After battling various in-game challenges and falling short to the Boston Bruins to open the 2019-20 season, the Dallas Stars are in St. Louis on Saturday for a showdown with the Blues. There’s another dose of early season adversity to deal with, but that’s nothing new for this team.
If you had to describe the Dallas Stars‘ 2019-20 season opener against the Boston Bruins in one word, which one would you choose?
Gut-wrenching, weird, disappointing, or aggravating may come to mind when weighing this question. But at the end of the day, the word unexpected just serve as the best choice.
There’s no debating that the Bruins are a high-caliber opponent for any team to host when opening its regular season. The 2019 Eastern Conference champions finished last season one win short of the Stanley Cup and retained most of their talent during the offseason. They are a favorite to contend for the Cup in the Eastern Conference once again and came into Dallas with an “unfinished business” mindset.
And while they did put on a good performance and receive stellar goaltending from Tuukka Rask (especially in the final 30 minutes), the Stars didn’t do themselves many favors. A large reason behind that was the unexpected punches they were dealt throughout the first few minutes of the game.
As they did for the majority of the 2018-19 season, the Stars once again looked lackadaisical and out-of-sorts in the first period. They only registered four shots on goal, committed two penalties, and fell into a 2-0 hole on the scoreboard less than six minutes into the game.
But then, the unexpected began occurring. Blake Comeau was hit in the face with a puck near the end of the period and landed awkwardly on the ice. While trying to stop the bleeding, the forward was helped off the ice by Andrej Sekera and Alexander Radulov and did not return for the remainder of the game as a result of a lower-body injury.
As the second period began, it became apparent that forward Jason Dickinson was not on the Dallas Stars bench. A few minutes later, it was announced that he had suffered an upper-body injury in the first period and would not return to the game.
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Finally, as the midway point of the game approached, defenseman Roman Polak ran into the boards awkwardly and fell to the ice. He remained motionless for a few minutes while being attended to by the medical staff and was eventually stretchered off the ice and taken to the hospital for further evaluation.
In a span of less than 30 minutes of game action, the Stars lost three starters to injury and were forced to play the remainder of the game with a shortened bench. That’s one unexpected way to start the 2019-20 season. And while Dallas still found a way to be the better team in the final 30 minutes, they couldn’t add onto a Roope Hintz tally midway through the second period and fell 2-1.
As the postgame media scrums began, the primary topic of discussion revolved around the statuses of Comeau, Dickinson, and Polak. And after providing an update on each injured player, Stars head coach Jim Montgomery was asked about how the mass of injuries would affect the team’s game plan. After all, they were on the brink of a three-game road trip that began with a showdown against the defending champion St. Louis Blues.
“It’s life in the NHL,” Montgomery said straightforwardly. “Next man up. We went through it all of last year and we’re a resilient group. We’re a deep organization and we’re going to be okay.”
That’s a calm answer for a coach whose team plays 11 games in the first 18 days of the regular season, with opponents like St. Louis, Washington, Calgary and Pittsburgh all making appearances on the schedule. And when considering that all three players will miss at least one week of action, there’s definitely room for nerves.
But Montgomery isn’t worried, and for good reason. After all, his team has been through these challenges before.
Rewind to Nov. 10, 2018. The Dallas Stars had just navigated the first month of their 2018-19 season and had done so on a decent note. They were 9-6-1 and had found a way to down some impressive opponents. Montgomery was off and running in his first season as an NHL head coach and everything seemed to be going well.
But as the Nashville Predators came to town on that Saturday afternoon, the Stars were in a tough spot injury-wise. John Klingberg had broken his hand two nights before and was out for multiple weeks. Roman Polak was ill. Connor Carrick had an ankle injury. Marc Methot couldn’t get over a knee injury from the season before. The status of Stephen Johns was still up in the air as he dealt with post-traumatic headaches. And finally, Alexander Radulov was inactive with an injury.
As a result, the Stars were missing four of their top six on defense and were forced to run with a makeshift crew. Julius Honka slotted onto the top pairing with Esa Lindell. And in the bottom four, Miro Heiskanen led a group composed of Ben Gleason, Joel Hanley, and Dillon Heatherington as the Stars tried to make their blue line work against one of the best teams in the NHL.
And while they couldn’t protect a late lead, they salvaged a point in overtime.
That was an important game for the Dallas Stars. It showed that the team could not only run with one of the best teams in the League, but that they could do so without a handful of their best players. The Stars showed resilience and determination, and proved that they could succeed even with their backs against the wall.
And though it only took one game this time around, the Stars are back against the wall with an early-season challenge on their hands.
After a handful of call-ups on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, Dallas had this look at morning skate in St. Louis:
Joe Pavelski – Roope Hintz – Alexander Radulov
Andrew Cogliano – Rhett Gardner – Nick Caamano
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen – Andrej Sekera
In addition, the team also recalled defenseman Joel Hanley and forward Joel L’Esperance on Saturday morning. Neither will play on Saturday, but both will be options for Jim Montgomery going forward.
It’s a big night for the Dallas Stars. Caamano and Gardner will make their NHL debuts. Faksa is skating on the top line. Hintz will look to build on an impressive first game and help lead the charge on a second line of talented veterans in Pavelski and Radulov. Thursday’s fourth line of Janmark, Dowling, and Gurianov will now skate in a third line role. Bishop will look to rebound after giving up two goals on the first two shots faced against Boston and finishing the game with a .900 save percentage.
“It was a tough start for me. Those are two that I would like to have back. I kind of lost Ritchie’s and it kind of surprised me, but it’s a bad goal. And then on the power play, it was a pretty good screen but is still one that I would like to have. I thought we did a good job of staying in the game and I was kind of able to find my feet there. I thought we played well. In the third period, Tuukka played unbelievable and we had a lot of good chances there. We made a really good push and had a really good opportunity, but Tuukka kind of stood his ground there.” –Bishop on his performance against Boston
It’s only been one game, but the Dallas Stars are already being forced to manage a strong dose of adversity. They start a three-game road trip against the 2019 Stanley Cup champions on Saturday and will have to do so without three of their starters.
But this is nothing new for the Stars. They have been through tough doses of adversity before and have managed to succeed in the face of various challenges. Saturday will require resilience and determination from Dallas, and they know that. Thursday was an odd start to the season with some unexpected occurrences and a lot left to be desired from the Stars’ efforts (particularly on offense).
Saturday presents a chance to bounce back and do so in a tough situation.
That’s life in the NHL.