Afterwords: Now That Was Fun

Opening night doesn’t get any better than this.

Last night marked the Dallas Stars’ first game of the NHL regular season. It was also technically the Nashville Predators’ first as well, since the everyone collectively agreed to ignore the Prague games and treat Tuesday as opening night, but that’s getting into semantics.

Heading into the season opener, fans and media alike weren’t quite sure what to expect. Sure, we got to see a glimpse of new head coach Pete DeBoer’s system in the preseason. And hey, a young, offensive-minded player make the opening night lineup, something more or less unfathomable in seasons past. But would that necessarily translate into regular season success?

Suffice to say, the early results were very promising:

It’s only one game, of course, but the Dallas Stars looked like a completely different team. Specifically, they looked like a good one, one that could go toe-to-toe with the league’s best. The offense was dynamic, the special teams looked (mostly) solid, the defense did enough, and the goaltending was nearly flawless.

Most importantly, the game was fun. People seem to forget it every now and then, but sports are first and foremost a form of entertainment. And while winning is usually fun, how you win is just as if not more important. This looked like a team that you want to watch another 81 times, as opposed to just tuning into big-ticket games or when you have nothing better to do with your evening.

The fanfare started relatively early, with free agent acquisition Mason Marchment scoring his first of the season on a beautiful breakaway. It’s not often you see Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi get undressed on the backcheck, but Marchment made it look effortless. Even more impressive was the stickwork and shot afterwards, which Sean Shapiro has already broken down for us.

Equally impressive was goal number two, also from Marchment, this time on the power play. Not so much for the goal itself, but rather the setup by fellow newcomer Nils Lundkvist:

Many players’ first instinct upon getting a rebound like that would be to immediately send it right back to the net — the goaltender is scrambling, so there’s a decent chance the puck can get through the second time. And even if it doesn’t, it might lead to yet another rebound and a third scoring opportunity.

Instead, Lundkvist notices that Marchment has a wide open net in front of him. So he takes advantage of Juuse Saros scrambling not for a high danger scoring chance, but rather to get an uncontested pass across to the open man. He is successful, and Marchment gets one of the easiest goals of his career.

We saw a similar setup in the third period, courtesy of Tyler Seguin:

Just like with Lundkvist, Seguin has a good scoring opportunity here on the power play — he could immediately rip the puck and have only Saros to beat. Instead, he is patient with the puck while Mark Borowiecki sprawls down to block the expected shot. That allowed him to perform a cross ice pass to a wide open Wyatt Johnston, who proceeded to rip it home for his first career NHL goal.

And yes, you read that right: Wyatt Johnston, on the power play. Not only did the teenager make the opening night roster, but the coaching staff actually took advantage of his offensive abilities. Too often in Dallas (and to be honest, the NHL in general) have we seen young, talented players being forced to “earn” quality minutes and power play time by grinding it out on the fourth line with the bottom of the offensive barrel. Needless to say, it’s hard to produce in such a situation, which often leads to the wrong conclusion that they aren’t “ready” for the NHL.

Well Johnston might not have gotten Top 6 minutes, but he was number eight with 13:33, 2:30 of it coming on the power play’s second unit. He didn’t exactly turn heads, but he didn’t look out of place in the lineup either. And, of course, there was the goal, which led to this heartwarming moment:

Overall, the Stars went two-for-four on the power play. Their first opportunity was rather dismal to say the least, but otherwise the units looked strong, scoring on the second and fourth attempts and getting several quality chances on the third. It was weird watching a Stars power play without John Klingberg at the helm, but Miro Heiskanen did a fine job quarterbacking the top unit, even if only the second found the back of the net.

The penalty kill unit was also sharp, killing all five Predators power plays despite only committing three minor penalties (yes I’m still bitter about Heiskanen’s “trip” and Collin Miller’s “hook”). Out of the calls that were valid, Jani Hakanpaa picked up a whopping nine penalty minutes, already good for the league lead. Take from that what you will.

But back to the point: the Stars special teams was sharp. Yet not as sharp as the man between the pipes: Jake Oettinger. Squaring off against a Vezina Trophy finalists in Juuse Saros, Oettinger was clearly the better goaltender. Had it not been for a sick deflection by Ryan Johansen that pretty much any goalie would fail to stop, he would have certainly pitched a shutout. Instead, he had to settle for a measly .969 SV% (31-32).

Yeah, I think he’s fine with that. His performance, by the way, earned him the second star of the game. Wyatt Johnston’s first career goal earned him the third, while double goal scorer Mason Marchment took home the gold.

But with all due respect to the Nashville media, I think the best player of the evening was none other than Tyler Seguin. His thumbprints were all over this game, leading the team in scoring with two primary assists and a secondary. Not only that, but he generated several other scoring opportunities, either by continuing to dish out dimes or taking a quality shot himself. When your name is mentioned frequently on the broadcast, you’re either having a really good game or a really bad one, and Seguin was no doubt the former.

There’s more we could dissect (we didn’t even touch on how Joe Pavelski’s goal, yet another  example of Dallas getting a wide open net), but I’ll have mercy on Taylor, who’s already had plenty to edit these past couple days. Overall, I think I said it best earlier: this game was fun, and left me wishing there was another sixty minutes to watch. I’m not sure I ever felt that way last season, even at the Stars’ best, which is already a massive improvement in my eyes.

Here’s hoping it wasn’t a flash in the pan.