The Dallas Stars looked good on Monday in a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. And though it was a game that they were expected to win against a struggling team, their efforts established some necessary building blocks.
“Day off tomorrow,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got one day of practice [before Thursday’s game]. 11 games in 18 days, these guys have earned it. Maybe not because of our record, but because of our schedule.”
And whether you agree with it or not, he’s got a point.
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Through the first 18 days of the 2019-20 regular season, the Stars have played more games than any team in the NHL at 11. For the mathematicians out there, that’s a game every 1.64 days. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Dallas has already navigated its way through two back-to-backs (both of which involved a plane ride). They haven’t had more than one day of rest between games and will get their first opportunity this week. Seven of the games happened on the road, most of which were against the Eastern Conference.
And to top it all off, the Dallas Stars have been fighting the injury bug and inconsistent performances from their top players since opening night as they try and establish and latch onto an identity for their 2019-20 campaign.
It’s been a taxing and challenging road up to this point, and that’s why a day of rest is so important. It’s a chance for the Stars to spend a day away from the rink at their own homes after a week-long road trip. And while a 3-7-1 record seems to set the stage for extended practice time, the team needed a day off before returning to the ice on Wednesday.
A confident win on Monday night further reinforced that need.
After wrapping up a rough road trip on a high note with a 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, the Dallas Stars returned home to open a critical four-game homestand. Though the win brought a welcomed change of pace, kinks were still visible in the team’s play. They were still five games below .500, had yet to put on a full 60-minute effort, and couldn’t seem to get all of their cylinders firing at the same time. Their offense wasn’t scoring enough, the power play was a mess, and there wasn’t a sense of chemistry within the lineup.
But on Monday, that changed. The Stars welcomed a struggling Ottawa Senators to American Airlines Center and took control of the game from the opening puck drop. They fired 17 shots on net in the first period and found the back of the net when Radek Faksa deflected a shot by Taylor Fedun past Anders Nilsson. Dallas took a 1-0 lead into first intermission and kept their foot on the gas as the game continued.
“The encouraging part was that in the second,” Stars forward Joe Pavelski said, “it took us a little bit to get going, but we never really fell back into our old habits. There was good commitment from the group to play these guys down low, and we generated a lot of our chances off of it.”
The Stars tightened up defensively and outshot the Senators 11-3 in the second period. They drew three penalties in the middle frame (and five total in the game) and found the back of the net when Joe Pavelski cashed in on a rebound in the dying seconds of a 5-on-3 opportunity.
“Yeah, it [felt good],” Pavelski said about scoring his first goal on home ice. “It’s been a little tough that way, but just focus on the process and you’re going to get your chances. There’s been a few that have been close and to see that one squeak in there was nice.”
Dallas continued bearing down in the final period, drew another penalty, and hit a few posts as they controlled the pace and tempo with a 2-0 lead. And though Vladislav Namestnikov scored to end Anton Khudobin‘s shutout bid with 1:13 remaining in regulation, the Dallas Stars secured a 2-1 win to begin the homestand on a promising note.
“It was a good 60 minutes,” said Montgomery. “The only thing that we didn’t love was a couple of turnovers in the second period. Besides that, we played pretty relentless hockey, both defensively and offensively.”
It was a game of many firsts for Dallas. It was their first win on home ice this season. Pavelski scored his first goal as a Star at the AAC and Corey Perry played his first home game as a Star. Anton Khudobin picked up his first win of the year. It also marks the first time this season that the Stars have won two games in a row.
There was never really any doubt that the Dallas Stars would lose on Monday, and that’s a positive sign. Sure, the Senators finished the 2018-19 season in last place in the League standings and look to be in store for another disappointing year. It was a game that the Stars were expected to win, and they didn’t disappoint.
The Stars put a season-high 43 shots on goal, held the Senators to just 20 shots on goal and limited their time in the offensive zone, and looked like a well-rounded team. They were faster than the Senators, played a relentless style, generated plenty of scoring chances, and were sharp in the neutral zone and their own zone.
Simply put: they looked like the Dallas Stars team that everyone has waited 11 games to see.
“That’s the game that we are looking to play,” Khudobin said after the win.
It was a win that the Stars desperately needed. Not only did it help them take a step in establishing an identity, but it also showed them just how good they can be when everything clicks.
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But before you take this win against a 1-6-1 team and label it as “season-defining,” remember where the Stars are. They still sit four games below .500 at 3-7-1 and have a good chunk of ground to make up (especially considering they have played more games than any team and sit 11th in the Western Conference).
That’s where perspective comes into play. Montgomery elaborated on it following Monday’s morning skate.
“We’ve taken the position of glass half full. Everybody goes through a stretch where you’re 2-7-1 or 3-6-1. You’re also going to have a stretch where you go 7-2-1. That’s what we’re going to have to do just to get back to .500 and keep grinding the rest of the way.”
And even after Monday’s encouraging win, Montgomery’s message remained unchanged.
“I think we’re rounding into form,” Montgomery said. “But, it’s still only two games where we’ve played the right way. We have to continue to build on it, and we will.”
There is plenty of work left for the Stars to do as they roll towards the end of an unexpected and altogether frustrating October. But with five of their next six games happening on home ice and a handful of challenging opponents on deck, the time to avoid a step backwards and continue building forward is now.
“It’s encouraging, but it has to continue,” Pavelski said. “It’s a small sample size of what we’ve done right so far. It’s on us to continue with that and build off of it.”
The Dallas Stars established some necessary building blocks and built a nice foundation on Monday night. They were the much better team when they were supposed to be and displayed their strength as a complete, well-rounded unit. They proved to themselves that they can succeed and even dominate in games so long as the chemistry, energy, and efficiency is there.
The next step is to begin trending upwards on that foundation.
“Yes, and we have to keep building,” Montgomery said. “The blocks have to keep getting more square.”