Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships. It may be a cliché, but that doesn't mean it isn’t true.
The Dallas Stars traveled to Pittsburgh to face the NHL’s hottest team and most people expected a high-event showdown. Combined, the two teams were averaging 7.3 goals per game. Instead, they were treated to a defensive battle. In the long run, that may be a good experience for Dallas further down the line.
Watching Evgeni Malkin score what he referred to as “a bit of a lucky goal” to plunge a metaphoric knife into the Stars hearts with 34.7 seconds to play was not pleasant. Jake Oettinger deserved a better outcome. Dallas defenders who sacrificed the body to the tune of 19 blocked shots wanted a different result as well. Sometimes, the best lessons are learned from nights like this.
It’s obvious Dallas can play well in close games and scrounge for points when none seem available. The Stars don’t panic when they have to come from behind. Ten times this season Dallas has allowed the first goal, yet they have points in seven of those contests. Truth of the matter is, to win in the playoffs and have a lengthy postseason run, winning games like last night vs. the Penguins are crucial.
The Stars of 2021-22 knew how to win ugly, home or away. The only reason Dallas took a much more powerful Calgary Flames team to overtime of Game #7 was great goaltending and turning each game into a slog fest. In five of the seven games, Calgary scored two goals or less in regulation time. Post season hockey is all about survival, win and move on. There are no additional points for style or goal differential.
If Dallas keeps their current pace, the playoffs are a given. When looking at the current possibilities in the Central Division: Winnipeg, St. Louis, and Nashville would all play this ugly brand of hockey. It could very well happen that in order to advance toward the Stanley Cup, the Stars may have to out-Bowness a Rick Bowness coached team.
Ken Hitchcock turned the Dallas Stars from contenders to champions by improving defense. Jim Montgomery brought the Stars back to the post season because of a torrid stretch run based on structure and the phenomenal play of Ben Bishop. Rick Bowness got this team to 98 points last year squeaking out points with limited offense and a “park the bus” mentality. This year’s team has more offensive talent than any Stars club since 2015-16, but that team gave up too many goals and watched the Stanley Cup Final from home. There has to be the proper blend of offense and defense. Everyone in the organization is keenly aware of the need to win in a myriad of ways.
It would have been nice for Dallas to have better gap control on that final rush. It would have been nice for the backchecking forwards to have stayed with Malkin instead of peeling off. But for 59 minutes, the Stars went into a hostile environment against one of the best teams in the NHL and played one of their best defensive games of the season.
One point or two would have been preferred but it was not to be. With four more games against high-powered offenses, the remainder of this road trip will need to show more of the defensive strategy than any of the heart-stopping action seen recently at the AAC.
The term “ugly road win” has been synonymous with the Stars for a number of years. When Stars players refer to cutting down goals against, they refer to “Getting back to our identity of being tough to play against.” The ending stung, but this brand of Stars performance is necessary, especially if the team wants to be playing games well into the month of May.