The Dallas Stars are off to a nearly perfect start in 2022-23. They hold a 2-0-0 record, defeating the Nashville Predators in both games, and have outscored the Preds 9-2.
For me, the most apparent factor in the first two games under Pete DeBoer, is the way that Dallas has managed the puck.
Under Rick Bowness, the Stars were insistent on dump-and-change hockey, which limited the number of plays they could make off the rush and turned them into a reacting team.
This season, that is not the case as they have broken out of their own end cleaner, held onto pucks crossing the blue line, and made crisp, quick decisions to generate scoring chances.
“We’re trying to,” DeBoer said about urging his team to make plays with the puck at the blue line. “We are going to dump the puck, but we don’t want to dump the puck if you have a play to be made. But you have to have room to make those plays. And that starts coming out of your own zone with proper spacing and possession. It all goes hand in hand. You have to put yourself in a position that you don’t have to dump the puck with time to make a play, and that’s what we’re working on.”
Once the Stars enter the zone, their puck movement has been elite. It was noticeable during the first on-ice sessions of training camp, it has been there during every practice, and it has translated over to the ice when it counts. Go figure.
How good has the puck movement been? Well, just take a look at some of the goals this team has scored this season.
Mason Marchment’s second goal on opening night was a backdoor tap-in, Joe Pavelski had a slam dunk power-play goal, Wyatt Johnston scored his first into a wide-open net, Roope Hintz scored on a clear-cut shorthanded breakaway, Miro Heiskanen had to simply tap it in at the end of a perfect give-and-go with Jason Robertson, and Robertson had an open net after a beautiful three-way passing play between the top trio.
Heck, even Joe Pavelski’s overturned goal was into a yawning cage. That’s six out of eight Stars goals (excluding the empty-netter) that have been far easier finishes because of their passing. For a team that has struggled to score, that is quite nice.
The best look into this is the first career goal for the 19-year-old on opening night in Nashville:
First game, first goal! Welcome to the League, Wyatt Johnston! ⭐ #NHLFaceOff
— NHL (@NHL) October 14, 2022
Johnston moves the puck to Tyler Seguin as he enters the zone, Seguin tries to move it to the point but it gets deflected. Marchment comes in to take control and moves it quickly to Ryan Suter on the point. Suter finds a seam to Seguin, who lets the play develop just long enough for Johnston to open up for the easy one-timer goal. Impressive and beautiful.
The puck movement has also translated onto the Stars power play, where quick decisions are vital. Rather than holding onto the puck or skating, in an effort to make room and open lanes, Dallas has made quick, short passes, and it has worked as their power play has gone 2-6 and had plenty of chances to tally more.
“I liked that we scored a couple and we could’ve had more,” DeBoer said. “I thought we had a real attack mindset. For me, puck movement and an attack mindset are what make a power play dangerous and I thought we had both those things. In zone, we were snapping the puck around and creating looks. And as importantly, on breakouts off the rush, we were attacking.”
The final piece to the puzzle has been the pace at which Dallas has played. We knew that DeBoer would urge a faster-paced game when he took over, but I don’t think anyone could’ve imagined just how much different that would make this team. The Stars have looked like the aggressor in all three zones, flying up the ice on the rush, pressuring the puck, and forcing their opponents to react as they dictate the pace of play.
“I like it. I still think we can play faster but I like it,” DeBoer said of his team’s pace. “I think we’ve looked like a quick team and we’ve looked like an attacking team, which are two things that we want to make sure are part of our DNA.”
It’s only been two games. And I understand the need to not overreact. In fact, DeBoer has consistently shown his desire to get better and not be content.
But the difference in the 2022-23 Stars compared to the past few seasons is night and day. They are faster, they look more dangerous, and they are finishing their chances around the net. All of that makes for a better and more fun team to watch on game day.