Even at 89 degrees in the shade, The Dallas Stars’ 2018 Green Carpet still drew a crowd. Victory Plaza, where the event took place on opening day, is surrounded by buildings on three sides. A block of shops and restaurants sit on either side of the plaza while American Airlines Center sits to the northwest of these. What results is a lack of airflow to the insulated space. Things get sticky and stagnant. Even so, Jamie Benn stopped every few feet to sign jerseys and take photos with fans as he made his way down the carpet. Miro Heiskanen did the same, the rookie taking after his captain hours before playing in his first ever NHL game. The heat couldn’t deter Dallas fans from lining up hours earlier to try and snag a moment with a player – any player at all. Hands stuck out from behind the velvet ropes lining the walkway, waving sharpies and calling out to Seguin and Klingberg and Radulov. Every now and then a gentle breeze would blow through from the street. Fans would stop and sigh, letting it cool them for just a moment.
Later a young woman stood in line for entrance into the arena. She paled suddenly and ran to a nearby trash can. She clung to the edge of it, heaving while onlookers stopped to make sure she was okay. She waved them off. Once she finished, she wiped her mouth and got back into line – just one example of the kind dedication Stars fans possess. Despite the upset of last season, this February’s “road trip from hell” culminating in another missed playoff opportunity for the franchise, fans have gotten back in line. Rows and rows of people huddled up against the glass for warm-ups and by puck drop, the arena was a rowdy sea of green.
It was a night of firsts for the Dallas Stars. The first game of the season, but also the very first game of Jim Montgomery’s career as an NHL coach. By the end of the night, it would be his first ever win — Jamie Benn handing over a game puck to Montgomery after the final buzzer. Along with Montgomery, Heiskanen and Hintz shared a Rookie honor, skating out first for warm-ups and taking a lap around the Stars’ zone. Though neither scored during the game, both showed promise. Heiskanen, in particular, stood out.
“The first five minutes of the game he was dancing,” said Montgomery about Heiskanen’s opening night performance. “…I thought he made really good decisions and his skating got us out of trouble a lot.”
Tyler Pitlick also asserted himself during the game, leveling big clean hits against the Coyotes. One left Jordan Oesterle, #82 for Arizona, shaken up. He left the ice doubled over, and the already chippy game grew nastier as a result.
The game-winning goal, scored by Devin Shore, was quickly followed by a second goal (Alexander Radulov) and then a third (John Klingberg.) The three goals came one right after another in the span of just ninety-six seconds of game time. Ben Bishop wrapped things up with 30 saves to clinch his first shutout of the season. The goalie, in the words of his captain Jamie Benn, “stood on his head” to make the win a spectacular one.
An auspicious beginning to the season, one win became two as the Stars took on the Winnipeg Jets Saturday evening. The Stars top line consisting of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov, continued to stand out as a force to be reckoned with, scoring a collective 10 points in the 5-1 victory. All of the major players from last year have continued to push the envelope while other familiar faces have begun to fill new roles. In the absence of Antoine Roussel, Brett Ritchie seems to have stepped into his shoes, dropping his gloves against Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry off a faceoff in the first period.
The team went into Tuesday evening’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a place of strength. And despite what the outcome might suggest, there was a lot to love about the game that followed. The Stars worked hard to keep pace with the Leafs, tying it up more than once. A number of ill-timed penalties gave Toronto one too many opportunities and discipline will be key when facing talent-heavy teams like the Leafs in the future. That said, Tyler Seguin posted a 4 point night for the second game in a row. Heiskanen put up the very first point of his career, assisting Alexander Radulov in the first period, and came achingly close to scoring his first goal on a number of occasions.
Ben Bishop’s save percentage took a hit as he allowed 6 goals (the 7th goal having been scored on an empty net) across three periods. He still made vital saves throughout the evening and was never pulled in favor of Anton Khudobin. At least one goal came as a result of Bishop being recklessly out of position on a wraparound from John Tavares. Bishop’s misread of the play wasn’t helped by what seemed like general confusion around the net. The scramble resulted in low visibility as Bishop attempted to sweep away Tavares’ shot with his outstretched stick.
A number of things went wrong on the play. While frustrating to watch, this instance can serve as a greater indicator of what the Stars must work on moving forward. It can be fixed. The problems are not structural and the weaknesses don’t simply lie with one player or another. If the weakness is with the team then the Stars can improve and succeed as a team. These Stars are very different from the Stars of last season. Passes are connecting and players seem to be communicating with effectiveness. The team’s power play unit has been operating with deadly efficiency. Not to mention, there’s a lack of hesitation in the offensive zone leading to more shots on goal and more goals in general. Instead of being anchored by a single imposing top line, the team is striving toward balance overall. It’s a move in the right direction.
Are there still mistakes being made through the neutral zone? Yes. Are attempts at fancy stick work still getting in the way of scoring opportunities? Certainly. Are there going to be those who blame the goalie no matter what? Always.
But walking away from a game like Tuesday’s with hope instead of despair is an encouraging sign. Every October is a chance for new heroes to rise up and old champions to take a backseat. The slog will come later when it’s March and the stakes are climbing ever higher, but for now, fans can take comfort in all of the things that the Dallas Stars are doing right. You hope, you cheer, you take the outcome as it is, and then you get back in line to do it all over again.
Photo: Lyndyl Randall/Dallas Sports Nation