NHL Rink Wrap: Senators hold off Stars in Sunday’s only game

NHL Rink Wrap: Senators hold off Stars in Sunday's only game
André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Top player from Senators – Stars

Connor Brown, Senators

Just 4:34 into Sunday’s Stars – Senators game, Michael Raffl gave Dallas a 1-0 lead. That advantage only lasted 50 seconds, however, as Brown piled up one of his first three assists on a Nick Paul goal.

In the process, Brown reached 100+ assists on his NHL career.

Ottawa provided some other candidates. Chris Tierney scored two power-play goals, including the eventual game-winner. The Senators seemed mostly content to sit on their lead in the third period, leaning on Filip Gustavsson in the process. Gustavsson stopped 32 out of 34 shots for a strong effort in victory.

Stars – Senators highlights

Being that it was Sunday’s lone NHL game, might as well watch the full Senators – Stars highlights, right?

Jamie Benn demanded a fight, and Josh Brown obliged.

Takeaways from Stars – Senators

Coaches still love sending Suter out there

When the Stars signed Ryan Suter, people pictured them getting more from less. To clarify: what if Suter — whose decline might have been exaggerated by excessive ice time — might slide into a more appropriate role?

Well, about that ….

In Suter’s Oct. 14 debut, he logged 22:19 time on ice. The Stars bumped Suter up to 23:35 against the Bruins on Saturday. On a back-to-back set, Suter logged 9:24 TOI in the first period alone. While that total is heightened by some long shifts (including a cardio-challenging 1:58 maratahon), that’s still a lot.

Suter is 36, and turns 37 on Jan. 21.

It’s early, but so far, the Stars still seem to view Suter as that same workhorse. Looking at underlying stats, Suter might benefit the Stars most in more of an offensive, sheltered role.

Old habits die hard (and transfer from team to team?) though, it seems.

We may know more about Sens after this four-game homestand

Apply that “it’s early” caveat to all of this. Go ahead. (Waits.)

Ultimately, we need to at least try to gauge where a team is trending for now. That’s why road trips and homestands can come in handy.

In closing out a back-to-back set vs. the Stars on Sunday, the Senators also began a four-game homestand. This could give us an early taste of whether Ottawa’s building beyond its rebuild. Ponder that four-game homestand:

  • Sunday vs. Stars.
  • Thursday vs. Sharks.
  • Saturday vs. Rangers.
  • Monday (Oct. 25) vs. Capitals.

None of those teams are at the top of Stanley Cup favorites lists, yet the Capitals are a playoff regular, and the Stars can go either way. Meanwhile, the Sharks are trying to fight a rebuild, and the Rangers want to take the same steps Ottawa hopes to make. So it’s an interesting mix of opponents, and an opportunity for Ottawa to make a statement or two.

Should Dallas open things up?

No doubt, teams can ride stingy defensive systems to great success. That said, winning by small margins of error means that you can’t afford to make many mistakes. Such systems can be great for goalies. Even so, if your goalies aren’t on task, it exposes them (and your team) to a greater degree.

During their surprise run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Stars found a way to strike the right balance. They were just aggressive enough offensively to make their defensive-minded approach work.

Credit the Stars for being a top-five team in expected goals against and high-danger chances against for the previous three seasons. You do that often enough, you’ll win more often than not.

But could the diminishing returns from last season be a sign of more slippage to come? From COVID to strange weather, enough stacked up against the 2020-21 Stars to see room for optimism. (After all, they got pretty close to snatching a playoff spot from the Predators.)

Games like Sunday’s against the Senators prompt some concern that the Stars can only win one way. Inevitably, you need to be able to fight back from leads, not just protect them.

Monday’s big story

Matthews debuts

So far, the Maple Leafs are 2-1-0 on this young season. They managed that mark without reigning Maurice Richard winner Auston Matthews, but he’s expected to play against the Rangers on Monday.

Even with the Rangers’ offseason fixated on toughness, there’s plenty of potential for fireworks in this one. Matthews, Mitch Marner, and a red-hot William Nylander give Toronto tons of scoring potential. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and a bucket of young players make New York dangerous. It’s a bummer that Kaapo Kakko went on IR, but it could still be a challenging one for the goalies involved.

Sunday’s NHL score

Senators 3, Stars 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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