Things can change quickly in the NHL. Less than two weeks ago, the Dallas Stars were 11-3-1. In Pete DeBoer’s 16 years as head coach in the NHL, it was the best start his team has ever had through 14 games. The Stars went on to lose three of the next four games, though the first three games of that sequence against top competition wasn’t as discouraging as the bottom line would have one believe.
However, it was the 7-4 loss to Calgary on Friday that was ugly and left a sour taste. After going up 4-2 in that game, the Stars didn’t score again and they allowed five unanswered. Jake Oettinger allowed six of those goals for a .769 save percentage, the first time he dipped under a .800 save percentage in a regular season game since late February.
On Tuesday, the Stars’ franchise netminder responded in typical Oettinger fashion. He stopped all 27 shots he faced to give the Stars their first shutout win of the season, 2-0 over the Winnipeg Jets. There’s a popular saying that the key to a great penalty kill is that your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer. Oettinger and the Stars faced multiple extended five-on-threes. The penalty kill, and defense overall, in front of Oettinger deserves a lot of credit but Oettinger was a man on a mission.
“We were ready to play tonight,” DeBoer told reporters after the game. “We were dialed in. That last game left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and we talked, this league is all about your response. Everyone’s going to stumble at different points and how are you going to respond to that? I liked our response tonight.
Let’s dive into some takeaways from the game.
• Let’s begin with the big picture. This was a huge game for the Stars. It’s still early in the season but the division race is shaping up to be close and it’s especially tight at the top, where two points now separate Colorado, Dallas and Winnipeg. Where this race goes as the season progresses will be on everybody’s radar but it’s important to rack up points early in the season when players are still closer to the starting line and have more in the tank, and teams are typically dealing with fewer injuries.
As it relates to the Jets in particular, the Stars played two games in Winnipeg within the last three weeks. They don’t play the Jets again until late February, and then not again until the 80th game of the season. In the first two games of the season series, not only did the Stars manage to grab four points by winning both games, they did it in regulation. Dallas beat Winnipeg 3-2 on Nov. 11 and then 2-0 on Tuesday in a game that was a one-goal game deep into the third period. Finishing in regulation and not spotting division opponents any consolation points is something that could have a payoff when things get tight in April.
“They’re four-point games,” DeBoer said. “You’re on the road and that team has been playing well. Everyone knows what was at stake tonight. I thought we deserved to win.”
• Don’t let the low-scoring nature of the game fool you, this was a very entertaining hockey game. It wasn’t even necessarily high on activity — the shots on goal count was 27-21, Jets and the high-danger scoring chances in all situations, per Natural Stat Trick, was 7-6 Stars — but it was great intrigue and had its share of stressful situations.
• That brings us to the game-deciding sequence.
With the game still scoreless midway through the second period, Nils Lundkvist went to the box to put the Jets on the power play. While not ideal, it’s not exactly a terrifying proposition, as the Stars entered the evening with the fourth-best penalty kill in the league at 87.9 percent and the Jets don’t exactly have the best power play in the world, coming along at 20th in the league at 19.4 percent. But less than a minute into Lundkvist’s penalty, the situation got tense, as Radek Faksa also went to the box to give the Jets over a minute of five-on-three time.
The Jets got four shots on goal in the five-on-three and five-on-four combined but Oettinger was a wall in front of the net. Additionally, Jamie Benn had a beautiful toe-drag attempt short-handed that just missed the net. Playing five-on-three is heavy minutes but the Stars not only killed that and the ensuing five-on-four, but they didn’t seem to exert as much energy doing so as one would assume. The Jets were unable to get the Stars on their heels.
As soon as the Stars’ infractions were cleared, the top line of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski were on the ice. Robertson had the puck on his stick and tried to get a shot off, which was blocked. It’s an area that Robertson is focusing on, trying to create more time and space so that he can get more shots on the goal and either score goals or create havoc. Ironically, the blocked shot in this situation worked out perfectly, as Hintz got to the puck and fed Pavelski at the net front. At that point, it already felt like a huge moment in the game but then the Jets used a coach’s challenge for goaltender interference, contending that Pavelski’s stick grazing Connor Hellebuyck’s mask was enough to erase the goal. The referees determined otherwise, the goal stood and the Stars were able to carry that momentum for an extra two minutes with the puck on the power play.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) November 29, 2023
For the Stars to go from staring down more than a minute of five-on-three, Benn nearly scoring short-handed, the Stars finishing off the kill, the top-line scoring and the failed challenge, even though the score was close and there was plenty of time left on the clock, it felt like the Stars were in full control.
• There was some irony in the Stars leading 1-0 after 40 minutes, with only the top line of Robertson, Hintz and Pavelski — a unit that Jets head coach Rick Bowness created in 2021 — scoring the lone goal of the game and the Stars’ netminder carrying his weight and then some.
• The Stars didn’t really have any late-game demons for most of the season but the past week or so brought a change to the mood. The Stars collapsed in the 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche and then again in the most recent game, a 7-4 debacle to the Flames. Both of those games had multi-goal leads that were blown so in that context, no matter how solid things felt based on Tuesday night alone, there was cause for intrigue.
One difference, though, was geography. The Stars are 5-4-1 at home this season, essentially playing .500 hockey. On the road, they’re a dominant bunch, improving to 8-1-1 after Tuesday night.
• Getting an insurance goal in the third period would be huge, especially as the clock dwindled and the Jets were getting ready to go six-on-five in a one-shot game. That’s when the Stars’ other top line came through in a huge way. Matt Duchene made a great play down the ice which led to the Stars getting a two-on-one the other way with Mason Marchment and Tyler Seguin. Marchment played the sequence absolutely perfectly, measuring it out with great patience and then finishing it off with a pretty saucer pass to Seguin, who finished it off.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) November 29, 2023
Next up, the Stars get a direct opportunity at redemption from last Friday as they travel to Calgary to play the Flames on Thursday.
(Top photo: Carey Lauder / USA Today)