Dallas Stars Dig Themselves A Hole They Can't Get Out Of, Fall To Tampa Bay Lightning 6-3
The second period breakdown proved too much for the Stars to overcome as they lost their first preseason game this season to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Dallas rolled a fairly young lineup on the first of their back-to-back preseason set, with only seven veterans in the lineup (about one half of the defense and just a handful of forwards). The Stars said they wanted to grt plenty of looks at these young guys, and structuring the roster this way allowed for plenty of young guys to take on big minutes in various situations.
Unfortunately, the real story of the game ended up being a trio of ex-New York Rangers in Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman. Stralman and Callahan were the main cogs in the offensive machine of the Lightning tonight, overshadowing the Stars prospects.
It was obvious that some of the Stars young guns were outmatched against some of the more veteran Lightning lines. With Lindy Ruff saying that maybe last preseason was 'too easy' for the Stars (going undefeated as they did), I think this kind of an ugly loss will be a good learning opportunity for the veteran players and prospects alike.
It definitely wasn't pretty, though.
There was plenty of pace to open the first period, and it was by far the Dallas Stars' best period of play. The key to the offense tonight was that it was scored in transition with guys crashing to the front of the net. Dallas struggled against the forecheck of the Tampa Bay Lightning, hampering their ability to get into the offensive zone. They weren't able to setup much of a cycle game, but when they could get in and drive to the net they were rewarded.
Tampa Bay didn't have nearly as hard of a time getting into the Stars zone, but for the most part the Stars were patient within their own zone early on. As the period progressed, they started allowing guys to get into the slot area and pepper Kari Lehtonen with shots basically point blank in his face.
The struggles getting into the offensive zone and past the Lightning forecheck continued into the second period.
Jordie Benn had a very clean check on Steven Stamkos -- even the opposing commentators believed it was clean -- that the Lightning players took an exception to. They would let that feeling show a few shifts later when Benn would get a 'retribution' hit after Sergei Gonchar was being called for tripping on a breakaway by the Lightning. Somehow, Matthew Corrente would get a double minor for roughing on Benn and the Stars would end up on the power play instead of on the penalty kill.
That's not something you see everyday.
Benn was impressive in how he handled the added attention from the opposition, keeping himself from reacting in any way to it. Veteran move from the defenseman that has looked markedly improved this training camp.
The power play, with about 30 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage thrown in, continued to not be able to convert. While earlier advantages seemed to have more movement and opportunity, the power play didn't look very deadly in this frame.
That seemed to take a lot of wind out of the sails of the Stars, and Tampa Bay would start pressuring. A few goals later, and another pretty bad second period by the Stars, and the game that had been tied was now a 5-2 hole they struggled to try to dig out of.
Lehtonen, who was slated to play the full game tonight, was pulled out of the game after allowing five goals on 18 shots through two periods. Jussi Rynnas would come in on clean-up duty, and he showed pretty well for himself -- especially during the penalty fest that was the third period for Dallas.
Not much of an offensive punch this period, though Jason Spezza would put one more past the Lightning goaltenders off of a very nice cross-crease pass from Brett Ritchie. Spezza, who was left completely uncovered, had a gaping hole on the side of the net that he just lasered into.
The Stars would get ample opportunity to work on their penalty killing this period, with a string of penalties hampering their ability to get anything offensive working for them. On the positive side, the penalty kill was legitimately good tonight, going perfect on the kill.
A few other observations on tonight....
- I thought Vernon Fiddler looked stellar on the penalty kill. He helped ensure that zone coverages were maintained, and was often communicating with his teammates as the veteran leader in those situations. A killer night on the faceoff dot too, as we've come to expect from him. Though he should learn the new rules about faceoffs and avoid another one of those 'delay of game' penalties for getting tossed out of the circle two times in a row.
- John Klingberg is everything he was ever described to be. He demonstrated poise with the puck, and made some phenomenal threaded passes in all three zones of the ice. His 2-on-1 chance in the second period right after he came out of the box was a very good offensive chance. Even when he looks to activate on the offensive side, he is very cognizant of his defensive responsibilities and hustles to get back to cover if he gets caught down low.
- Julius Honka would probably want a redo on tonight. He did not look nearly as strong as we saw in camp or in the other preseason games. While he still made a few very nice offensive moves, he struggled to protect the puck against larger NHL-level players and had his pocket picked a few times. He also continued a concerning trend I saw in training camp of liking to put the puck up the center of the ice. That's a quite dangerous space on the ice to put passes when you're trying to exit your own zone.
- Colton Sceviour I thought didn't look as good this game as we've seen in the past. While his play on Brendan Ranford's first goal was very nice, the rest of his game was kind of middling. Other forwards on the ice stood out more to me. I'm chalking a lot of that up to some rust coming back from injury, though. I think it'll be important for him to have a solid game in his next outing.
- You probably shouldn't leave Spezza with all the space in the world to operate. He'll put it right in your net, as Evgeni Nabokov learned in the third period. What fun that will be to watch this season.
- Jason Dickinson seemed to have settled from his nerves and I thought he had a pretty strong game on both sides of the puck.
- Dallas owned on faceoffs tonight, with Spezza posting a 57% win rate, Fiddler at 56% and Shawn Horcoff at 56%.