It could have been worse, right? A 1-0 loss to a Calgary Flames team that touted the second-highest goal differential in the NHL this season is certainly not a death blow. Jason Robertson was inches away from tying the game when he hit the post in the second period and narrowly missed a cross-ice feed from Roope Hintz in the third. Jake Oettinger stood on his head all night. Micheal Raffl and John Klingberg picked fights to re-balance the physical game. Besides the lack of offense, the Stars were still competitive late in the third period. Here are my reactions from Game One.
The Stars’ defense was instrumental in blocking shooting lanes. Without John Klingberg, who was ejected after fighting during the first intermission, Dallas blocked 14 shots. This season, the Flames were the sixth-best scoring team, so blocking will be pivotal to extinguishing their offense. The only blemish to the defense is the penalty by Jani Hakanpaa at 4:56 into the first period. Hakanpaa caught Blake Coleman against the wall in the Dallas zone, with his stick connecting with Coleman’s head. Calgary would score five seconds into that powerplay.
Other than that, the defense seemed energized and largely kept up with the game’s pace. Both teams were down to five defensemen after Klingberg and Rasmus Andersson were ejected, but neither team scored in the remaining two periods.
Jake Oettinger is doing his best Ben Bishop impression in net. Oettinger has been instrumental in keeping games winnable this season, and it looks like it will continue into the playoffs. While the season is one thing, a successful playoff run will lead to a non-contested full-time starting job next season, which he is overqualified for at this point. Oettinger makes this team dangerous.
Coach Rick Bowness shuffled his lines so much last night in an attempt to get anything going. The most confusing change was splitting up his coveted top line of Hintz, Robertson, and Joe Pavelski. Bowness spoke highly of that line since the preseason and it was only broken up a handful of times during the regular season. The desperation must have been mounting for him to mix the line.
The Stars’ offensive struggles went deeper beyond personnel. Dallas had difficulty entering the Flames’ zone and couldn’t set the offense up after they penetrated. The offense suffered late in the game with less than two minutes to play. With Oettinger pulled, the Stars were winning battles against the boards as they tried to establish an offensive zone presence. As the puck went out to the point, the puck was fumbled at the blue line, and an offside call caused a faceoff outside of the zone. Tyler Seguin would lose that following faceoff, killing the final hope of a Stars’ comeback.
The Stars had five powerplays, rattling under ten shots across all five combined. The Stars tied the Flames in penalty minutes, which killed momentum for both teams. On Thursday, Bowness and the team have to re-evaluate the offense and special teams for Game 2.
“It’s clear our power play has to get clicking. That was a big issue for us,” Bowness said. “We need more pucks on the net. But the compete was there, the work ethic, everything was good.”
Jake Oettinger looks elite. He stopped only 25 shots, but the Flames dominated when it came to dangerous chances. Oettinger made great saves in open ice turning away shooters like Tyler Toffoli and Micheal Backlund. Oettinger held his own while on the penalty kill as the Stars fended off three Calgary powerplays in the second period. Oettinger kept Dallas in the game.
Micheal Raffl had a surprisingly great game. Brought in as a depth player in the offseason, Raffl has played well enough to start for the team. Not known for his scoring prowess, he is a good penalty killer and fine for the third and fourth lines. Raffl’s heroics came in the form of a fight against Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk laid a huge hit on Klingberg as the first period ended, with Raffl taking exception.
Tkachuk and Raffl squared off in the center of the ice. While Tkachuk quickly dropped the gloves and had an early advantage in the fight. Raffl stunned Tkachuk with a few punches. Tkachuk, in turn, couldn’t get a handle on Raffl and wrestled him to the ground in the midst of taking a few more hits. Raffl won the fight, and the Flames were somewhat subdued on the physical side for the rest of the game. Though he would be penalized for the fight, he stepped up when the Stars needed a leader.
I don’t think I heard Radek Faska or Denis Gurianov named anywhere in the broadcast. The amount of production from the lower lines has been a problem all season, but come playoff time, the Stars need players to produce. While Faska and Gurianov had their moments during the run to the Final in 2020, the two have been docile since. Faska has been replaced by Luke Glendening and Jamie Benn for faceoff opportunities, a trait that initially got Faska his long-term deal.
Gurianov saw a bump in ice time last season, as Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin missed significant time due to injury. Gurianov didn’t impress in 2021 and had a series of benchings this season.
Both players need to contribute more for the Stars to have a chance in the series. That is not a ding at their scoring, either. Dallas struggled with zone entry, zone time, and shots on net. Faska and Gurianov are more than capable of contributing to those three factors.
I know John Klingberg was sticking up for a teammate when he fought, and I did say that Raffl was a Game One hero because he fought, but Klingberg hindered his team when he was penalized with a game misconduct. After the Raffl fight, Klingberg and Rasmus Andersson squared off, causing the referees to kick both players out of the game.
While the Flames lost their top defenseman for the night, the Stars’ offense took the bigger hit in losing Klingberg. Last year, he led the team in assists and placed second to Joe Pavelski this past season. The Flames’ defense runs deep with talented players like Erik Gudbranson and Noah Hanifin. Both teams continued the game with five defensemen, so the Stars lost the bigger piece in that fight. Klingberg will need to keep his emotions in check for Game 2 on Thursday. He risks hampering an already flat offense.
Tips For Game 2
The Stars need to challenge Jacob Markstrom more. Markstrom led the NHL this season in shutouts. He has been a great addition to an already strong Calgary Flames team. Sixteen shots and less than a handful of dangerous chances will not win the series. The Stars need to get better at entering the Flames’ zone and setting up the offense inside the zone.
Keep Pavelski, Hintz, and Robertson together. If Bowness continues to shuffle his top line, he will hurt the team’s chemistry. Since the season’s first game, the one constant has been this top line, and juggling players around was nowhere near successful in Game One.
Have composure when dealing with the Flames. The Flames are considerably younger than the Stars, with Dallas having much more playoff inexperience. Notice how Andersson and Tkachuk were instigating fights. Calgary couldn’t stop committing penalties and probably hindered their scoring.
The Stars need their playoff experience from the previous year to help them get through the Flames. While players like Blake Comeau and Corey Perry are no longer on the team, Joel Kiviranta and Denis Gurianov played big roles in Dallas’ 2020 playoff run.
Dallas is still an underdog in the series, but more effort in Game two can tie the series before heading home. The Stars need a spark to solidify their prowess as a playoff team. Hopefully, the Stars can overcome the same shortcoming they faced in Game one. Game two is set for Thursday at 10 PM EST.