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3 (or more) thoughts on Stars-Predators and Devils-Red Wings
It was a busy night, so I picked two games to watch and write about.
The NHL schedule makers are terrified of NFL Sundays.
Particularly early in the season, the NHL will jam-pack a Saturday schedule to avoid any possibility of going head-to-head with NFL games on television.
And this weekend was the most extreme example of that. There were 14 NHL games on Saturday, there are zero on Sunday.
I decided to pick two of those 14 games to take a closer look at, covering the two markets where early on I’ve picked up the most readership for this substack: the Dallas Stars hosting the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings vising the New Jersey Devils.
The Stars won 5-1, and the Red Wings won 5-2. These are my thoughts. Also, please consider subscribing so we can continue to have fun like this.
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Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars
1. Dallas goalie coach Jeff Reese works on a scouting report that he gives to Stars shooters before each game.
I would imagine that the scouting report has something on Juuse Saros and shooting high stick side.
For the second straight game, the Stars scored on a breakaway where they picked the top corner on the blocker side. This time it was Roope Hintz, finishing a shorthanded chance.
Like the goal by Mason Marchment in Nashville, Hintz elected to shoot when he had all options available to him. Saros didn’t cheat glove side, like he did against Marchment, but he was seemingly prepped for a deke instead of a shot on the breakaway.
At this moment, for example, Saros still seems prepped to track a deke with either his left or right pad and not a straight-on shot.
Like Marchment in Game 1, Hintz scored a second goal against Saros in Game 2.
The second goal was a bit luckier, however, as an attempted pass back to Joe Pavelski deflected off Mattias Ekholm’s stick and directly through Saros’ legs.
Hintz is going to be a restricted free agent next summer, which means Stars fans are already freaking out about Jim Nill being too patient when it comes to signing the forward.
2. We could have just continued the prior point, because this relates to Hintz, but it’s nice to have a clean break from time to time in a story….
Hintz, Joe Pavelski, and Jason Robertson were the Stars’ best line last season, and will likely be the top-scoring trio this season as well.
And in the third period, Robertson scored an all-important goal, which should help put the lone worry about that line to rest.
There have been times when a player misses training camp, like Robertson did, or comes off a big contract extension that they struggle to live up to expectations right away. They go games without producing, and a small blip turns into an early season slump.
That was the one concern surrounding Robertson this season, and by scoring his first goal, and having a pair of assists, he’s already building proper momentum toward potentially another 40-plus goal campaign.
One of the great things about Robertson, and Pavelski for that matter, is their ability to become part of the fabric of the game without being flashy. They do their job in all three zones (sorry for the coaching cliche) and things are remarkably simple.
But when it comes time to convert around the net, to make the smart play, they always deliver. It’s a style that’s allowed Pavelski to play this well into his late 30s, and that should serve as the ideal template for Robertson to do something potentially similar with his career.
3. You often hear about players that are built for 3-on-3 hockey, but we don’t talk enough about players that are built for 4-on-4.
And Miro Heiskanen is one of the NHL’s best players at 4-on-4.
At 4-on-4, Heiskanen is willing to become more of a rover and additional winger, pushing the play through the neutral zone and continuing his way to the net instead of stopping around the blue line.
That’s how he scored in the second period to make it 3-0.
At even strength Heiskanen is more conservative, it’s one of my few criticisms of his game. I’d like to see him play at 5-on-5 more like he plays at 4-on-4.
4. I’m getting a bit sick of hearing various broadcasters referring to Tanner Jeannot primarily as a pugilist for Nashville.
Jeannot did lead the NHL in fighting majors last season, but he also scored 24 goals and had 41 points as a rookie.
The discussion about Jeannot should be more nuanced and directed more at his offensive performance.
Through 100 career games, Jeannot has a shooting percentage of 19.2 percent, which is unsustainable. For context, this is the top-10 active leaders in shooting percentage for players with at least 800 career shots.
So what will Jeannot be going forward? Is he a reliable goalscorer, or was it a bit of rookie luck? That’s the conversation I want to hear on the broadcast, not about how he dropped the gloves an inordinate amount of times.
5. Quantity vs. quality, right?
Nashville had the edge in shots, 30-22, but that was pretty much noise.
Jake Oettinger was good, but did you ever feel like he was heavily tested by Nashville?
This is one of those situations where the Natural StatTrick heat map tells a good story.
Detroit Red Wings at New Jersey Devils
(Ok, so technically the first note here was from Friday, but it’s still interesting).
