Game 6 Afterwords: Dynamic Duo Does Due Diligence While Niemi Leads Stars to First Place
It's almost rote to talk about Benn and Seguin scoring this team's goals, but we kind of have to if they keep scoring all of them
Let's just revel in this for a moment: the Stars are in first place* in the Central Division six games into the season. The goalies have been great, everyone's hips are looking healthy, and this team is on a four-game winning streak, three of which have come on the road. I'm sure I'll get more nuanced with these pieces as the year progresses, but it's tough to want to bridle the optimism when things are clicking.
*They have the tie-breaker over Nashville, but look at the teams Nashville's beaten: Carolina, Edmonton, New Jersey, Ottawa (in a shootout) and Tampa (in a shootout).
Something I didn't think about during much of the Philly contest was the fact that Steve Mason had a heck of a game. True, he really only had to face one power play (since the Stars were largely in the prevent during their second one), but even with some buxom rebounds, he kept his team in the game long enough for them to push back. The Stars had 32 scoring chances along with 62 shots towards the net, but the only pucks that Mason couldn't save were from one of the league's most accurate shooters on a 2-on-1 and from one of the league's deadliest shooters on a bit of a whiff that looped over his shoulder.
This game very easily could have gotten away from Dallas, and a thus-far quality road trip might have taken a step back against an inferior team. That didn't happen, however, because Antti Niemi was better than Mason. The Flyers ended up with 15 high-danger scoring chances (Dallas had 13), and while you may not be happy about the fact that they had the bulk of the power plays, Niemi kept his team in front despite facing some very dangerous pucks, including some early deflections and deadly rebound opportunities. That's something the Stars just haven't seen from not-Kari-Lehtonen on anything resembling a regular basis. Sure feels like the Stars have been getting their money's worth in goal so far, eh?
After the Stars killed the early penalty on Jamie Benn (whose physicality seemed to set the tone for the contest), Dallas really got going. After fighting back against some good chances by Philly in the first period, Dallas pulled ahead on a bit of a wacky/zany/hijinx-filled goal by Seguin (from Benn), opened the next period with a no-nonsense goal from Benn on a rush, and couldn't pull away, eventually settling into a sort-of-effective trap that asked quite a bit of Niemi.
The Flyers' goal was an odd sequence, to be sure. Demers pinched up the boards in the offensive zone but couldn't keep the puck in before Matt Read knocked it to Wayne Simmonds exiting the zone. Seguin was covering for Demers, but things got worse when Oduya's early attempt to knock the puck away from Simmonds failed, allowing Simmons to swing wide and put the puck on net. Seguin hadn't completely lost position, but an initial effort towards Simmonds as he shot gave Sean Couturier just enough separation from Seguin to get to the net, and the puck bounced off his skate, the post and in. It was a tough break in a lot of ways, but I remember thinking at the time that it was surprising to see Demers pinching there, as the Stars had mostly been sitting back on any 50/50 pucks up to that point. Thankfully, it didn't end up mattering.
NBC didn't exactly win back any Stars fans tonight. Most of us were surprised to learn that a "national" broadcast essentially meant that we got to watch the Comcast Philadelphia broadcast with Jeremy Roenick piping up at intermissions. When you add that to the logo goof and the name mix-ups from last year, it's not hard to see why Stars fans were missing their home broadcast team on television tonight. Those fans can take solace in the fact that if this team keeps doing its thing over the course of the season, everyone else will get sick of hearing these guys' names on the highlights packages each night.
One guy whose name was pronounced correctly for a change was Antoine Roussel, who took or drew six different minor penalties during the second period. That's 12 minutes of sin bin sittin', whereas Roussel himself only skated for nine minutes the entire night. That's Napoleonic level of chaos in a very short span of time. A few other players got into the chippy play as things went along, including Benn and Giroux for some reason, but Roussel probably feels pretty good about derailing the Flyers' collective gourd.
For the second game in a row, the Stars got all their goals from Seguin and Benn. If I had bet on sports like an idiot early in the game, though, I would have put a fiver on Janmark to pot a goal. The surprising Swede had a couple of good scoring chances, but the NHL is a tough nut to crack sometimes. Still, it's good to see him still doing his thing. Same with Radek Faksa, although he only played nine minutes. Sceviour also had a couple of great chances, and if Roussel had been able to play a bit more, you wonder if that line might have been able to chip in a goal at some point. This team is deep.
It would be nice if the Stars could somehow break the code on score effects and just wallop teams for 60 minutes instead of sitting back, wouldn't it? Philadelphia had some grade-A chances stopped by Niemi (and the defense corps) in the third period, but the Stars just aren't at their best when they stop counterattacking as aggressively as they can, which is the least "news" of all the news you will hear in this paragraph. This was also the Stars' first one-goal margin of victory this year, so it felt a little more tense than usual. Whether the ultimate cause of score effects is psychological or strategic (it's probably both), playing a "safer" game late can feel more dangerous when you can't hold onto the puck. It was great to see their goalie stand tall behind them to preserve the lead, but no one here would complain if they could maybe tighten things up a bit more when defending a lead.
Jamie Benn is leading the entire NHL in goals with six (in six games). He's "only" tied for the lead in points, but his co-leader is an all right sort of fellow. It is a good time to be a Stars fan, isn't it? I don't know how many different times I can re-hash the point, but in 2014-15 this team coughs up the lead (and loses in overtime, because overtime sucked last year).
The season has just been dropped off for kindergarten, but that doesn't mean you don't notice some tendencies in its early stages so far. As much as the Stars are one crazy skid from a relapse, they're certainly going about things in the right ways. They're outscoring and outchancing and out-goaltending the other teams, and they're looking pretty good doing it, so there's no reason to expect imminent regression. The Stars are a high-event team, so there will undoubtedly be nights where the other team gets the bounces and Dallas hits all the posts, but it's nice to be able to discard that possibility for another night.
5-1-0 is a great start, it really is. They have one game left on this road trip, and even if they can't sweep the Penguins this season--and it really feels like they could, doesn't it?--they're going to be coming home with a lot to be proud of. Lindy hasn't Ruffled the lines (in-game) the past two nights, so you have to think he's pretty pleased with the way his team's playing, too. Wouldn't you be?