The Dallas Stars were in Calgary for a date with Flames on Thursday night in desperate need of a win to salvage their last road trip of the season. A pair of blowout losses to the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks had erased the somewhat comfortable cushion the Stars had in the Western Conference wild car race, and brought to the surface issues that have plagued the team throughout the season. With playoff spots up for grabs in the ultra-competitive West, Dallas faced it’s toughest test of the last week against a Calgary team that leads the Pacific Division and has gone an impressive 7-2-1 in their last ten games.
As the Stars searched for must needed changes in their overall game; we at Defending Big D are doing something a bit different with the game recap. Instead of the conventional play-by-play recap, we are going to pick some sequences or players in the hockey game that had an impact on the outcome. We will explore beyond goals, assists, and saves in favor of the plays and sequences within the game that made it all possible.
Dallas strong play along the wall
The Stars were at their best in the early portion of the game when they were strong defensively along the width of the rink. Dallas was able to successfully seal the puck along the wall when needed and play the proper angles of Flames players attempting to peel off from the width to the center of the ice. The best demonstration of this type of in-zone coverage came when the Stars expertly played the width of the rink allowing Jason Robertson to drop into coverage into the middle of the ice. The resulting turnover from the pressure along the wall allowed Robertson to bump the puck up to John Klingberg, who went down the ice for the Stars best scoring chance of the period.
On the flipside of this was the trouble the Stars created for themselves when they were weak or out of position along with boards. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were both guilty of weak plays along the boards which gave the Flames the puck on inexcusable turnovers. This is turn forced the Stars to scramble and gave the Flames prime shooting opportunities from inside the face-off dots. These mistakes were few and far between in the early portion of the game, as the Stars were dogged on the puck to start, really giving the Flames no time to make crisp decisions with the puck.
The pressure from the Stars on the puck was not merely kept to the defensive side of things. The Stars forecheck was consistently hard and fast throughout the evening, forcing the Flames into low percentage breakout sets. One aspect to a breakout that most teams look for is quick, easy passes out of the zone, that builds speed through the neutral zone. Due to the Stars aggressive forecheck the Flames were unable to break the puck out in a suitable fashion for much of the evening.
Dallas failing to out-number on the power-play
The first two Dallas power-plays were abbreviated due to a flurry of minors by both clubs that brought the special teams units to their knees. However, the third Stars chance on the man-advantage was plagued by poor decision making and a general inability to outnumber Flames killers on the puck. Dallas seemed all too happy to force a play through the center of the ice instead of working one side of the ice to organically open up seams in the Flames structure. This power-play set by Dallas led to a spread out, stagnate operation that allowed the Flames to sit and wait for an eventual Stars turnover. The Stars repeated turnovers allowed for easy zone exits for Calgary, all but eliminating any chance for Dallas to work to the middle of the ice.
Dallas would fail on their first four opportunities, due to their inability to operate efficiently and penalties by both side. On the other side of the special teams battle the Flames displayed the kind of patience that is sorely lacking in the Stars power-play.
Calgary nearly missed the opening goal of the game on a slick triangle passing in play, in which they were able to work the puck down low and go straight into the slot for a quick shot. Moments later Matthew Tkachuk would record his 40th goal of the season on a patient play where the Flames were again able to work the puck into the middle of the ice, giving the talented Flames forward the time to stuff the puck through Jake Oettinger.
Dallas would eventually breakthrough on the power-play when Erik Gudbranson committed a cross-checking minor following the Calgary goal. The Stars would waste no time putting their near league faceoff percentage to work by winning a draw to start. The faceoff win went right to John Klingberg who fed Jason Robertson with a nice pass that the forward wired past Markstrom. The goal doesn’t happen if Joe Pavelski doesn’t float right to the front of the net following his faceoff win. His presence in front of the Calgary defense forced the Flames killers to drop back and protect the net front, giving Robertson a lane to pick his spot on Markstrom.
The Stars elite rearguard had been the best player for the team in the tilts against the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers. The only portion of the game that has eluded Heiskanen is the offensive portion of the game. Heiskanen’s ability to skate and stick to forwards in the defensive zone was invaluable to the Stars as they deployed pressure all over the rink on the Flames.
There was one unfortunate sequence for Heiskanen in the first minute of the third period when he lost a net front battle to Mikael Backlund. Heiskanen and Backlund were jousting for positioning in front of Oettinger when Noah Hanifin let go of a shot from the point. The humanity in front of Oettinger seemed to screen or caused a deflection that fouled up the Star netminder. Even with the tough break to start the third, there was little doubt that Heiskanen was indispensable for the Stars as they tightened up the in-zone portion of their game after their tough evenings earlier in the week.
Oettinger desperation save leads to Stars goal
A strange wrinkle in the game of hockey is the fact that one missed chance on one end can end up in the net on the other end. That is exactly what happened when an incredible mistake by Oettinger resulted in an equally incredible save, that led to the tying goal in the hockey game. A harmless dump in by the Flames forced Oettinger out of the net, who then turned the puck right towards a wide-open Tyler Toffoli. Fortunately for the Stars, Oettinger was able to put his stick out and get a piece of the puck on the Toffoli offering. The Stars then worked the puck out of the zone where recent call-up Fredrik Karlstrom displayed great speed and beat the Flames defense. Karlstrom’s offering at Markstrom was stopped, but Luke Glendenning smartly trailed the play and placed the puck into the open Flames net.
The play was all made possible by a near catastrophic event for the Stars and Karlstrom’s awareness to jail break the zone after the 50/50 puck. Not to be overshadowed was the textbook way that Luke Glendenning stayed in the middle of the ice to clean up a potential rebound chance. Most players could have peeled off or slowed up to avoid contact. Without the strong net drive the play is most likely killed by the trailing Flames defense and goaltender.
Down the Stretch
As the game proceeded into the later stages the Flames were again able to utilize their points to generate offense. The Stars had struggled at times controlling the middle of the ice following Flames faceoff wins, and on the Flames third goal of the night by Chris Tanev it proved fatal. Calgary, following the faceoff win, was able to move the puck from side to side on the points, allowing Kylington to direct the puck towards the net. Tanev worked himself into the middle of the Stars coverage and made his stick available for the high tip past Oettinger.
Bad would go to worse for the Stars when the club took another penalty with under four minutes remaining in the period. A high-sticking minor on Jamie Benn put the Flames on another power-play with a chance to ice the game and send the Stars home pointless on the road trip. Dallas would successfully kill the Flames power-play and bring the game back to even and a chance to pull Oettinger for the extra attacker.
Unfortunately for the Stars, the goalie pull would transpire with the only chance on net coming from the Flames, who recorded the nail on the empty Stars net.
Calgary 4 Dallas 2
Calgary 37 Dallas 23