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5 Thoughts on Stars-Predators
Mason Marchment, Jake Oettinger, and Wyatt Johnston have a night in Nashville
On Tuesday, I had some fun, and readers seemed to enjoy, a random collection of thoughts from the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 win against the Vegas Golden Knights.
So I’m going to do more of that this season on this Substack. On a semi-regular basis, I’ll pick a game, watch from the comfort of my couch (or the press box if that game happens to be in Detroit), and just write about hockey.
And as someone who covered many games between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators (including a playoff series and Winter Classic), Thursday’s tilt in Tennessee was a perfect fit to continue this experiment.
The Stars won 4-1. These are my thoughts. Also, please consider subscribing so we can continue to have fun like this.
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1. For years, really since Lindy Ruff left Dallas, the Stars have been a top-heavy offensive team. While the names and faces may have changed on the so-called first line (last season it was the trio of Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski, and Roope Hintz), the Stars' identity has been that of a team that is built on defense for three-fourths of the roster, essentially biding its time until the top line hopefully finds the back of the net.
Dallas has been desperate to change that narrative, and while former head coach Rick Bowness took much of the blame from fans, it really was general manager Jim Nill’s responsibility to improve the roster offensively.
That’s why he signed Mason Marchment, who had an instant impact with two goals in the first period.
Marchment’s first goal was a beauty — maybe the Stars first goal of the season will hold up as their best goal after 82 games — where he walked a trio of Predators before picking the top corner over Juuse Saros.
The goal is notable for various reasons, it’s a highlight from start to finish, but personally, I’d like to focus on this moment right here.
At this time Marchment has beaten the defenders, but still has to beat Saros, and is closing in with speed. But because of his stick positioning, he still has every option available to him, and could easily go forehand to backhand.
Saros has to respect all those options at this moment, the deke is still very much on the table, and the Predators goalie cheats a bit, very subtly, to the glove side, giving Marchment additional space on the stick side.
There’s a reason I’m overly dissecting the stick positioning on a split-second play.
I’m a big believer that finishing is a talent, it’s skill-based, and while the Stars have had secondary “scoring” options that could complete the first 95 percent of this play — the dangle and the breakaway — they lacked players that could deliver once completing the first 95 percent of the play.
That’s what Marchment brings to Dallas, he’s a finisher.
Marchment also scored on the power play later in the second period, a goal that should primarily be credited to the Stars other new addition, Nils Lundkvist, who instead of pulling a quick trigger was willing to be patient and found Marchment with the easy pass.
2. Alongside NFL quarterbacks and MLB pitchers, NHL goaltenders are one of the most overcoached positions in sports.
Throughout the offseason and into the preseason, goalies have worked and dissected every element of their game. There have been hours spent perfecting a post-lean (RVH) and debating save selection.
But it’s impossible to replicate true traffic and chaos in the offseason, which is why NHL goalies can often look sloppy or out of sync early in the season.
That’s why I was so impressed with Jake Oettinger’s performance on Thursday.
The Stars goalie, fresh off a new contract, turned away 30 shots and dealt well with traffic. It looked like an extension of his play in the series with the Calgary Flames, even with four months between official games.
As someone who played goalie himself, and still tries in a beer league on Wednesday nights, I’m incredibly jealous of how easy it is to look through a screen at 6-foot-5.
Going in I thought Saros would look sharper than Oettinger in this game. Saros already had a game under his belt, albeit on the other side of the Atlantic, and he looked good in that contest last week against the San Jose Sharks.
Saros wasn’t bad by any stretch, but Oettinger was great.
3. Based on the Stars’ long track record of letting prospects over-ripen, I was surprised when Wyatt Johnston made the opening night roster as a 19-year-old.
But the teenager, who dominated the OHL last season, took advantage of extended time in training camp and preseason — if you want a silver lining of Robertson’s contract, it’s Johnston’s opportunity — and forced the Stars hand.
And then he scored on opening night, with his parents in the crowd.
How cool is that?
Johnston’s goal was assisted by Tyler Seguin, who had a trio of helpers and made an impact throughout the game.
Seguin and his contract have been taking a beating lately on the interwebs, deservedly in some cases, but Game 1 was an indicator of what Seguin can be going forward. He doesn’t carry that superstar aura anymore, but he can be a solid middle-six forward that supports a play-driving winger like Marchment.
Also remember that if the world hadn’t been rocked by COVID-19, and the salary cap hadn’t stalled, Seguin’s contract wouldn’t be as big of a talking point.
4. Dallas was the better team, and deserved to win, but this didn’t feel like a 4-1 game.
The Predators had their chances, but Marchment’s goals and Oettinger’s play in the first period (12 saves) were enough of a cushion when one team was playing its first game and the other was potentially dealing with jetlag.
Nashville visits Dallas on Saturday, which should be fun. I like when the NHL schedules home-and-home games like this, especially between divisional rivals.
5. Some other random thoughts while watching this game.
Robertson missed all of training camp with his contract negotiation, and I know there were some worries about him getting up to speed after missing all of the preseason. Maybe it’s naive, but I don’t think preseason or camp mattered for Robertson. With his style of play and two already-established linemates in Pavelski and Hintz, Robertson could just be plugged back into the lineup without any issues. The trio had Dallas’ third goal on Thursday, with Pavelski cleaning up a rebound late in the second period.
Ryan Suter was well, um, welcomed by the Nashville fans every time he touched the puck. Nashville is a great hockey town, that arena has always been fun.
The Stars power play, while it scored twice, is different without John Klingberg. Miro Heiskanen runs the point well, and he makes good decisions at the blue line, but his shot doesn’t have the same impact as Klingberg’s. Heiskanen has a more traditional release, which isn’t bad, but it doesn’t float like Klingberg’s which is one of the most tippable shots in the NHL.
Speaking of Heiskanen, any game featuring him vs. Eeli Tolvanen is a wonderful time to relive this commercial from Finland.