Hockey

Game #23 and #24 – Hawks vs. Stars Spotlight: The One From Outside The Box That Got In

We, and many others, have long lamented that NHL coaching and GM hires seem to come from the same shallow and brackish pool they have for decades. Once you get one job in the league, you get 17, as comrade McClure is often fond of saying. And with that, there’s always going to be a lack of new ideas and creativity. The league just keeps rehashing the same ol’ shit.

Of course, it would help if when the new blood do get a chance, they didn’t prove to be a complete pillock. David Hakstol flamed out in Philadelphia pretty hard. You’ve seen what Jeremy Colliton can do, or can’t. Guy Boucher was an original hire a while ago. He proved he could only trap and that worked for one season. David Quinn is currently fucking with every young kid’s head in New York.

So perhaps we should take some satisfaction that the one in Dallas, Jim Montgomery, has found a path to success. Whether it involves any original thinking is up for discussion, and we’ll get into that forthwith.

Monty came in with about as much pedigree as you can get outside of the league and paying your dues as an assistant or slogging in the AHL. He turned a good U. of Denver program into a power, with two Frozen Four appearances, one NCHA conference championship, and an NCAA one to cap it off. Denver did it with a swarming, up-tempo style, which he had hoped to bring to the Stars.

It didn’t quite work that way. The Stars were a middling team last Christmas, right around .500 and just kind of treading in the fetid water of the bottom rungs of the Central and West. From there until the end of the season, the Stars went 25-16-3 to get into the playoffs, where they then upended the Nashville Predators in the first round before taking the Blues as far as you can go without winning.

Sadly, Montgomery had to do that by turning the Stars into the most boring outfit around. From Christmas on, Dallas was the most defensively tight unit in the league. They had the lowest goals-against at even-strength, top-10 in expected goals against, all the while eschewing offense as they also had the lowest goals for at even strength. They were dull as shit, trapping the will to live out of everyone but their own players and fans. Which is all that matters, really.

But when you have one of the league’s best goalies in Ben Bishop, and really a plodding defense behind John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, and really only one line of offense, what else are you supposed to do? Montgomery fit the system to the parts, which must be really nice.

When a coach goes the Mourinho route, generally you’ll get results for a year because limiting things means you can get a coin to land on your side more often, and when you’re reducing chances and goals you’re basically turning more and more games into coin flips. Or more likely, teams in the middle of an interminable regular season just aren’t going to want to work through you, and you are more desperate because you need the results more. And then good results start to pile up, the confidence and belief in what you’re doing grows, and there you go.

But after that, players really don’t want to work that hard without the puck for very long. Not without at least getting to play a bit more and try and score a bit more and make games easier. You can only work in the gulag for so long before you spirit breaks.

It would appear Monty figured that out, too. The Stars started the season horribly, and stood at 1-7-1 after nine games. They’ve gone 12-1-1 since. And check out their expected goals numbers as the season has gone along:

They have opened things up, and traded a little security to allow Seguin, Benn, Radulov, Pavelski et al some more space. They’ve scored 49 goals during this 14-game spree, or just about 3.5 per game.

Now it’s not all that simple. Some is just luck. Tyler Seguin has been Tyler Seguin, but only bagged two goals in the season’s first month due to just rotten luck. Ben Bishop has posted a .942 in November. Heiskanen has eight points in his last four games. Players get hot, players get cold. But the Stars have also had to negotiate around injuries to John Klingberg and Roope Hintz, two big pieces. Maybe it evens out.

It at least feels like Montgomery knows which buttons to push and when to maximize what he has. And we look on with longing eyes…

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