1. On Friday morning, I asked Red Wings defenseman Moritz Seider, the reigning Calder Trophy winner, if he had any advice for Elmer Soderblom before the Swedish forward made his NHL debut.
“No,” Seider said. “I think it’s actually best if you don’t have anyone tell you what to expect or how to think. That way you can just enjoy it and play the way you’ve played your whole life, just embrace it.”
The non-advice was solid. Soderblom played his game, he embraced the opportunity and was the difference on Friday when Detroit beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0.
Soderblom played his second career NHL game on Saturday, a 5-2 win for Detroit against the New Jersey Devils, and continued to make an instant impact on a monstrous third line with Michael Rasmussen and Oskar Sundqvist.
At 6-foot-8, Soderblom is one of the tallest players in NHL history, and arguably the tallest ever full-time forward. John Scott was also 6-foot-8, but his career started as a defenseman before he was moved to forward as an enforcer.
Soderblom told me on Friday morning that he’s never played defense, even with his height, he’s always been deployed as a forward. He said the fact he never had a coach try to typecast him based on size — thank you Swedish forward thinking — is one of the reasons he reached the NHL.
There are certainly advantages to being 6-foot-8, but Soderblom’s continued success in the NHL will be based on how he handles the disadvantages of immense size.
Soderblom has had consistent conversations with the Red Wings coaching staff about puck protection. The puck is naturally farther from Soderblom’s body when he’s stickhandling, and if he’s not cognizant of that it can lead to turnovers.
It was also easier to be a larger forward on larger ice in Europe. In the NHL, windows close quicker, so Soderblom learned through preseason — sometimes the hard way — that he needed to adjust quickly to earn a spot in Detroit on opening night.
“I noticed that,” Soderblom said. “Probably after three preseason games I felt more comfortable.”
By his final preseason game, Soderblom was scoring a pretty backhand goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his first regular season game, he was in the right spot late in a scoreless game to give Detroit a 1-0 lead, which later ballooned to 3-0 with empty-net tallies.
2. Back to the game at hand on Saturday.
Tyler Bertuzzi got hurt and didn’t return, so Jakub Vrana took advantage of a golden opportunity on a shift with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond.
Vrana’s Detroit career has been shortchanged thus far because of injuries, so I think it sometimes gets forgotten what type of player Steve Yzerman acquired in the deal that sent Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals.
Vrana has a tremendous release, particularly coming down the left wing, and if he can establish himself as a volume shooter, who stays healthy, he’ll be a key cog in the Red Wings’ offense.
Vrana also had an assist on David Perron’s goal in the second period that made it 3-2, forcing a loose puck on the forecheck.
That’s the type of play that new Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde will be thrilled with. Sharp shots and picking corners will make highlight reels, but being on top of the forecheck and helping Detroit maintain Lalonde’s ideal identity will go a long way in the Red Wings locker room.
3. While Detroit scored five times, New Jersey had a 39-21 edge in shots in this game.
So it was a busy night for Alex Nedeljkovic, who was challenged in the offseason when the Red Wings went and acquired Ville Husso.
Nedeljkovic, like most professional athletes, is a proud human who felt he would be the No. 1 in Carolina and was then unceremoniously traded to Detroit because the Hurricanes felt he was too much of a wildcard.
In Detroit, he was given a fresh start last season, but still struggled with consistency, prompting Yzerman to make a move that would challenge the goalie, and attempt to build a viable 1A-1B tandem.
Husso got the opening night start, something Lalonde said wasn’t an easy decision and delivered a shutout. Nedeljkovic did the next best thing, by going on the road and helping Detroit win a game where tired legs need a boost from their goalie.
Husso will likely get the next start, the Wings host the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, and starts will likely alternate, especially if both goalies continue to do what’s asked of them.
Some other observations from Saturday
Nice recovery by Carter Hart in Philadelphia, who allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced and was likely facing a quick hook by the start of the second period. The young goalie ended up stopping the final 26 shots he faced to get the win.
Another young goalie, Spencer Knight, made a strong bid for the save of the season in the first game of the day.
We need to talk about how ridiculous the Panthers jersey looks with all the patches.
The Arizona Coyotes start to the season is somehow going worse than expected.
Poetic justice, I suppose, with Kevin Fiala scoring his first goal for the Los Angeles Kings against the Minnesota Wild.
On a programming note, I’m planning on writing off the Kings-Red Wings game on Monday night in Detroit.