Stark Reminders: Time and Goals are a Construct

In the midst of a bonkers Eastern Conference matchup, the Dallas Stars provided the soothing (if boring) counterpoint.

So how about that goal by Brayden Point, eh? And don’t forget all those records that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets set during 150 minutes (and 27 seconds) of hockey yesterday. Which records? Is “all of them” the answer? No? Okay, well...

But I’m not here to analyze the absolutely bonkers game between the Lightning and Blue Jackets. Instead, I’ve got some thoughts to share on Game 1 between the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames that started — and ended — while Tampa Bay and Columbus were still playing in overtime.

In case you missed it last week in Episode No. 94 of our podcast, Wes and Robert tried to talk me into starting a new column that just delivers depressing facts and reminders about Stars hockey. The name? “Stark Reminders.” Well, after some thought — and the Stars losing yet another game — I decided to write the first “Stark Reminders.”

The game in Toronto may have proved that time is a construct (and given us all an existential crisis or two as a result), but the game in Edmonton proved that goals — the good, the bad, and the fluky — are also a construct.

Reminder No. 1: Hello? Anyone There?

The Stars allowed nine unanswered goals from the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights through to the final 31 seconds of their game against the St. Louis Blues. That shakes out to just about 140 minutes without a single goal by anyone on the Dallas roster. The forward corps were unable to mount a response when Vegas, the Colorado Avalanche, and St. Louis knocked on the door with repeated goals. Joe Pavelski’s literal game-saving goal against the Blues came from his wealth of experience in tight playoff situations over the years with San Jose, and from being in the right place at the right time. While his goal was technically an answer to the lone St. Louis tally by Robert Thomas, it looked — and felt — more like a desperation goal to extend the matchup into overtime, not the start of a 31-second comeback.

The opening 29 minutes of Game 1 between the Stars and Flames played out much like the round robin games in the past week. The one difference was that the Stars seemed to be playing with more cohesion and energy than they had in the seeding round. One can only hope that the lack of energy and cohesion in the round robin was due to the Stars wanting to save it for the actual first round of the playoffs. After Dillon Dube scored twice in the first period (more on that below), the Stars didn’t have a total defensive collapse. They kept grinding and eventually responded with two goals of their own. The two-goal response took 11 minutes (and one intermission) to master, which is far too long to let a two-goal lead stand in a playoff game against a physical opponent. The Stars needed to send a message to the Flames that they wouldn’t be pushed around. It just took them more than half a period to actually send that message. Not ideal in the playoffs.

While the goals by Dallas were as fluky as it gets (how many redirects and scorers, NHL?), they were at least goals and served to tie up the game. It was the first time since the second period against Vegas that Dallas looked dangerous and had their opponent off-balance. To have one game where a team can’t respond to goals by the opposition is not good. To have two games like that is bad. To have multiple games (and large parts of a season) where a team allows their opponent the lead and struggles to mount offense at the best of times? Yeah, that’s the ugly of this Spaghetti Western metaphor. And that has been the Stars’ modus operandi pretty consistently throughout this season and into the playoffs.

If the Stars want to win even a single game in this best-of-seven series, they need to respond to opposition goals, do so fast, and actually take the lead. Otherwise, this series will serve as an ugly, embarrassing collapse by a roster that looks loaded on paper but can’t hold onto the puck when they’re on the ice.

Reminder to the Stars to score early, often, and not turtle in the third period.

Reminder No. 2: Cue “Tunnel Vision” by Justin Timberlake

Realizing that a player is on “hatty watch” for a third goal can be pretty exciting — unless that player is on the other team. The Stars allowed Dillon Dube to score twice in a playoff game. The first goal happened on the power play for Calgary when Alexander Radulov spent two minutes in the penalty box for interference on Matthew Tkachuk. While the Stars were down a man on the ice, they still made the mistake of leaving Dube unguarded and in a prime scoring position.

