When the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings games popped up on the schedule, it’d be easy to have circled those as games expected to be relatively easy wins for the Stars. After all, the Red Wings were one of the worst teams in the league last season, and in the midst of a rebuilding era, didn’t seem to get demonstrably better on paper.
But that’s why games are actually played, because on any given night, even the worst team in a professional league can beat one of the best.
The adrenaline of finally opening the season and beating the Nashville Predators 7-0, which carried the Stars through the second game of the first series this season, has now worn off. The Stars are officially in the grind of a schedule that doesn’t have a lot of breathing room, playing their third game in six nights.
Combined with missing a good chunk of their expected top nine forwards, the Stars came out very flat in the first period. Jamie Benn missed his second game with a lower-body injury, as did Joel Kiviranta after tweaking something in practice this weekend. Blake Comeau remains on the COVID-19 list. Roope Hintz was an unexpected late injury, out with a lower-body injury as well after taking morning skate today. Add to it the long-term injury to top center Tyler Seguin due to offseason hip surgery, and that’s a significant number of pieces of the Stars’ ideal top nine.
This is how this year is going to be. With a shortened, fast season, and time off thanks to COVID-19 and no preseason games to get up to game speed, the “lower-body injury” is going to be pretty popular. There’s a lot of things that can get tweaked for bodies that aren’t used to the skating season, chief among them groins that can get easily stretched in the course of a game.
It’s why teams are carrying players on the taxi squad that are expected to be ready to go when their number is called. Dallas, who used a lot of bodies throughout their Stanley Cup Final run, has a “next man up” mentality.
That can lead to some rough looking shifts with forward groupings or players that haven’t had a chance to develop any kind of chemistry. That was demonstrated well with the second power play unit tonight, which looked disjointed on their first sustained shift featuring Radek Faksa, Tanner Kero, Justin Dowling, Ty Dellandrea, and Esa Lindell.
But the first unit didn’t need more than four seconds to put another power play tally on the board for the Stars this season. Off a faceoff win courtesy of Joe Pavelski back to Denis Gurianov that was immediately funneled back to John Klingberg at the line, the Stars’ top-pairing defender let a shot absolutely rip. The traffic provided by Pavelski and Alexander Radulov was enough to distract Detroit goaltender Thomas Greiss and give Klingberg the lane right to the bench.
Greiss didn’t even have a chance to move the glove hand before that shot was in the back of the net.
It was a big one for Dallas, that found themselves trailing in a game for the first time this year. They went 131:47 in which the game was either tied or the Stars were leading. Vladislav Namestnikov, intimately familiar with the Stars thanks to playing with the Colorado Avalanche last season, put a weak backhand shot through Anton Khudobin about midway through the first period to give the Red Wings a lead. The shot seemed to have surprised Khudobin a bit, as it wasn’t nearly as hard as one would have expected from that spot on the ice.
Dallas had another good night on the other side of special teams once again, killing off two power play chances by the opposition. They’re now 10-for-11 on the season. The biggest kill was late in the third period, with Detroit pushing. Dallas was able to keep them off the board in no small part thanks to Khudobin turning in another good performance. He’s now sporting a 0.99 goals against average and a sparkling .958 save percentage, stopping 69 of 72 shots faced so far.
Although the Stars didn’t have their best game tonight, they found a way to force overtime. Head coach Rick Bowness started in a defensive posture in response to Anthony Mantha and team on the ice. On the second shift, Klingberg and Jason Dickinson came into the defensive zone and applied pressure to spring the puck loose.
Dickinson took the puck north and sped through the neutral zone, dropping the puck to Klingberg inside the offensive blue line. Klingberg then toe-dragged, showing mad patience to let the play open in front of him. He spotted Dickinson open in the slot, passed it over, and Dickinson sent it right in top shelf to give the Stars the extra point.
That freakin toe drag by Klingberg pic.twitter.com/jsJmTzF5sx— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) January 27, 2021
While giving points away in a division-oriented schedule isn’t ideal, at least giving them to a team generally considered a favorite to be firmly out of the playoff picture at the end of the season shouldn’t be as damaging in the long-term for the Stars.
There’s still some concerns about areas of play for the Stars, small sample sizes not withstanding. The lack of 5-on-5 scoring may be worrisome to fans, but Bowness said the team isn’t going to over-evaluate that right now, considering how many NHL regulars they’ve been missing so far. He said they haven’t been giving up a lot of Grade-A chances, so they like where they are right now. If the team had more of their regulars playing, maybe that would be a different discussion right now.
Kind of hard to argue when you’re one of only two undefeated teams left in the league. Both the Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars are 3-0-0, with each playing again on Thursday night to see which can hold out longer. Dallas gets Detroit in the second game of this series, while Florida will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets.