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Stark Reminders: Three For The Money…

Despite a slow start to the game and a relatively low-scoring affair (compared to the rest of the season), the Dallas Stars still managed to eke out a win against the Detroit Red Wings last night. There were some truly stark reminders about the game: Jamie Benn, Joel Kiviranta, and Roope Hintz were unavailable due to injury, Detroit somehow kept Dallas from scoring more than once in regulation (despite ample opportunity to do so), and there were some egregious calls by the referees. However, the Stars are apparently holding themselves to a higher standard than what fans witnessed on the ice last night. Look no further than John Klingberg’s postgame comment:

However, don’t let the previous paragraph get you down. There were plenty of good things to be reminded about during the game, so let’s dive into a few of them.

Reminder No. 1: The Kids Are Alright

Fan expectations may have been as high as the International Space Station (254 miles above Earth) about the Dallas power play after the Nashville series. Fans might also have worried when Jamie Benn missed a second straight game and Roope Hintz missed his first of the season on Tuesday night. Both absences led to shuffling within the forward corps and within the forwards on both power-play units. I’ll admit it — I was one of those fans who was worried. However, the Stars’ first power play just about halfway through the first period helped ease a lot of concerns, at least for me. (We won’t get into the Detroit goal that happened a few minutes later, hush.)

The Dallas power play proved on Sunday night against Nashville that they could be just as effective even with Benn and Kiviranta missing. Despite not scoring a goal in their first power play of Tuesday’s game, Dallas demonstrated that they could keep up the pressure and attack from multiple angles. The Stars spent a majority of the man-advantage in the offensive zone and cycled through two units that looked dangerous, with only some flashy moves from Thomas Greiss to keep them from scoring. The first unit from Dallas was no surprise, and featured the following configuration:

Alexander Radulov
Miro Heiskanen – Joe Pavelski – Denis Gurianov
John Klingberg

Again, no surprise in the frenetic but measured pressure and chances from those five. What was really intriguing was head coach Rick Bowness’ choice for the second unit:

Radek Faksa
Tanner Kero – Justin Dowling – Ty Dellandrea
Esa Lindell

While watching the power play, it took me a few seconds to realize that the lines had changed on the ice and the second unit was swarming at the net. On paper, I wouldn’t have suggested, or even banked on, that particular configuration off the Dallas bench, especially in the first big opportunity of the game. However, the young Stars proved my hesitation wrong and eased my injury-induced worries. They didn’t let Detroit break up too many of their passes, set up a decent cycle, and nearly clawed their way through the screen of Detroit players for the goal. While the power play didn’t result in a goal, it did result in a better understanding of Bowness’ burgeoning trust in his younger players. It also served as a reminder for the rest of us to give the young kids a chance (when many of us would have gone for more experienced playmakers).

Reminder to the Stars to keep giving the rookies more opportunities and time on ice.

Reminder No. 2: Patience, Young Padawan

Detroit scored 11:37 into the first period. Dallas scored 5:27 into the second. That’s a spread of just about 14 minutes between the two goals. In seasons past it would have been common — and at a certain point was expected — for Dallas to react, well, poorly to an early goal against and subsequent trailing in the score. Oftentimes, half the battle was mental when trying to erase a goal deficit for the Stars. No matter the circumstances of the goal, something about it seemed to affect the bench and send them into a slow-motion tailspin through the remainder of the game. That manifested usually in taking unnecessarily risky chances in key plays, committing to poor setups, and overthinking the pass instead of the best path to the net. It also meant that the Stars would “turtle” earlier than the third period in the game, their play turning cautious and small as they attempted to hold the scoreline back from growing any worse, instead of making bold plays to even things out.

Last night’s game against the Red Wings was a different version of the Stars. Just as they didn’t turtle in the second game against Nashville after Nashville’s two goals, Dallas didn’t go into a cringe-worthy tailspin after Detroit’s goal in the first period. Instead, they remained consistent in pressure and attitude. The key was not giving up in the mental half of the battle. It would have been all too easy for the Stars to go back to former bad habits and hunker down to just grind out a 1-0 loss, or commit errors that would have led to a bigger gap in the scoring by the end of the game. They didn’t do any of that in the 14 minutes between Vladislav Namestnikov’s goal and the one scored by John Klingberg.

The Stars brought clean passes through the neutral zone and uniform pressure around all angles of the net. They didn’t let interrupted plays or the ticking clock give them the yips. They held on to what had worked (and worked spectacularly well) in the two games against Nashville, knowing that if you bring the pressure, eventually, the puck will follow.

And follow it did. Klingberg’s goal was a laser of a shot from up high that was evidence of his uncanny ability to see through a dense scramble at the front of the net.

Reminder to the Stars to keep calm (but determined) and carry on.

Reminder No. 3: Toe (Drag) The Line

Overtime, for Dallas Stars fans, often elicits impressions of Michael Scott’s pained “No!” Not this time around. With 1:32 elapsed in overtime, John Klingberg sent the puck to Jason Dickinson, who was waiting high for the shot. His aim was true and that was it for the game. The Stars are now 3-0-0 to start the season. (Yeah, reading that sentence gives me a goofy grin too.)

And a large part of that was thanks to Klingberg’s excellent work in this game. The Stars wouldn’t have made it to overtime without his power-play goal in the second period. And they wouldn’t have won in overtime without his setup for Dickinson. On Monday’s episode of Stargazing, Wes and I talked about the truly breathtaking plays and passes created by John Klingberg through the first two games of the season. In each instance, he wasn’t scrambling or trying to ditch the puck while heading for the bench or going down; he was taking the time to create space for himself on the ice to build the right play at the right moment and in the right spot. This time, his toe drag in overtime helped him create that space so that he could dish the puck to a waiting Dickinson for the final word of the night.

And it was beautiful:

Reminder to the Stars that John Klingberg is some kind of (wonderful) magic.

The Stars play their second game against the Red Wings on Thursday, January 28th, at 7:30 p.m. CST.

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