A worrying trend has become apparent from the Stars’ games in the bubble. Like the best of us, they get “puck vision” and every player in a Dallas jersey becomes laser-focused on the puck and its movements, while forgetting to keep an eye on open players, scoring real estate, and blindspots around the net. That puck vision has resulted in several goals (see also: all four goals by Colorado) where the Stars never quite clocked the play their opponents were constructing in plain view in front of the net. Cale Makar’s goal in the round robin was a prime example of that. He’s a wizard with the puck and especially in the playoffs, which is something the Stars know and yet, thanks to that puck vision, forgot about it. (Don’t forget that Makar set a record in his NHL debut last postseason: a goal on his first shot during his first shift in his first NHL game and first postseason game at that.) The Stars made the error of leaving him high in the slot and it cost them the first goal of the game last week.

All of that to say that the Stars have an evident weakness and it is clear that the Flames did their homework while reviewing tape. They capitalized on this weakness and it allowed Dube to lurk in a perfect spot for a snap shot on a power play. Even worse, the Stars didn’t learn from the goal and left him unguarded yet again just over seven minutes later in the first period for his second goal of the night. That puck vision has hindered the Stars before life in the Edmonton bubble and it is going to continue unless they learn to keep their heads up on a swivel to stop opposition goals, and especially multiple goals by the same player.

Reminder to the Stars that it’s okay to not have your eyes glued on the puck.

Reminder No. 3: This Is How Offense Dies, Not With A Bang, But With...

A death by defensive construct. This reminder should come as no surprise to Stars fans after the last two seasons. Since Ken Hitchcock’s tenure as head coach (the second time), the Dallas Stars have undergone a restructure of playing style. The team, buoyed by offensive talents like Tyler Seguin, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, and Alexander Radulov, have pivoted to playing defense-first hockey. However, prior to the nine-game losing streak, the Stars were still capable of mounting comebacks. The Stars might have been fluky in goal-scoring consistency, but they at least could get the job done when it mattered.

In the last eight days, Stars fans have been witness to a total lack of offense in the forward corps, and indeed through the whole lineup. Seguin, Radulov, and the rest of the goal-scoring forwards have been missing in action despite being physically on the ice. A multitude of things goes into the reason the Stars couldn’t score, but it truly does boil down to the complete retooling of every player to focus on defense first and foremost. For a player like Seguin, still very much in his prime and a dangerous man with the puck, it means the almost total disappearance of the puck leaving his stick and hitting the net. For Hintz and Gurianov, it means their time to set up plays and follow through is diminished by laughably small time on ice in favor of “hold steady at this score” lines and defensive pairings. And for everyone else, it means a continual frustration about the hampered feeling of being forced to play a style of hockey that they weren’t trained for and clearly don’t excel in.

The lineups will have to change and the time on ice will definitely need to shift to allow the resurgence of offense by the Stars. Don’t expect the coaching staff to take the necessary steps for this. It will never happen in the bubble because this is the playoffs and every game is too important to sacrifice on fiddling with lines. If they were to take the first steps, it would most likely work wonders to give the young guns the lion’s share of shifts (close to the 20-minute mark), while shutdown lines and ineffective ones (like Benn & Co., and the fourth line) only see 10 to 11 minutes on the ice.

Or maybe the Stars need to shake it all off, loosen up, and have fun. Perhaps a good old-fashioned dance party might do the trick. (Don’t give me that look; I’m just spitballing here because nothing else has worked.)

Reminder to the Stars to support the rising goal-scorers with equal ice time.

Reminder No. 4: Red Letter Day

Bonus reminder — and it’s a good one! The Dallas Stars are good at hockey still! While Dallas’ two goals in Game 1 went in off odd bounces and redirects, they were still goals, which proves that the team does retain the confidence to take the shots and keep driving at the net. Not only that, the Stars also set a new franchise record in the process. It only took nine seconds for the Stars to score both of their goals, eclipsing the previous record of 14 seconds. Sometimes, all you need is T.J. Brodie’s hip pad, the NHL scorekeepers having no idea who actually scored the goals, and a bit of luck to set a record (and give your team a confidence boost). It definitely beats all the records from the game between Tampa Bay and Columbus — at least, I think so. A good record without the exhaustion and existential crisis about the function of time? I’ll take it. (Don’t act like you didn’t begin to question if time is a construct, if that game would ever end, and if a goal would ever happen when they went to the fifth overtime period.)

Two goals in nine seconds from the Dallas Stars? That’s a reason to celebrate...

And to hope for some more of that magic in Game 2 on Thursday.