Dallas Stars hit the road, Hurricane(s) ensues

If you tuned in this past weekend you do not need a thesaurus to know the Dallas Stars were – at times – flighty, misguided and tempestuous. OK, I did grab the thesaurus for that last one. However, I felt strongly that I needed a fitting adjective to drive home the mood following the Dallas Stars first back-to-back contests of the 2020-2021 season.

Save the final thirty minutes and change of the second contest, Dallas did not look like the squad that opened the season at American Airlines Arena.

Skipping any possible excuses, the Carolina Hurricanes are the team I was least excited for the Dallas Stars to draw in their makeshift Central Division this shortened season. Nothing has changed, for me. I see that the Florida Panthers remain the lone undefeated team in the NHL and certainly no one reading this needs a refresher on the Tampa Bay Lightning but Carolina is built to last.

They are free of the binds of their default Metropolitan Division. No Penguins. No Flyers. No Capitals.

Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour is a rising star in the coaching carousel. If you tuned in, you undoubtedly caught his mask-adjusting outbursts on the officiating a number of times throughout this series. While I prefer Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness’ nightly impressions of Bernie Sanders at the Inauguration; the coaches fiery disposition appears to embolden his team on the ice. More power to them. Someone reach out to the North Carolina National Weather Center (this is undoubtedly made up) and suggest their first hurricane of the upcoming tropical season be named Rod. Genius.

This was to be a magnificent weekend in Stars land. Return of the captain, getting the boys back together, if you will. Blake Comeau returned for his first two contests of the season to morph the Stars third line back into the hard-nosed FCC (Faksa, Comeau, Cogliano) line of last year’s glory. Jamie Benn accrued ice time for his first outing since opening night, rounding out Rick Bowness’ choice first line alongside Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov. However, in spite of these additions, on ice chemistry was turbulent. Tempestuous, even.

Enough noise; let’s get to the reality of it.

Saturday; 1-4, Regulation Loss to Carolina

In telling manner of the outcome, the Stars netted eleven shots on goal in this one. Fewest in a contest in club history since the Dallas Stars, well, became the Dallas Stars prior to the 1993-1994 season. This immediately led me to think; what would be the most effective way to communicate to the masses in Stars land this level of defeat? Then it struck me. All you parents, get ready to relate.

It was alike to watching my nine-year-old son tough out a game of NHL 2020 on his Playstation at any difficulty level not denoted rookie. He always gets out shot. He turns the puck over at a historic rate. At the same time dominating the physicality of the contest. This is where I generally have to follow up with a lecture on the difference between a productive fore-check and a level of physicality that pushes players out of position and eventually behind the play. This must have been an unpleasant, stern conversation for head coach Rick Bowness and staff following Saturday’s contest.

Five penalties.
Three power play goals allowed.
Khudobin chased.
Eleven giveaways.
Thirty-eight hits. I repeat, thirty-eight hits.

As I touched on in my rambling previously, the Dallas Stars were unable to get their fore-check working from tip-off. Carolina out-skated the Stars into the majority of their game leading penalty minutes. It was the Hurricanes adept vision and teamwork that won the night. Unbridled through middle ice and across the Stars blue line with the puck on their sticks, time after time. In retort, Dallas responded by hitting for the penalty cycle; tripping, slashing, hooking and interference.

In the spirit of keeping this game one coverage to a minimum; let’s turn this game one wrap over to a fitting game time quote from Stars head coach Rick Bowness.

“A little bit of everything,” Bowness said, trying to explain the loss. “We had nobody home. Jake was great when we put him in. Other than that, there’s not one guy that I’m going to sit here and tell you played well.”

Sunday; 3-4, Shootout Loss to Carolina

This one certified for me that the Dallas Stars were experiencing a touch of rust in their first road game of the 2020-2021 season. In Dallas, the city was a buzz with fans, family in the stands and new hardware in the rafters. Also, the Detroit Red Wings. In Raleigh, all that awaited was COVID tests and a hotel room. Bubble flashbacks, anyone?

Welcome back Jamie Benn. He helped.

It would take Dallas the entirety of this one to reach forty shots for the weekend. While a two-game average of twenty shots does little to excite, it sure beats a single game average of eleven.

With a tick over 12 minutes left in the second period, Benn rung the opposing pipes and garnered an assist as fellow Jamie, defenseman Jamie Oleksiak cleaned up the loose puck for his second tally of the season.

Just like that, all seemed right in Stars land once again. Dallas would find their legs and their fore-check from here and score three consecutive goals.

This is where the Dallas Stars skill-set feels most comfortable to operate. Pucks dumped in down the boards, thanks to an effective fore-check, not controlled across the blue line on the stick of the opposing player. Much of their offense comes from not only behind the opponent’s net but from behind their own. Rotating behind their own net with the best of them in the NHL. Defenders and forwards alike.

Now, after talking about the Stars defensive acumen, I would be remiss in not mentioning that this game was sent to an eventual overtime shootout off a blue-line control crossing bullet off the stick of Nino Niederreiter with just minutes remaining in regulation. Glove side, high on Khudobin. An area of concern for ‘Dobby’ headed into this road series.

Statistic Focus

Each series wrap I like to look at a singular, less consequential statistic with need moving forward. This week, we are looking at face-offs. 
Without puck-drop catalyst Tyler Seguin, maintaining a respectable face-off success rate in 2020-2021 has been challenging for the Dallas Stars. There was talk in the off-season of inking an experienced forward, talks that were not brought to fruition. This past season, Seguin hauled at a rate of 58.2%, good for tops in the Pacific Division and third in the National Hockey League of players tallying 800 total tries.

To close the Carolina series, Dallas is reporting face-off success at a clip of 43.9%. With the return of Jamie Benn, the situation becomes less dire, but is still leaking none the less.

Two to watch:

While Radek Faksa has not been known throughout his career as a face-off wizard, he shouldered the weekend load at a clip of 65%. Totaling 29 tries. Impressive.

As Youngster Ty Dellandrea continues to build his stamina, the Stars need to get him into the face-off circle at a higher frequency. He raked in the Ontario Hockey League last season to a clip of 59.1%. Tallying over a thousand face-offs taken. Garnering him honors of fourth in the league. His current 2020-2021 tally is 50.0%.

In total, Sunday’s effort for the Stars was more in line with the product that is expected of this roster. Would like to see it on the road for sixty minutes, rather than thirty-two and change when the Dallas Stars travel to Columbus tonight to face the Blue Jackets.