The Dallas Stars played their first meaningful hockey game in just over four months, and it’s safe to say that it could have gone better.
After grinding, working, and ultimately building a two-goal lead going into the third period, the Stars just utterly collapsed in the final frame. The Vegas Golden Knights scored four unanswered goals — three within three minutes of each other — to sink the Stars by the score of 5-3.
This loss undoubtedly has to sting for a Stars team that has lost eight consecutive games going back before the pause to February and March — not to pile on too much on a team that was in absolute control of this game until the puck dropped for the third period.
There is a lot to cover from this opening postseason tilt in Edmonton, but here are five details that stuck out as the Stars look forward to Game 2 against the Colorado Avalanche.
Third Period Collapse
The Stars did a lot of great things through 40 minutes that they, in theory, should have built off of in the third period.
The Golden Knights had other plans.
The Stars started the period on their heels and never recovered. For a club that prides itself on team defending and the ability to lockdown a game, the third period was a chance to set the tone for how the team wanted to play going forward. Instead, the Stars turtled and allowed the Golden Knights to forecheck them to death.
The Golden Knights stacked shift after shift on top of each other, each building to the moment where the Stars defense eventually buckled.
Mark Stone started the party with a pretty shot off of the post behind Ben Bishop to pull Vegas within one. Then the Stars suffered a bit of bad luck from the hockey gods, as Esa Lindell wound up for a slap shot only to snap his stick. The puck bounced right to the Golden Knights, who proceeded to go down the ice, have the two-on-one nearly broken up, before Nate Schmidt buried to tie the game.
Worse then went to unfathomable when William Carrier and Vegas’ fourth line scored to take the lead on a controversial sequence, in which the Golden Knights forward interfered with Bishop.
No matter. Honestly, the Stars earned their fate in the third period.
Dallas had held the shot advantage after 40 minutes 18-17, and had suffocated Vegas offense all evening. In the final 20 minutes, Vegas outshot Dallas 16-6, without a power play.
16-6. Without. A. Power play.
Dallas’ spot in the first round is assured, but that third period display is nothing short of embarrassing for a team so committed to defending.
Slow Start Once Again
The Stars once again gave up a goal in the first minute of a game, and the first goal of any kind in a hockey game.
That simply cannot continue to happen if the Stars want to be successful in this playoff season. To find the last time the Stars scored the opening goal of a hockey game one would have to find Tyler Seguin’s goal against the St. Louis Blues on February 29.
Counting regular season, exhibition, and postseason games, that’s a streak of six matchups where the Stars played catchup. Not good enough at any point of the season, but especially now.
Look, the Stars need to eradicate this issue from their game. Chasing hockey is not winning hockey. The Stars battled back to take a 3-1 lead on Monday, but without the early goal, the Stars were likely headed to overtime.
This issue has followed the Stars for nearly 18 months and it has to end or their season is likely to end early.
Seguin and Benn Non-Factor
Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz, and Denis Gurianov were all noticeable for the Stars against Vegas in Game 1. The same can be said for Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry, and Alexander Radulov, which is all good news for the Stars.
However, for 60 minutes it’s excusable if one were to forget that Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin suited up for this game.
The Stars’ two highest paid players flanked one of their most promising — Gurianov — and finished with nothing to show for it. To Gurianov’s credit, even though he did not register a shot, he flashed with his speed and promise on the half wall of the power play. The Golden Knights were determined to take away his potent one-timer, so he really did not have a chance to release that deadly shot.
Seguin and Benn, on the other hand, were invisible.
Quick note: The Stars’ top line had more than one shift against the Golden Knights’ fourth line and did not register a shot.
In 17 minutes of time for Seguin and 15 minutes for Benn, neither registered a shot or really did anything of note in this hockey game. Which just does not bode well for a Dallas team that desperately needs their contributions.
This isn’t to say that Benn, for instance, needs to be the Jamie Benn of the 2014 or 2016 playoffs. He just isn’t that player anymore. However, the captain can still make his presence known and for all the hot sports opinions, is still a very good hockey player for this team. Benn did come in second in goals with 19 during the regular season, in a season where the system has been largely blamed for the reduced output from all of the Stars players.
For Tyler Seguin, the sentiment is clear there. The Stars’ highest paid player needs to focus his sights back at offense. The system is a trap system, and that does affect the offense. There is no question about that.
However, an entire generation of 30 goal-scorers in the 1990s also played the trap system and scored 30 goals. This is to say that top-end players can take liberties that other players just can’t. The Stars need Seguin to hunt the puck, hunt chances (shots), and hunt goals.
Seguin is the most complete player Dallas has. He can take chances, and he has to focus more of his game on offense.
For the Dallas top line to record zero shots on goal is something that should not happen. The top line needs to produce and take chances that the third line and fourth line cannot.
Stars Defense Looked Dangerous
In a game where 20 minutes undid 40 minutes of good, there was still good to talk about in it.
The Stars had been championing the activation of their defense throughout the ramp-up in Frisco, and it seemed that it came to fruition on Monday evening. The Dallas defense looked potent and that is a very good thing as the team continues on in Edmonton.
From the start it was clear that each member of the defense had the green light to create some offense in the zone. There were so many instances that it was tough to keep count and that eventually counting was impossible, but let’s just say it’s pretty wild when you see Jamie Oleksiak dangle on the half wall.
Overall, it made the Stars’ cycle and forecheck more effective in the first and second periods, as their defense floated low enough in the zone to provide puck support in the offensive zone. This support allowed the Stars to funnel the Golden Knights’ mistakes with the puck back down into the corners. The fourth defenseman also made exits for Vegas extremely difficult, which is evidenced by how much zone time the Stars had in the first 40 minutes.
The player who not only seemed to, but did, benefit the most from the aggressive defense was Miro Heiskanen. Heiskanen finished with an assist on each Dallas goal (three in total), and looked as comfortable as anyone with the offensive part of the game.
Then there was Oleksiak who combined with Heiskanen to score the prettiest goal of the game for the Stars. The fact that the Stars are seeing success this early with this new strategy is a great indicator for them going forward.
The Stars really benefitted from an active defense in that it fed their cycle game tremendously. The game plan also allowed the Stars to absolutely dominate the Golden Knights for two periods of the hockey game. If Dallas can keep this up, feed their cycle, and increase their zone time, the activation of the defense might just be the missing link in fully unlocking their offense.
On Monday it almost was.
The Road Only Grows More Challenging
The Stars need to shake off this loss and fast.
The road for them is only going to grow in stature and challenges as they are still to face the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues.
It is easy to sit here and think that these round-robin games really don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Which, yes, the Stars have clinched their berth in the first round of the playoffs, but the Stars can also make their lives so much easier with a good showing in this round robin.
Seeding is an advantage and the Stars know this. It’s the difference between a hard-fought mid-seeded series, and a potentially easier road with the lower seeds. There is a reason why top seeds are the favorites year in and year out.
The Stars need to right their game quickly, which honestly shouldn’t be too hard for this team. For all the terrible, embarrassing, awfulness that was the third period on Monday night, the first 40 minutes were just the opposite.
The Stars truly did dominate the game to the point where the Golden Knights did not look like they deserved to share the ice with them. Dallas was faster, cleaner, playing in their structure, and had complete control of the game.
If the Stars can play the full 60 minutes like the first 40 from Monday night against the Blues and Avalanche, then they can do some serious damage in the round robin.
However, if the Stars come out on their heels like they did in the third period, they might just find themselves run out of the bubble.