The Dallas Stars’ victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals is likely the most dominant 1-0 win most of us have seen. The Stars played a textbook game of speed, defending, physicality, and yes, offense. In every aspect the Stars were the noticeably better team, no matter the excuses that flowed from the broadcast as to why the Vegas Golden Knights were struggling. The Golden Knights are a good team, and for 60 minutes the Stars showed they were better.
For all the good that the Stars did in Game 1, they were equally as bad in Game 2 in every facet of the game. The Stars were slow, lazy, out of position, cheating the game, and all the while feeding right into the Golden Knights’ style of play. The eventual undoing of the Stars in the second period was a long time coming, as the first period was a pretty good indicator that the Stars didn’t have “it” in this tilt.
The Stars deserved their fate and the Knights did all they could to rub the Stars nose in that fact.
However, the mistakes the Stars made are correctable; their disjointedness can be reset, and must be reset. For as well as the Golden Knights played, the Stars made it rather easy for them.
Missed Positioning and Assignments
There were issues creeping into the Stars’ game as the midway point of the first period approached. The Golden Knights were able to cycle the puck and through that, were able to gain interior positioning on the Stars’ defense. It didn’t cost the Stars on the scoreboard, but it definitely raised some eyebrows, as there was a feeling that something looked off.
In the second period the dam broke and the Stars’ lack of team positioning in Game 2 really did them in.
On Vegas’ first goal of the game, it’s easy to focus in on the fact that Paul Stastny was all alone in front of the net. That's understandable, but the goal really began in the corner when Jason Dickinson wound up lumbering towards the bench after he collided with Shea Theodore.
The lack of the additional forward allowed Vegas to gain an odd-man advantage when they out-changed the Stars. Ideally, Dickinson would be back to gain defensive position in his zone to carry out his assignment on the man coming off the bench.
Instead here’s what happened:
With the Stars losing the line change, as well as the lack of the forward back in the play, the Golden Knights were able to buy time to create. Nicolas Roy made a good move to pop off of the wall, buying time to feed the puck to Brayden McNabb.
At this point in the sequence, McNabb is the most dangerous player on the ice because he has time and space, which means he has options with the puck. He can walk the puck in a little deeper and rip an uncontested shot on goal and create a rebound, or he can do what he did on the play. McNabb spotted a wide-open Max Pacioretty, which caused two things to happen. First, John Klingberg naturally had to take McNabb as the puck-carrier to prevent the shot. Once McNabb moved the puck to Pacioretty, Joel Hanley moved to him, and now both Stars defensemen are out of position. This allowed Stastny to slip in front of the net, wide open.
Ideally, even in the given situation, Janmark should have released on Roy and darted to McNabb to at least stick-check. This would have allowed Klingberg to stay in a better spot positionally to deal with Stastny in front of the net. Hanley actually did the right thing, he had to take Pacioretty to prevent a move towards the net for a high-danger shot. By Janmark releasing and going right to McNabb earlier, it gives Dallas time for their additional forward to come into the play.
The goal by William Karlsson is symptomatic of a problem that needs to be discussed as it pertains to Dallas taking senseless penalties from the start of Game 2. However, the third goal is a product of the problems that plagued the Stars in the first and second periods.
The second Vegas goal began at the very beginning when Tyler Seguin ceded his positioning on this play. Seguin was covering for Jamie Oleksiak, who was tied up on the half wall in a puck battle. Seguin had very good initial positioning where he was covering for the defenseman. The problem lies in what Seguin failed to recognize.
First, the Stars are probably going to lose the puck battle on the wall. Oleksiak was tied up with two Vegas players coming to support him to dig the puck out. Jamie Benn was late to the battle, and Alexander Radulov was a non-factor. If Seguin stayed up at the point, he could, in theory, have broken the rush before it really got going and caused a turnover or a cluster in the neutral zone. Instead, he found himself sucked into the fray, Vegas wins the puck battle, and they have numbers and speed through the neutral zone.
Out of the picture is Klingberg, who was forced to defend a clean 2-on-1. Then there was the third forward who was breaking with the play, and who would eventually serve as the key to the play as it moved up the ice.
The Dallas forwards failed to pursue, as they were caught back in the play with only Benn and Klingberg serving as helpless defensive options. With the Stars outnumbered, it turned into a simple give-and-go play with Tomas Nosek on the receiving end of a great tic-tac-toe sequence, finished off a back-breaking mistake from Seguin. It’s also important to note that had Seguin stayed at the point, he could have been in a position to take away the third forward, which would have forced a 50/50 play that resulted in a pass/shoot situation. Seguin creeping in destroyed the Stars’ defensive options.
Both the first and third goals of the game are patented displays of mistakes that cripple hockey teams at all levels. Worse, it’s not as if the Golden Knights scored these goals because they are a team with superior talent. The Golden Knights scored because the Stars made fatal mistakes and the Golden Knights are an elite team that will take advantage of mistakes.
The Stars beat themselves every bit as much as the Golden Knights did.
Penalties and Corrections
There is an underlying current running through the Stars’ recent play and it’s a wonder how it hasn't shocked them before their Game 2 loss. It’s fair to say that Dallas is an undisciplined hockey team at this juncture.
Undisciplined hockey teams do not win Stanley Cups.
Klingberg opened the parade to the penalty box three minutes into the game when he interfered with Ryan Reaves. The play in itself really isn’t much of a problem. It felt like a soft call as Klingberg seemed to be anticipating Reaves gaining possession until Esa Lindell deflected the puck off of his skate. Plus, it was a solid check on Vegas’ most physical player, and the Stars easily killed the penalty off.
However, Vegas gained momentum from the early zone time generated from the penalty, which is even more costly. The Stars have taken way too many penalties, and worse, the penalties are taking them out of their rhythm. While the Klingberg call is what it is, there is no excuse for the next five calls the Stars suffered.
The penalties were low hockey IQ penalties from the Stars that should drive this coaching staff up the wall. Corey Perry has to be better with his stick and positioning as to not trip Jonathan Marchessault. The slashing penalty on Radulov was as selfish as it gets, and his high-sticking penalty was lazy. Benn knew what he was doing when he hit McNabb in the face for his roughing penalty, even if McNabb slightly played up the drama. Lastly, Radek Faksa taking a slashing penalty less than a minute into the third period kept the Stars in the mud to start.
The penalties in this game were 6-2, Dallas. In the Game 1 victory, they were even at three a piece.
Look, the second-round series against the Colorado Avalanche was a penalty-filled circus. The Stars were able to survive taking six or even nine penalties because Colorado was as delinquent as Dallas was in those games. Obviously, the Golden Knights can take some penalties of their own, and they had their issues in the second round, but so far they’ve been disciplined whereas the Stars have been anything but disciplined.
The Stars are taking far too many high-sticking penalties, trips, and other lazy calls, and their overall game is suffering for it. If the Stars want to reassert themselves in Game 3, they would be best served by doing what they did in Game 1.
Play fast, play physical hockey, stay out of the box, and play positionally sound. There were a host of other issues in this game, like a non-exist forecheck, and the fact that Vegas out-hit Dallas 43-25 through two periods. All that accounted for what deserved to be a Stars’ loss. It’s the glaring mistakes that stick out, but there’s always a lead up to them. The silver lining of course is that all of these mistakes are correctable, and it doesn't feel as if the Stars are outclassed in this series.
However, if the Stars don’t check back in and find what makes them successful, the Golden Knights will show the Stars to the exit.