Through three games, the Stars went from generally an afterthought to capturing the attention of the hockey world as they built a 2-1 series lead over the Flames. On Monday, they had the chance to pin the Flames against the wall in Game 4 at the American Airlines Center.
Jake Oettinger did everything in his power to carry the Stars to victory, but they lost 4-1 and head to Calgary with the best-of-seven series tied 2-2. Let’s examine the ups and downs of the game.
The basis for team success, offensively and defensively, is puck possession. You have a better chance of scoring if you shoot the puck, but you can’t shoot the puck unless you have the puck. On the other side, it’s easier to prevent goals if you don’t allow the opposition to possess the puck.
From start to finish Monday night, the Stars were dominated by the Flames in puck possession. It was expected that the Flames would come out with urgency given the position they were in, but the Stars made it awfully easy for them to dictate the flow of the game. That’s something the Stars had done well for the first three games, except the first period of Game 1.
“It starts with the cliché, your compete, puck battles, ending plays a little quicker,” Tyler Seguin said. “There were some shifts I was out there a couple times where you’re caught and they’re changing and changing. You’ve got to kind of bend but don’t break. We did a good job of that, but we need more.”
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Stars’ Corsi percentage in the first and second periods was 37.5 percent and 36 percent. The third period was 41.67 percent, boosted slightly by the six-on-five play that began with more than five minutes left in the period.
“Defensively, I think we were trying too hard to break the puck out,” Jason Robertson said. “A little sloppiness, and that led to a lot of defensive zone time.”
Oettinger continues to dazzle
The good news for the Stars is their goaltender is Oettinger. His night was highlighted by a spectacular glove save he made early in the first period on Tyler Toffoli. For most of this series, the narrative had been about a decent balance of the Stars defense helping Oettinger out and Oettinger bailing out the team by coming up with some extraordinary saves. Any glimmer of positivity Monday was Oettinger’s alone.
“He was the only reason we were in the game,” coach Rick Bowness said. “Like I told the coaches after, we just wasted a great goaltending performance.”
The Flames plastered 54 shots on Oettinger in the game, and most were not the easily saved shots Oettinger saw for large chunks of the first three games. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames finished with 25 high-danger scoring chances to the Stars’ 11. Their expected goals for were nearly six, yet they finished with only three goals on Oettinger before the late empty-netter. The first goal Calgary scored came at five-on-three, and the second goal was a converted penalty shot by Hart Trophy candidate Johnny Gaudreau. Only the third goal was a five-on-five goal, meaning Oettinger has allowed just three five-on-five goals through 240 minutes in this series.
No matter what happens in this series or a longer playoff run, should the Stars have one, Dallas has a firm answer for its future.
One way to change the momentum is on the power play, and the Stars continued to struggle with the man advantage. They got a power-play goal late in the game, but it was aided by pulling the goaltender and creating a six-on-four situation. In almost eight minutes at five-on-four, the Stars were ineffective. They got only four shots on goal, canceled out by allowing four shots on goal to the Flames’ penalty kill. At a minimum, the power play should create positive momentum or at least halt the negative momentum, but neither has been the case for the Stars. Including the six-on-four power-play goal Monday night, the Stars have scored on two of their 17 power-play opportunities in this series.
The Stars have had their chances. As bad as they were at puck possession Monday, they still got six power-play opportunities, one more than the Flames. Missed calls are part of every game, and there are always calls each side can point to that were missed or could have been looked past. Monday night, the Flames were called for one more penalty than the Stars were. For the series, both teams have had 17 power-play opportunities, and both have just two goals to show for them.
Jason Robertson’s learning curve
The lack of consistency up and down the lineup Monday, outside of Oettinger, was troubling. The Stars have dealt with this issue all season long but have often been able to soften the blow with an overwhelming presence from members of their top line. Joe Pavelski has certainly been noticeable throughout the series, but he’s the only forward who has been a threat offensively. Roope Hintz has had his moments, and Jason Robertson has had a few as well, but they’ve been few and far between.
“This is the first time (Robertson) has struggled, and it’s the first time he’s played in the playoffs,” Bowness said. “He’s a young player that will learn from this.”
“It’s playoffs — I knew it would be harder,” Robertson said. “I’m still trying to find spots and get shots, but I’ve got to do more for myself.”
Robertson set a high bar for himself with a 41-goal season, and it hasn’t translated yet to the postseason. He has been knocking on the door at various points, at even strength and on the power play, but it hasn’t come at the success rate Robertson has become accustomed to.
Some of it is a credit to the Flames, who have made an overt effort to be extra physical with him. Some of it is on Robertson, who has been a little off in his rhythm and has fumbled the puck more than usual. Some of it is a natural progression of a new step in his development. It’s a little reminiscent of the issues he had on the road compared with his production at home. As a rookie, Robertson had 12 goals and 20 assists in home games to just five goals and eight assists on the road, when the matchups were tougher. He learned and adjusted in his sophomore year, scoring 21 goals on the road to 20 at home. The playoffs are a new test for Robertson, and he’s going through the adjustment phase right now.
Robertson’s play has been far less concerning than that of a handful of other Stars. On Monday, there were lowlights from Seguin, John Klingberg and Alexander Radulov, among others. However, nobody’s game was as concerning as Denis Gurianov’s.
It’s one thing to be a no-impact player, but it’s another to actively hurt the team. Gurianov’s game Monday hurt the Stars. He was irresponsible in their own zone and was hardly a factor offensively. To be fair, there was very little offensive time to do anything, but that’s part of the issue. Gurianov can have his moments off the rush or when things fall into place on offense, but he’s unable to create himself and is a liability defensively. He often looked lost on the ice Monday, which adds stress to the other four skaters on the ice with him.
With Gurianov on the ice, the Stars were outshot 19-2. The 9.52 percentage was the worst on the team. Seguin and Klingberg also had poor games Monday, as they were second and fourth, respectively, in getting outshot when on the ice. However, those players have tangible upsides to their games and are factors in other areas, even if that wasn’t evident Monday. When circumstances don’t set up for Gurianov, he not only doesn’t bring much to the table but also becomes an active liability.
Unlike players like Radulov and Joel Kiviranta, the Stars have Gurianov in a spot where there are expectations beyond just being an energy guy (Kiviranta) or somebody who chases the puck (Radulov). Kiviranta played six minutes at even strength Monday while Radulov played less than five minutes. Gurianov played 12 minutes, too much time for a display of bad hockey.
Jacob Peterson, who has been a healthy scratch throughout the series, has been effective this season. Substituting Peterson for Gurianov has to be a consideration at this point. Whether Marian Studneic or potentially a black ace draw in for Kiviranta or Radulov is a second-tier discussion. In either case, the floor is not that far from the ceiling. Peterson, however, could provide a lot more consistently than Gurianov is giving the Stars.
No need to panic
The Stars are still in a decent position. They have a best-in-three with two games in Calgary. They’ve beaten the Flames in Canada in the regular season and last week in Game 2. Oettinger has shown no signs of slowing down. As long as he’s performing, the Stars have a chance. They definitely need to tighten up defensively, but they’ve shown to be capable of that for a large chunk of the series.
Throughout the regular season and this series, the Stars and Flames have played each other close. As long as the Stars can prevent the floodgates from opening and find a timely goal, they should be able to win games behind arguably the best goaltender in the playoffs.
(Photo: Matthew Pearce / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)