Game 1 of 08-09 for Dallas (frikkin CBJ)
Well, amazingly enough, the Stars' first home game of the season turns out to be a loss.
After some insane trading of goals in the 3rd period, Rick Nash won the game for the Blue Jackets with less than a minute left in overtime.
Here's some of the things I noticed last night (rough notes translated from my phone).
- Dave Tippett on the Stars' play during the pre-season: Our record wasn't that great, but we use the pre-season to test our younger players and now that the season has started, the guys know that it's time to get serious.
- The opening ad for the Dallas Stars' 08-09 season was awesome. It spent a lot of time focusing on how important the fans are the team, which is something the entire NHL needs to focus on.
- I haven't noticed it before, but the fan tradition of shouting 'Stars!' every time the word 'star' or 'stars' comes up in the national anthem is awesome. Some people might criticize Stars fans for not respecting the national anthem, but I think it's just another great way to show team spirit. If the Kelowna Rockets sang the U.S. national anthem before games, it'd be great for their fans to shout 'Rockets!' if they wanted to.
- Right off the bat, both teams were playing rough and fast, which is exactly the kind of hockey I love. Players like James Neal, Jason Chimaera, Loui Eriksson, and others showed exactly why their foot-speed got them to the NHL, especially on several break-away chances for Eriksson and on Neal's tip-in goal.
- The Stars really seemed to control the puck well throughout the whole game, and although they ended up losing in OT, it was due to the passing skill of the team, and Mike Ribeiro's puck-handling skill for the tying goal, that let the Stars stay in the game after going down 1-0 and 4-2.
- Dave Tippett went with these lines up front: Morrow-Ribeiro-Ott, Lundqvist-Richards-Eriksson, Avery-Modano-Neal, and Barch-Petersen-Crombeen. The idea of having at least one defensive/enforcer-type player on each line (Ott, Lundqvist, Avery, and the entire fourth line) seemed to work fairly well for the Stars. I was especially impressed by the play of Neal, Avery, and Modano. The three players, each of whom play differing styles, clicked really well. Modano's speed, although limited at his age, and passing skill seemed to work with Neal, whose crash-the-net scoring style has many hockey experts thinking "Morrow pt. 2." Avery provided a sort of bodyguard presence, getting into several shoving matches, but at the same time, his unpredictable offensive abilities would occasionally kick in and give the Stars a good scoring chance.
- Brenden Morrow's offense was at it's usual level; he hit the post on one play, had several shots, and ended up scoring the tying goal in the second period to make the score 1-1.
- The first power-play unit of Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro, Modano, Stephane Robidas, and Brad Richards didn't connect on its first opportunity, and it looked like they had a little trouble moving the puck around. The Stars do need to work on their power-play a little, but it usually ends up with midde-of-the-pack numbers, and an annually strong penalty kill will help even out the rough patches. The second chance for the power-play was strong though, with Morrow scoring a goal.
- The defensive pairs of Grossman-Robidas, Fistric-Boucher, and Niskanen-Daley were a little interesting to me. I think Tippett was trying to go younger players with more experienced ones, but I'm not too sure that the lines were as strong as they could be. However, Nik Grossman and Robidas were a solid pair all of last season, and looked alright tonight. Robidas is still consistently becoming a two-way defender, and he looked good assisting on Neal's goal. Mark Fistric and Phillipe Boucher made a real nice shut-down pair, but Fistric is still young, and may need a little more time in the minors, whereas Boucher is still coming back after an injury-filled 08-09 season where he only got into 32 regular season games.
- Loui Eriksson continues to impress me with his offensive play. He didn't score last night, but had several break-away chances, and was on top of the puck all night, battling hard in the corners, and doing his best to give the Stars some offense. He'll be another great Stars winger, and the announcers (Ralph and Razor are still great) even compared him to Jere Lehtinen.
- Marty Turco was solid, despite giving up 5 goals. He had several incredible saves during the game, and it's hard to believe that he won't have another amazing year.
- Sean Avery played his usual style, getting up in players faces. When I first hear that the Stars had signed Avery, I had thought it was pointless. We already had Morrow, Steve Ott, and Krys Barch bringing a tough physical presence to the team, and even rookie B.J. Crombeen fights a lot. However, Avery's pest factor is something that he's practiced for a while. I still see him as very similar to Steve Ott, as each player can fight, get in the other team's face, and occasionally back up his actions with a goal or an assist. However, I think Avery will fit in pretty nicely with the team, and he should have a good year.
