Through the first three games of the 2019 preseason, the Dallas Stars once again find themselves struggling to score the puck. But, as it did throughout the 2018-19 season, their goaltending depth is stepping up to a new level to keep the team rolling.
The Dallas Stars entered Denver, Colorado on Thursday night in search of the second win of their 2019 preseason. It was the first of two scheduled meetings between the Stars and Colorado Avalanche on the preseason schedule and gave Dallas another look at a Central division opponent.
They succeeded in their mission, winning the game 2-1 and bumping their record to 2-1-0 before packing up and heading back to Texas. But they probably shouldn’t have won the game.
Dallas was outshot 47-23 in the game and only generated 13 shots on net in the final 40 minutes of the game. On the bright side, two of those shots found their way into the back of the net as Scottie Upshall and Michael Mersch scored their first goals of the preseason to help the Stars complete the comeback.
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Besides the late rally, though, the pace and tempo of the game was largely set and controlled by the Avalanche.
Is that a reason to worry about the 2019-20 Dallas Stars? Not really. Their Thursday night lineup was primarily built around names that wouldn’t be in Dallas on opening night. Besides Radek Faksa, Mattias Janmark and Jason Dickinson, the rest of the Dallas roster on Thursday was built on bubble players and prospects.
The Stars’ bigger names will begin working their way into the lineup on Saturday in Tulsa and by the time their preseason finale against Colorado next Saturday, the lineup should be close to what we’ll see on opening night against the Boston Bruins.
But the fact that Dallas was sizably outplayed on Thursday night is still a relevant factor to debate.
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The preseason has provided plenty of intrigue for the Stars so far. Through three games against Central division opponents, they have two wins. Both wins were by a final score of 2-1, with one coming in overtime and the other requiring a third period comeback. They were shut out by the St. Louis Blues in their sole loss.
The offense picked up where it left off in the 2018-19 campaign and continues to struggle with scoring (Dallas is averaging 1.33 goals per game). The defensive lineup has been a revolving door, with 14 different prospects playing in the first three games for Dallas.
Many of the young forwards on the roster bubble aren’t making a strong case to be included in the opening night lineup. The Dallas offense looks dysfunctional, with all four of their preseason goals coming on the rush or off of a forced turnover in the offensive zone. To top it all off, the Stars have been outshot 112-66 through the first three games. But let’s not forget that the preseason is still in session.
And yet, they are 2-1-0 and have a chance to secure six of a possible eight points in a six-day span when they meet the Florida Panthers in Tulsa, Okla. on Saturday night.
So, what’s the secret to their success even though their offense and defense are struggling to produce on a consistent basis? It’s the same secret that helped the Dallas Stars survive a slow start to the 2018-19 season and eventually punch their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Let’s talk about the Stars’ goaltending for a moment.
Through three preseason games, the Dallas Stars have used the services of five different goaltenders. The NHL duo of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin split playing time in Monday night’s game against St. Louis. Colton Point and Landon Bow split the crease in Minnesota. And in Thursday’s game against the Avalanche, Jake Oettinger and Bow took on the goaltending duties.
And through three games, not one of the five has posted a save percentage below .938 or a goals against average above 2.31. That’s an impressive feat, especially when you consider that these five make up the majority of the organization’s goaltending depth.
Now, this success in the crease has been a relevant story for the Stars since the beginning of the 2018-19 campaign. While the Dallas offense struggled to put up quality scoring help and finished the year 29th in league scoring (210 goals scored), the defense and goaltending efforts of Bishop and Khudobin helped the team stay afloat.
Bishop was nominated for the Vezina Trophy for his workhorse effort and posted the best save percentage and goals against average of any starting goalie in the league. Khudobin, on the other hand, received even less goal support in his starts but still managed to put up career-high numbers in 41 starts.
There’s a reason that 11 of the Stars’ 43 regular season wins in 2018-19 only required two goals or less.
Bishop and Khudobin started the preseason slate by splitting time against the Blues on Monday night. Bishop stopped 16-17 (.941) and Khudobin turned aside 15-16 (.938) while the Dallas offense failed to offer any scoring support in a 2-0 loss.
One night later, Point weathered an early push by the Wild in Minnesota and stopped 13-13, including a handful of quality chances. Bow subbed in and allowed one goal in the final 36:25 of regulation before helping Dallas to a 2-1 win in overtime. He finished the night 18-19.
Thursday night brought a new challenge for the Stars’ goaltending prospects as Jake Oettinger played in his first NHL game. The Avalanche threw an offensive assault at the 20-year-old, but Oettinger came up big and stopped 31-32 through the first two periods. Bow entered the game in the third and went a perfect 15-15 while Dallas tacked on two goals to complete the late comeback.
“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” said head coach Jim Montgomery after the game. “Oettinger was really impressive in his first NHL exhibition experience, and [Landon Bow] just continued on how good he was last game. Those two won us a game tonight.”
These five goaltenders make up the top five on the organization’s depth chart. And while Bishop and Khudobin have the two NHL spots secured, the rest of the list could be difficult to sort out. That’s because none of the goalies are cracking right now, regardless of the situation or opponent they face. That not only speaks to the validity of the Dallas Stars goaltending system, but also to its stability.
The Dallas Stars still have a lot to hammer out and plenty of decisions to make in the final week of their 2019 preseason slate. 35 more players must be cut from the roster, rookie forwards still have time to battle for an NHL spot, and four games remain on the schedule that the Stars can use to figure out their lineup in time for opening night.
While the scoring attack and offensive pressure may still need some polishing (though adding Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov to the equation will help), the goaltending is off to a red-hot start.
And when you consider how the organization’s crease has looked over the past decade, that’s a refreshing sign.