Tyler Seguin taking a gorgeous shot at the net from near the offensive face-off circles, and it was only the bounce down and away from the crossbar that prevented the puck going into the net behind Talbot. From there, the shots from high and out of the crease were the name of the game for the Stars. There were some bold moves right in Talbot’s crease, but when the flurry of those chipped shots and attempted tip-ins didn’t result in a goal, the Stars reverted back to what they seem to think works best — shooting when positioned away from the action and the net.
If the Stars want to win the series (or, at this point, even a game), they need to pressure the net-front and fluster Talbot with a screen that’s practically on top of him. The more bodies stacked up around him, the better. Not only for blocking his line of sight on the puck, but also to have enough Dallas sticks to get the puck where it belongs — the back of the Calgary net.
Reminder to the Stars to get up close and personal with the net.
Reminder No. 4: Solve Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Anyone else staring into the abyss and wondering if Game 2 was one long 60-minute fluke? Anyone else wondering where the bevy of goal-scorers went? Yeah, me too.
The Jekyll-and-Hyde routine by the Stars is nothing new for fans. During the regular season, the Stars nearly perfected the turn on a dime from a game rife with goals to the desert wasteland of being shutout (or losing by any margin large or small). While that routine didn’t affect the Stars’ position in the standings too much, it can be enough to sink them in the postseason. When you’ve got 82 games as the landscape, you can afford to have the occasional off-night. When you’re in the bubble in Edmonton, tied 1-1 with a physical team like Calgary, you can’t afford to check out.
The Stars need to find consistency and fast. They are now down 2-1 in the series and cannot afford to give Calgary any room to maneuver, within the individual games or the series tally. The Stars who had goals, goals, and more goals will need to take the ice on Sunday. Otherwise, Games 4 and 5 will be ugly, tense matchups.
Reminder to the Stars to find consistency, whether it’s as Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde (not both).
Game 4 will start at 1 p.m. CT on Sunday, August 16.