“The moment you become embarrassed of who you are, you lose yourself,” Elliot Gould said as Reuben Tishkoff at the end of Ocean’s Thirteen.
The Dallas Stars are in the midst of an identity change to start the 2022-23 season. Hiring Peter DeBoer as head coach led to a philosophical transformation from Rick Bowness’s defensive-first mindset to an aggressive offensive approach that features players flying the defensive zone early and taking risks in the offensive zone. Fans have been clamoring for the paradigm shift and there will undoubtedly be growing pains, but it’s important to remember who the Stars are.
So, who are they? It’s safe to say we’re still figuring that out aren’t we?
Dallas began the season outright on fire, outscoring its opponents 13-3 in the first three wins of the season.
But the road trip hasn’t been as fruitful for the Stars as they’ve dropped three of four games, including the 3-1 loss at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Dallas has been outscored 12-10 during the road trip.
There’s no doubt that the Dallas Stars didn’t look like the formidable team they did in the first three games. Their offense has come up somewhat dry sans their five-goal onslaught of the lowly Montreal Canadiens, and their defense was in scramble mode throughout the majority of the road trip.
That said, it’s important to see the forest for the trees when it comes to the start of the season.
Let’s start with Tuesday’s tilt against the Bruins.
This game, the reason the Stars lost and perhaps the road trip overall, can be summed up relatively simply — too many penalties, a lack of execution offensively and that back-breaking goal by Taylor Hall at the end of the second period. Add in an incredibly sturdy performance from Boston goalie Linus Ullmark, who made 30 saves on 31 Stars shots, and the Stars just didn’t have enough bullets in the gun to compete with the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins.
Boston improved to 6-1 with the win and is a perfect 5-0 at TD Garden. These key facts have to be considered when evaluating the Stars’ performance.
Dallas rebounded after taking three penalties in the first period, the third of which the Bruins scored on.
Boston’s David Pastrnak absolutely spanked a one-timer past the left shoulder of Jake Oettinger. Forgive the sports cliche, but that was a goal scorer’s goal if there ever was one. There wasn’t much Oettinger could do to stop that rocket.
From then on, Dallas controlled much of the play and as the game progressed, it was the Stars that had the Bruins on their heels. Dallas outshot the Bruins 31-29 and was by no means outclassed by the Bruins.
Both teams were without some key players as the Bruins were without Brad Marchand and Charlie McCoy, while the Stars were missing lead defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who sustained an upper-body injury in the Stars’ 4-2 loss at the hands of the Ottawa Senators on Monday.
It was evident the Stars were missing that extra ounce of energy, but they weren’t without their chances on Ullmark.
Unfortunately, after a stellar first power play, the Stars struggled on their final two man advantages, including a prime opportunity with just under 13 minutes left in the game.
Dallas struggled to get into the Bruins’ offensive zone and when they did, they could not get set up consistently.
So let’s get back to our question — who are the Dallas Stars?
It’s still early. That can’t be overstated enough. Typically, you can start drawing conclusions on teams 15-20 games into the season, but of course, there will be hot takes to be had and aspects of their play to overreact to.
Let’s start with the core things we know so far:
The Dallas Stars are making a concerted effort to focus more on offense and that’s evident in both their structure and roster construction.
Look no further than 19-year-old Stars rookie Wyatt Johnston, who has goals in back-to-back games.
His second-period tally came from a dogged play and pass from Ty Dellandrea. Johnston buried his shot past the disheveled Ullmark and breathed life into Dallas’ game.
Johnston, perhaps famously by now, has nine games he can play in the NHL before the Dallas Stars will have to decide whether or not to keep him on the active roster or send him back to the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.
He’s seven games into his tenure with the Stars and let’s face it, he ain’t going back to the OHL. We all know it.
But he underscores the Stars’ philosophy change of giving the kids more opportunities in favor of some steady veterans. Essentially, the Stars are banking on his potential instead of counting on a veteran plateau. He’s made some rookie mistakes, but he also sports an incredible shot, a nose for the puck and a willingness to get to the dirty areas to score. Tuesday’s goal was a great example. You can see him go right to the net to find the loose puck before he’s able to beat Ullmark.
The Stars’ trade for Nils Lundkvist is another great example of their willingness to get younger, faster and more offensively lethal.
Dellandrea earned his spot on the roster, but trusting him to play as big of a role as he has seven games into the season shows Dallas has offense on its mind alongside the other traits that Dellandrea boasts. He’s tenacious on the puck, unafraid of contact and defensively reliable on top of perhaps his best asset — his speed. He was by far one of the Stars’ most effective players against the Bruins.
That brings us to the defense. While the jury is still out on the Stars’ defensive corps, as long as they have Oettinger and Scott Wedgewood in goal, they will be very hard to score against. The loss of John Klingberg hurts, but the Stars did a great job of adding two righties in veteran Colin Miller, who did not have a great game Tuesday, and Lundkvist.
So at 4-2-1 on the season, it’s been more positive than negative and while it’s clear it’s going to be a challenge to simultaneously be a high-octane offensive squad and a lockdown defensive team, there are a bevy of positives to take out of the first stretch of the season.
Despite a lackluster third period in the loss to the Senators, Dallas more than hung with some tough opponents in Toronto, Boston and Ottawa (yes that’s weird to say.)
People will try to poke holes in the Stars’ play so far and yes there are areas they need to be much better in (discipline with penalties we’re looking at you) and more consistent offensive execution, especially on the power play. Dallas will be tested defensively and there will be games that seem as if the Dallas Stars don’t possess the defensive chops, but let’s remember to heed the words of Reuben and not lose ourselves. This is an offensive team now. Let’s see if they have enough to battle with the big boys of the NHL.