Scintillating Surge Saves Stars

It was a great win from an entertainment perspective and maybe cause for optimism. It was also another uneven performance. With the Stars ready to hit the road, it’s fair for fans to wonder what (if anything) is going to change moving forward.

Dead, buried, and booed off the ice after another first period no-show, the pitchforks and torches were out across Dallas Stars fandom Tuesday night. With good reason, to be very clear. Four wins from their first 13 games is a wretched performance, and one littered with too many unwatchable stretches of dire, directionless hockey. This team deserved the scorn of its fans through 35 minutes, but sports can be funny sometimes. Six goals later, the Stars have their fourth win in five attempts, and it feels like maybe the narrative might be shifting.

“Next game, we shouldn’t do that.”

Of course Alexander Radulov followed up a four-point night (three goals, one assist) with a perfect summary of the Stars’ season to date. What was weird about Tuesday night? The skating? Sure. The forecheck? Felt like it. The Stars’ willingness to carry the puck into the offensive zone? Absolutely. Actions, sure, but think about the foundational elements of this team. Radulov, Roope Hintz (one goal), Joe Pavelski (one goal, two assists), Tyler Seguin (one goal, two assists), Jamie Benn (one assist), and Miro Heiskanen (two assists) featured heavily in the outcome.

Maybe Hintz constitutes a surprise, but aren’t the rest of those names the ones fans might expect to see on the scoresheet of a 6-3 win? Go one level deeper and John Klingberg was dancing the blue line, Denis Gurianov was drawing penalties (they scored on the power play, you guys!), and Jason Dickinson was chasing pucks around the rink. The Dallas Stars have even, finally, found some defensive depth in the form of Jamie Oleksiak (one assist, +1, 12:45 time on ice) and Taylor Fedun (one assist, +2, 15:44 time on ice).

Where’s the gimmick? What about Tuesday night is either outside of the makeup of this team or otherwise unsustainable? If anything, Stars fans should expect even more moving forward because Ben Bishop (pulled after allowing two goals on 10 shots) has actually been more than solid so far this season (.920 save percentage, 2.34 GAA after nine games). Outside of the outcome, nothing about last night was out of character.

Which is why Tuesday night, though thrilling, was so very frustrating. Five-goal periods should not be moonshots for this roster. Skillful puck movement, successful power plays, and the top line out-willing its opponents should not be surprises. “The System” should be whatever the fans brave (or masochistic) enough to still be watching the third period witnessed. Not just for one period, or two, but carried throughout the entire game. There’s depth, now more than enough to push the pace for three periods.

Between now and Friday, Stars fans are likely to hear plenty about shifting narratives, turned corners, and an opportunity to make a move in a Western Conference suddenly missing Vladimir Tarasenko, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen. That optimism is fair but — and here comes the metaphor — one good third period should not obscure the two flailing frames that came before it. This team still has a great deal to prove, and 25 good minutes should only buy so much patience.