The Dallas Stars have played teeter-totter hockey the past handful of games, going 1-3 in their previous four tilts headed into Tuesday’s home game against the Los Angeles Kings.
At 5-3-1 in their first nine games, the Stars were coming off one of their two worst periods of the season as they collapsed in the third period against a stout New York Rangers squad en route to a 6-3 loss on Saturday, Oct. 30.
Dallas’ lackluster third period in a 4-2 loss to Ottawa also spelled the Stars’ demise in frustrating fashion.
With that three-goal third period against the Rangers as the sour taste in their collective mouths, the Stars were able to put that in the rearview mirror with a resounding response by way of a 5-2 victory over the Kings.
Dallas did so by taking care of some of its biggest early-season concerns. The Stars’ special teams were elite. The power play was nearly unstoppable, going 3-for-4 with power-play goals from the Avengers trio of Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson and Joe Pavelski.
Their penalty kill was 2-of-3, but the Stars did a good job not taking as many penalties, which pays dividends for several facets of their team.
Dallas came into Tuesday’s game with the fifth-most penalty minutes per game at 11.3. Simply put, Dallas has been one of the most penalized teams this season and while the Stars’ penalty kill ranked fifth in the league headed into play, the ramifications have bled into other areas of their game. The Stars’ delinquency has taken them out of their flow and limited their ability to roll four lines – something head coach Peter DeBoer expressed in the post-game press conference on Bally Sports Southwest.
“We want to be a four-line team,” DeBoer said. “We want to come at you in waves. We need four lines to be able to play the way we want to play with the kind of pace we want to play with. And when you’re out in front, it’s easier to do that obviously, but we earned the goals we got. We earned the lead we got and that allowed us to get everybody out there.”
The Stars certainly did earn the goals they got and for the first time this season, the offense was able to take the pressure off goaltender Scott Wedgewood.
In Wedgewood’s first two starts of the season, Dallas managed just two goals a game in what were road losses against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.
While it was just a 1-0 lead for Dallas after the first period, the Stars flat-out dominated the Kings. They peppered Kings goalie Cal Petersen with 19 shots and were able to capitalize on their first full power play of the game as Jamie Benn sent a succulent saucer pass from behind the goal line to Hintz, who ripped a one-timer snap shot that beat Petersen’s glove into the top-left corner of the goal.
Dallas’ first four goals of the game were all located in that top-left corner as it seems the coaching staff noticed a hole in Petersen’s game and made a conscious effort to expose it.
The Kings came out firing in the second stanza with the first three shots of the game, but Wedgewood made some sturdy saves to nullify the Kings’ early push.
However, Carl Grundstrom was sprung for a breakaway and while Wedgewood made a spectacular save, Kevin Fiala was able to corral the rebound and pump it past Wedgewood into the open net to tie the game 5:21 into the second.
Jamie Benn, who played his best game of the season with two assists and seven shots, drew a hooking penalty with 11:36 left to put Dallas on its third man-advantage of the game.
Dallas found paydirt for the second time just 37 seconds into the power play as Robertson’s one-timer from the right point found the top-left corner of the goal to restore the Stars’ advantage at 2-1 with 10:59 left in the second.
The Stars weren’t done either. Just 1:16 later, Tyler Seguin turned back the clock and embarrassed Alexander Elder’s diving pokecheck with a slick toedrag before roofing it past Petersen’s glove.
Seguin’s third goal of the season was of the highlight-reel variety and if you had to produce a snapshot of the skill that Seguin brings to the table, this goal would be towards the top of ones to consider.
Dallas continued to locate the top-left corner as Hintz was shot out of a cannon for a breakaway just 14 seconds later. Hintz wired his wrister past Petersen to extend Dallas’ lead to 4-1.
Those three goals came in a span of 90 seconds and showed that Dallas’ offense is capable of catching fire in a hurry. If Dallas can continue to replicate that instant offense throughout the season, they’re going to be a major problem for their opponents. The challenge for Dallas will be replicating that over the course of an 82-game season and for its depth to supplement the scoring of its top-end talent.
The Kings didn’t give up and showed some mettle for a team on the second night of a back-to-back. After Nils Lundkvist was called for a boarding minor, Arthur Kaliyev found a rebound in the slot and sent it past the diving Wedgewood to cut the lead to 4-2 with 5:23 left in the period.
That goal seemed important for the Kings to stay connected, but the Stars weren’t done making the Kings’ penalty kill pay.
Heiskanen, who made his return to the lineup after missing three games against Boston, Washington and New York, drew a slashing penalty with 2:03 left in the second and it didn’t take but 40 seconds for the Stars to capitalize. Robertson found Jamie Benn in the slot and he kicked the puck to Pavelski, who backhanded it into the yawning net to put the Stars back up by three goals at 5-2.
Heiskanen was plus-2 on the night with two assists, but was on the ice for all five goals the Stars scored. You think Dallas missed him?
Dallas didn’t allow many grade-A chances in the third period Wedgewood wasn’t forced to make any desperation saves.
Circling back to the Stars’ meltdown against the Rangers, it was a nice shut-down frame against a tired Kings team and is a nice feather in Dallas’ cap that it can play low-event hockey if it wants to.
With Jake Oettinger on the mend with a lower-body injury and Dallas forced to sign Texas Stars goalie Matt Murray to an entry-level contract due to salary cap complications to backup Wedgewood, the 5-2 win was a good start to Wedgewood’s tenure as the proverbial number one goalie.
As the Stars head out on a three-game road trip against Arizona, Edmonton and Winnipeg, it will be interesting to see if Murray sees any playing time.
Dallas moved to 6-3-1 on the season and 3-1 at the American Airlines Center – a place the Stars have shined for a very long time – but the Stars are just 2-2-1 on the road and the matchups against Edmonton and Winnipeg are sure to test their newfound offensive mindset. There could be some 6-5 games in their future. Of course, former head coach Rick Bowness will surely have other designs with the two teams clashing for the second time this season on Nov. 8.
While it is just 10 games into the season and still a bit too early to make sweeping statements, Dallas has shown it is embracing the new style of play while still harkening back to some of its defensive roots from a season ago.