If it weren’t for the new sweaters, the new players and head coach, the 2013-2014 campaign seemed to pick up right where the previous season ended. Kari Lehtonen was peppered with 39 shots and the Stars coughed up the puck 8 times. But in the end, it’s game 1 of 82 and when you introduce a new system with those new faces, things will be ugly for a little while.
The first period started with Florida coming out and just bringing the aggression to Dallas and the Stars were up to the task, at least for the first half of the period. Stars were finishing checks and the two teams saw the tempers boil over as Antoine Roussel and Mike Weaver dropped the gloves. Behind them, Ryan Garbutt and Dmitry Kulikov tangled up and because it was after the initial altercation between Roussel and Weaver started, Garbutt and Kulikov were issued game misconducts.
The Panthers got on the board first when Scott Gomez (yes, that Scott Gomez) was allowed to part the defense and crash the net. He was met with a pass from Scottie Upshall from deep in the corner and Gomez tipped past a sliding Lehtonen. The highlight of the period had to be the penalty killing from veterans Vern Fiddler and Shawn Horcoff. The two just seemed to feed off of each other and when one skater moved, the other made a counter move in perfect unison.
The 2nd period was as vanilla as they come with the exception of Alex Chiasson scoring his 7th NHL in his 8th NHL game as he took advantage of the shallower nets and turned on the jets to nab a loose puck behind the net then quickly whipped around and banked the puck off of Thomas to tie the game up. That seemed to give the Stars life as they continued to play the physical play they were accustomed to last season. However, whenever the Stars were able to get a shot through, Tim Thomas was making highlight save after save as if he never missed a game in the last 18 months.
The period would end prematurely as a pane of glass was shattered. The remaining 25.5 seconds played out after the intermission. The Stars came close a couple of times, however when the time expired, the teams switched sides and the 3rd period started and as it had been the previous 2 periods, it was the Tim Thomas show. Granted, he only had to see 27 shots, but the 25 that he stopped reminded the hockey world why he has won the Conn Smythe and a Vezina trophy. The only hiccup he had in the last stanza was just as the Panthers went on an abbreviated power play as a 4-on-4 ended when Fiddler broke a rush up the ice. He fed a cross-ice pass to Roussel who fired the puck off the waiting Thomas who uncharacteristically spit a rebound to a wide open Brenden Dillon who then swept the puck into the open net for the shorthanded goal.
The only lead for Dallas would only last for literally 3 minutes when Aleksander Barkov, who was drafted 2nd overall in this past summer’s draft was able to whip a shot from the slot as there was 3 skaters on top of Lehtonen which apparently wasn’t enough to warrant a goaltender interference call.
From that point on, the Stars were on their heels. Florida would punch and Dallas couldn’t muster a response. Florida regained the lead when Marcel Goc also split the defense and came flying up the slot where Tomas Fleischman hit him with a pretty pass which he slipped past Kari. In the end, Kari, who earned the 3rd star of the game (Thomas-1 and Goc-2) made 36 saves on 39 shots (empty net goals do not count against a goaltender).
Bottom line, the Florida Panthers outplayed the Stars. But before the doom and gloom sets in, one must remember two things: the Stars have manhandled Florida twice in the preseason. The Panthers had a statement to make and they did. The other aspect to remember is this isn’t last year anymore. There are 82 games to play, not 48. This was just one. This is a new team. There are new players who are playing for a new coach who brings a new system that honestly, might not be finalized just yet. It’s simple to look at the two teams as last year’s combatants which saw Florida finish the year as the worst team in the league. This isn’t last year anymore. This year, has hardly just begun.