The Dallas Stars broke in the new season with an outbreak of COVID-19. The result was a two-week delay to the start of their season, as the NHL was forced to postpone the Stars’ first four games.
Practice Makes Perfect
What seemed, at the time, to be a serious detriment to the reigning Western Conference champions has instead put a spotlight on the importance of training camp. The Stars got off to their first 4-0 since 2010; they tied an NHL record with eight power-play goals through their first two games, and they look to be in mid-season form despite being down their top forward and top goaltender until at least mid-March.
All of these can be attributed to Dallas’ extra time to practice, prepare their younger, less experienced players, and work out the kinks that the rest of the league couldn’t in less than two weeks of training camp.
“We’re very happy with (our start) considering what we went through in training camp and the number of injuries we have to key players. You give the credit to the guys that stepped and filled in the void of the injured players. Every one of them has done a wonderful job. Every man we’ve asked to step in and do a job has done that for us.”
Stars Coach Rick Bowness, during his post-game press conference on NHL.com Thursday, following the Stars’ 7-3 drubbing of the Detroit Red Wings
Young Guns Making an Impact
On Thursday night, Detroit Red Wings’ defenseman Danny DeKeyser floated a seeing-eye shot from the blue line that found the back of the Stars’ net, turning what was once a three-goal lead earlier in the third period into a one-goal lead for Dallas with just under seven minutes remaining. It could have been a deflating goal for the Stars, who until then had yet to give up back-to-back goals this season and had only given up one third-period goal through their previous three games.
Less than two minutes later, Stars’ defenseman Miro Heiskanen collected a pass inside the Detroit blue line, skated in with his head up the whole way, and delivered a perfect backdoor pass onto the stick of Ty Dellandrea. The rookie went hard to the net and redirected the pass behind Red Wings’ goaltender Thomas Greiss for his first-career goal.
Dellandrea’s tally not only completely swung momentum in favor of the Stars, but it had to put a big smile on the face of Stars’ general manager Jim Nill.
And why wouldn’t he have one? After all, the 20-year-old Dellandrea was the 13th-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, while Heiskanen was taken third overall by the Stars in 2017. They join goaltender Jake Oettinger (26th overall in 2017), forward Denis Gurianov (12th overall in 2015), and forward Jason Dickinson (29th in 2013) on the 2021 Dallas Stars roster – all first-round selections under Nill’s tenure.
Drafting a Winner
Heiskanen enters his second full season with lofty expectations, having finished third among all scorers as a rookie in last summer’s 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 21-year-old Finn is logging close to 23 minutes of ice time per night, playing against teams’ top lines while regularly jumping into the play offensively, making life difficult for opposing defenses.
Dellandrea has a nose for the net, finishing with 70 points in 47 games in his final season with the Flint Firebirds (OHL). The speedy forward has two points in four games but has found other ways to make an impact. Through the first five games, Dellandrea is averaging just under 16 minutes of ice time per night, with three blocked shots, nine hits and a better than 50 percent win percentage in the faceoff circle, something many rookie centers struggle with early on (just ask Tyler Seguin).
The 6-foot-5 Oettinger was solid in his first career start on Thursday night. Oettinger, who saw only third-period mop-up duty between the pipes in the playoff bubble, made 20 saves on 23 shots against the Red Wings. None of the three goals were particularly Oettinger’s fault, although he may have been a bit out of position on DeKeyser’s tally. Oettinger has a big frame like Ben Bishop and will be relied on to pick up the slack every 2-3 games for starter Anton Khudobin while Bishop recovers from offseason knee surgery.
Special Teams Difference-Makers
With seven points in his first five games, Gurianov has shown signs that he can shoulder some of the load left by Seguin (who is recovering from offseason hip and knee surgery). Stepping up isn’t new to Gurianov. The Russian scored 20 goals in 64 games last season but made his biggest impact in the playoffs, scoring four goals – the franchise’s first in the playoffs – including the OT winner to eliminate the Calgary Flames in Game 6.
Two of his four goals this season have come on the man advantage, which has been red-hot for the Stars. The Stars’ power play hasn’t just been good; it’s been off the charts. Heading into Saturday night’s game with Carolina, Dallas had scored 10 times in 19 opportunities. That 52.6 power play percentage was tops in the league heading into the weekend and, while obviously early, ranks among the best percentages of all-time.
While the power play has received much of the praise through the first four games, the Stars’ penalty kill hasn’t been too shabby, either. Led by Dickinson and Radek Faksa (a 2012 first-round draft pick), the team has allowed five goals on 24 opportunities. Dickinson, a terrific two-way centerman, is one of the Stars’ best penalty killers, having already logged nearly 19 minutes of shorthanded ice time this season.
The Stars and their second-ranked power play will get their first real test of the season when they face-off against the Hurricanes and their third-ranked penalty kill during a Saturday/Sunday doubleheader this weekend in Raleigh, NC.