- I was very surprised to see a lack of Fabian Brunnstrom in the lineup. I mean, obviously Neal and Crombeen are talented young players, but I was really into all the hype that the entire NHL was giving to Brunnstrom. However, if he couldn't secure a roster spot straight out of camp, he may just turn into another undrafted free agent out of Europe who can't secure an NHL job. I really hope he doesn't.
- Mike Modano really seemed to slide in the third line role without a problem. He's been one of the better defensive forwards in the NHL for a long time, and even at his age, he can bring the speed and passion that many Stars players don't.
- Jakub Voracek looked really good on the ice for a rookie. Even though the only people to originally catch his first NHL goal were the Stars play-by-play men, anyone could see that he can play smart offensively. His positioning and timing for that goal seemed like those of a seasoned veteran, and he'll probably be a great NHL player. It was funny to hear the ref say that Voracek's goal was "good" before confirming that it was an actual goal. I'm not sure if he was just stating his own opinion, or if he just thought that it was a goal, but I got a laugh out of that.
- Krys Barch and Jared Boll had one heck of a fight during the first period:
I am probably one of very few people in the hockey world that likes Krys Barch. I know he'll probably be a pure fighter for the rest of his NHL days, but he's just one of the guys I enjoy watching fight. He's got that killer 'grab-hand jab' that we'll probably be seeing used by a lot of NHL players this year, and he's not bad with his other hand either. Boll and Barch had another fight last year, which Boll completely dominated, to be honest. I'd definitely call this second one a win for Barch, so they're even for now. I'll try and keep track of their record if they fight again this year.
- The Blue Jackets will definitely have a more physical blue-line, led by Mike Commodore. Sean Avery got absolutely creamed entering the offensive zone from a clean check by Commodore, and we'll probably see a lot more Commodore hits as the season progresses.
- Stephane Robidas can just click with anyone. On one penalty kill, he rushed the puck into the Columbus zone and almost combined with Joel Lundqvist for a short-handed goal. Pascal Leclaire, who's on his way to becoming a premiere goaltender, stopped Lundqvist on that play, and had several other crazy saves, including one with the chin of his facemask.
- James Neal's first NHL goal came off of a great deflection, and it only helped prove that he'll be another Brenden Morrow-type player.
- Kristian Huselius showed that he can provide plenty of offense, capitalizing on a poor rebound left by Turco, and just pounding it in the net. Rick Nash, you're not alone.
- The Stars definitely had some trouble with their defensive coverage; Andrew Murray's goal only came about because he was wide open right in the middle of the ice. The Blue Jackets forward (I can't remember who) made a smart pass, and Murray had all the time in the world to pop a backhander past Turco.
- Rookie Derick Brassard scored his first goal of the season (he had a goal in 17 games last year), and that nearly toppled the Stars there and then. Right after Murray's goal, Brassard picked up the puck in the corner and made a smart move to, maybe even deliberately, bank the puck of a Stars defender and into the net past Turco.
- The Stars finally caught a break late in the third period, when Stephane Robidas took a slapshot in the point, and Brad Richards, in the typical power forward spot despite being more of a finesse player, had the puck bounce in off his shin and into the net.
- That break brought the life back into the Stars, and Mike Ribeiro proved how much of a leader he can be by out-skating and out-stick handling most of the Blue Jackets on the ice before making a nice pass to Trevor Daley, who slammed a one-timer past Pascal Leclaire to tie the game and eventually send it into overtime.
- The Stars were re-energized by both goals, and controlled the puck well during overtime. James Neal had a really nice opportunity, swooping into the offensive zone, but there were too many bodies in front of the net for him to get a good shot off. Mike Ribeiro's skilled puck control almost led to another goal to win the game, but to no avail. With 21 seconds left in the game, the Stars had one last fatal defensive slip that led to Nash's break-away game-winning goal.
Despite the loss, though, I think the Stars had a really good game. A lot of the forwards found their groove on a line, and the Stars brought back the combos of Morrow-Ribeiro and Richards-Eriksson, really good moves in my opinion. Hopefully, tonight against Nashville, the Stars can bring some better defensive coverage on the ice, protect the front of the net a little better, rush the offensive zone with the same intensity, and come out with a win. I'll be watch that game, and I'll let you know in a blog tomorrow how it turns out.