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Stark Reminders: And So It Begins…

Yesterday was the first time the Dallas Stars have played at home — and in front of fans — since March 10th, 2020. Last night, they kicked off the 2020-21 season against the Nashville Predators, and kicked it off in style. While many of us might have worried after the first 20 minutes that the offense-light Stars of yore were on the ice, the final 40 minutes proved all of us (happily) wrong. Normally, something that is a stark reminder is meant to be a bleak or slightly depressing fact, or, in the case of hockey, something with room for improvement. That won’t be the case with tonight’s reminders. The lackluster first period of the game can be attributed most likely to shaking off the cobwebs of the offseason, but what fans witnessed in the second and third periods provided plenty to be hopeful for when looking ahead to the rest of this very odd schedule and division.

Reminder No. 1: West Coast Is The Best Coast

We’ll start off this batch of reminders with one that should put a grin on everyone’s face. The Stars are the reigning Western Conference champions. Let that sink in for a moment. In a 2019-20 season that was filled with drama, chaos, and injuries, the Stars hung in there long enough to find their way to the Edmonton playoff bubble. Once there, they didn’t let a slow start deter them. They fought through the gauntlet of foes that stood between them and the banner now hanging from the rafters of the American Airlines Center.

However you feel about the Stanley Cup Final, whatever you hope for or expect from the team this season, just remember that the Stars did something incredible at the end of a season where many had written them off.

Reminder to the Stars (and the fans) that they are the reigning Western Conference champions and to play like it.

Oh wait…

Reminder No. 2:  With Great Power (Plays)…

…comes great goals. That’s what Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, right?

In case you tuned into the game at the start of the third period, allow me to bring you up to speed.

The Dallas Stars scored five — five — goals on the power play. Three of them were scored in the second period. The final score was 7-0 and only one of those goals was at even-strength. Five power-play goals, one even-strength goal, and one shorthanded goal. The Stars scored on five of their eight power plays (thanks, Predators), and between the defense and Anton Khudobin, they kept the Predators from scoring on any of their eight power plays. Sixteen power plays through 60 minutes of hockey. Seven of the 16 were in the second period alone, and if you missed the game or only watched the highlight reel, I highly recommend watching the second period in its entirety. You’ll come away with the feeling that all the tweaks to the power play units in the bubble and during training camp were well worth the wait.

In the days leading up to Friday night’s game, head coach Rick Bowness said more than once that the team didn’t view the power play units as “first” and “second” but rather as equal in strength and skill. That view was backed up by the performance on the ice as each power play for the Stars was executed with swift action, clean passes, and consistent pressure at the netfront throughout the shift changes. The real estate in front of the Nashville goal proved to be the prime location for Dallas during the second and third periods. Each of the power-play goals came within a few strides of the crease. To do so twice or perhaps even three times could be attributed to a combination of luck, right place and time, and smart work by the power play unit. To do so four times? The Stars found a critical gap in the Predators’ defense and thoroughly exploited it.

These two teams are no strangers to penalties and tempers flaring, so it’s a fair bet that Sunday’s matchup will feature more power plays for Dallas to further exploit the gaping holes in front of the Nashville net.

Reminder to the Stars to keep up the aggressive netfront presence on the power play, especially when Joe Pavelski is on the ice.

Reminder No. 3: Dobby Is A Good Elf

Dallas fans didn’t forget about Anton Khudobin during the chaotic and oftentimes uncertain NHL offseason. And the fans in attendance at Friday night’s game made that clear when he took to the ice before puck drop:

While it may be easy to focus on the whopping score from the Stars in the season opener, fans shouldn’t forget that the team was backed up by Khudobin, who shined in his return to the AAC. This time last year, Khudobin was the Stars’ 1B in their tandem with Ben Bishop. What no one could have foreseen was the way Khudobin would step, calmly and confidently, into the 1A position in the playoff bubble when it became clear that Bishop was unable to play due to injury. Khudobin was a very needed brick wall for the Stars in the playoffs and his performance last night against Nashville wasn’t just a brick wall — it was concrete reinforced with steel.

During the first period, the Stars faced several shaky moments in play where it looked like the Predators might get the first goal of the game. Khudobin was there every time to bail them out. The forwards may have had themselves a night with goals galore, but Khudobin kept them in the game long enough for those goals to happen. Stars fans are no stranger to watching the team turtle when trailing, and Khudobin’s performance early in the first to keep the score at 0-0 prevented the dreaded turtle formation from appearing.

Reminder to the Stars to always thank your goaltender for bailing you out, especially when that goaltender records his 100th career win and ninth career shutout.

The Stars play their second game against the Predators on Sunday, January 24th, at 7 p.m. CT.