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Sunday Thoughts on Red Wings-Senators and Stars-Flyers
A quick look at two games from Saturday
I’m currently in Chicago on an assignment for EP Rinkside, so I wasn’t able to watch either the Detroit Red Wings 5-2 win against the Ottawa Senators or the Dallas Stars 5-4 win against the Philadelphia Flyers in real time.
But both games, with their results, felt worthy of writing something after re-watch late into Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
Detroit, heading into Sunday’s home against the Calgary Flames, have won four straight and passed several vital tests if they are going to be in that playoff contender category.
They’ve beaten good teams (Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay), won the games they’ve had to against bad teams (Columbus), and found a way to win on the road against another potential playoff contender in the Ottawa Senators.
You string together results like this, and well, reaching that 92 or 94-point cutline for the playoffs starts to feel more feasible.
Dallas won a game it probably shouldn’t have. The Stars allowed three shorthanded goals, got outshot 40-25, and still won 5-4 in overtime. The Stars are a contender, and whether it was pretty or not, they’ve opened the season with a four-game point streak and are two posts in a shootout against Vegas from being undefeated.
Let’s start with some thoughts on Detroit, because it was earlier in the day, and I re-watched that one first.
Ville Husso had his first “big-game” starter moment of the season.
The Red Wings are sold on Husso as their No. 1 goalie. After heading into last season with hopes of a competition between Husso and Alex Nedejkovic, they quickly transitioned to a plan that features Husso playing close to 55 games in the foreseeable future.
And Saturday’s game in Ottawa was one of those moments that justifies their faith.
Husso saved Detroit in the first period, the Senators came out dealing and dominated both quality chances and possession in the opening stanza. Husso wasn’t making highlight-reel saves, but he was a foundational piece for success.
As things were a bit chaotic, the Senators vs. Alex DeBrincat feud maybe a bit overblown, Husso was a calming force in net and didn’t make any mistakes in a game where any mistake would have been amplified.
The Red Wings one loss this season, on opening night in New Jersey, featured a couple goals that Husso needed to make saves on. It was the type of game where you didn’t blame the loss on Husso, but it put some cracks into the faith that he was a big-game goalie, worthy of close to 60 starts.
But the game in Ottawa effectively spackled over those cracks for the time being. Husso was the difference early, and because of his play, you never felt like the body blows Ottawa delivered in the first period would eventually turn into knockouts.
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The Red Wings power play is elite.
Pretty simple stuff, right? Detroit is leading the NHL with nine power play goals on 18 opportunities through five games.
They are clicking at 50-percent rate, which is obviously unsustainable, but the 9-for-18 start is a foundation both emotionally and statistically that can set them on track for the entire season.
Shayne Gostisbehere’s signing has surpassed anyone’s expectations. While he was expected to come in and be a potential power play specialist, I don’t think anyone expected him to be an early-season point-per game player (again, unsustainable, but small sample size be damned).
Gostisbehere has added an element to the Detroit power play that it lacked last season on the flank of the 1-3-1 and other teams have yet to adjust to the Red Wings having a multi-tool player in that spot.
As other teams have started to adjust to Gostisbehere, it’s opened up other holes, particular in the bumper spot where Dylan Larkin has been able to find more soft spaces.
Joe Veleno could center an elite fourth line.
Last night, in Chicago, I watched in-person as the Vegas fourth line turned a potentially close game into a victory for the Golden Knights.
One of the reasons Vegas won the Stanley Cup was because of their forward depth and the Golden Knights intentionally turn to their fourth line to start periods because they bring both momentum and surprising skill, which typically unlocks better matchups for the first line on the second shift of the period.
Detroit isn’t Vegas deep, no one is claiming that, but in the long-run, as the Red Wings Yzerplan takes shape, that feels like the long-term role for Joe Veleno.
This isn’t a knock on Veleno, he’s probably a middle-six forward on most teams, but if the Red Wings are going to be a contender during his tenure, and in the not-to-distant future, Veleno being a center-piece for the fourth-line depth will be a key the Red Wings are truly closer to arriving with the NHL heavyweights.
Ok, let’s get to the Dallas game.
We have to start with goaltending.
This is a two-fold conversation. About the Flyers goaltending struggles and how the Stars looked like a different team when Scott Wedgewood was in net.
Remember how we talked about confidence and a strong foundation earlier with Husso against Ottawa? The Stars had the opposite of that in their first game of the season that didn’t feature Jake Oettinger.
And this isn’t even a commentary on how Wedgewood himself played, rather an observation that Dallas, with it’s backup goalie, played with a different psyche and mentality that could be loosely connected to playing a back-up goalie against a team that, on-paper, is supposed to be very bad.
This falls on player leadership. The Stars, as I’ve mentioned many times, need to limit Oettinger’s starts this season, they need him as fresh as possible for the playoffs, so Wedgewood needs to play. But when he does play, it can’t be used an excuse to play a different game, or be emotionally complacent like the Stars looked.
On the flip side, the Stars won this game because the Flyers played Samuel Ersson, who in just his 13th NHL game already had his third really-bad start as tracked by Hockey-Reference.
Ersson was beat clean, on the first shot, on three of the Dallas goals. On all three he seemed to line up with the body of the shooter, not the puck, and Dallas feasted on that.
It’s one of those games where you become overcritical of an offensive that scored five times. Because against an NHL caliber goalie, the Stars likely would have lost this game 4-1.
About that power play.
Or better yet, lack of power play. The Stars allowed three shorthanded goals and looked complacent in their approach. Perhaps the most damning shorthanded goal was the first one, where a potentially clean entry turned into a break the other way for the Flyers.
This is the one spot where the Stars still need some growth from Miro Heiskanen.
I know, I wrote at length this week about his next steps and potential Norris Trophy, but Saturday was a reminder that as a power play presence, he still is looking for his solid B game with the man advantage.
Let me explain. You know a player’s A game, their best night, the stuff that makes them one of the best at their craft. But great players are the ones who’s off night is merely a B game, not a C or D game.
At even strength, and in other facets of the game, Heiskanen’s off-night is still a B game. On the power play though, it’s still a C game — or last night, a D game. Heiskanen will get back on track on the power play, I’m not really concerned about that, but I do need to see him find the ground for a better base level on the rare nights he’s struggling running that unit.
It’s time to give Mason Marchment a healthy scratch.
It’s hard to separate the player from the contract, so Marchment’s performance in Dallas since second month of last season has rightfully been disappointing. He’s missed games during that time because of injury, but the Stars have yet to sit him on their own volition.
This is truly a theory, but I wonder if the message would stick and “watching from up top,” because of performance would maybe re-wire and get Marchment going. Because right now, Ty Dellandrea and Sam Steel have both brought more to the table than Marchment, and from a performance base, they shouldn’t be the ones seemingly rotating healthy scratches.