The month of October is here, and that means NHL hockey is on the horizon. And with only hours separating the Dallas Stars from their first game of the 2019-20 season, the time for last-minute adjustments and tweaks is now.
The Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins are two nights away from opening their respective 2019-20 campaigns. And while both will look to get out on the right foot on opening night, it’s also an opportunity for both to begin living up to high expectations.
For the Bruins, the 2019-20 season serves as a chance to right their wrong after falling just short in the past year. After losing in front of their home crowd to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins entered the 2019 offseason on a difficult note. That feeling of going the distance and coming up just short tends to linger with a team for a while, and Thursday night offers them a chance to return to that stage and battle for a different result.
And for the Stars, the new season is an opportunity to take the next step. After failing to qualify for the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, Dallas hired Jim Montgomery in the summer of 2018 and retooled their roster in hopes of capitalizing on an already-talented lineup. And though they had to combat a slow start to the 2018-19 season, they ended on a strong note and pushed to Game 7 of the second round before falling in double overtime to the Blues.
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Mix the playoff success with a busy summer of adding talent and revamping the roster and there’s a high sense of expectations hovering around the 2019-20 Dallas Stars.
“I’m not worried about the expectations,” Stars GM Jim Nill said at training camp. “That’s put on by you guys. The media puts that on. The players inside know what they have to do. In the end, we have to come together as a team. We’re going to go through ups and downs. There’s going to be good times, but we might hit a six-game losing streak. How you respond and how you come out of those situations is going to decide how good of a team we are.”
“Expectations are always high for every team going into a fresh season,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “With the additions that we made, we know what we have in this locker room this year. We know what we can do out there on the ice and we built some confidence last year even with the ending that we did have. We’ve learned from it and hopefully we can build off of that.”
And while expectations can be both good and bad for a hockey team, the Stars are taking things one step at a time.
“You can talk about expectations and I think you can look at every team in our division and they have the same expectations as us,” said Stars goalie Ben Bishop. “You aren’t going to make the playoffs without getting through the first game of the season. If you start talking about the endgame without focusing on what’s in front of you, you’re going to get nowhere. The big focus is the first game of the season and then the second game of the season.”
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That all starts on Thursday against the Bruins. They get a high-caliber opponent in front of what should be a raucous home crowd and have a chance to stack up against one of the best teams in the NHL.
With that being said, the preparation in the days leading up to opening night are important. Not only can the team adopt a common mindset and get on the same page before the season begins, but coaches can also make last-minute adjustments to the scheme and lineup.
After beating the Colorado Avalanche in a shootout on Saturday to end their 2019 preseason on an encouraging note, the Dallas Stars took Sunday off before returning to the ice and practice on Monday. And over the past two days, practice has offered the team a chance to work on a little bit of everything regarding their game plan. That all starts with the lineup.
On both days of practice, the Stars have lined up the same way.
Considering the date and limited amount of practice time separating them from opening night, we can safely assume that this is how the Dallas Stars will look come puck drop on Thursday.
The team also announced its opening night roster on Tuesday afternoon. Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, Corey Perry, Taylor Fedun, Stephen Johns (IR) and Martin Hanzal (IR) round out the group in addition to the 18 names listed above.
The Stars spent a majority of Tuesday’s practice working on special teams, specifically their power play. Here’s how the two units lined up.
PP1: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz, John Klingberg
PP2: Radek Faksa, Justin Dowling, Alexander Radulov, Esa Lindell, Miro Heiskanen
Jim Montgomery spent much of the practice teaching proper formation and execution to his new units, but also knows that building chemistry on the power play is also the responsibility of the players.
“It’s the players taking ownership of it, communicating to themselves, and working on the little, subtle things,” Montgomery said after Tuesday’s practice. “We can give them a structure, but where they want the puck, when they want the puck, and their ins and outs when they’re under pressure, that’s up to them to discuss those little things. When they take ownership of it, you start to see more productivity.”
And so, the Dallas Stars continue to tweak, adjust, and make their final preparations for the Bruins and the rest of the 2019-20 season ahead. There’s a lot to take in and a lot that must be figured out, and that’s what these final few days and hours are all about.
The regular season is closing in fast.