Tonight's game between the Florida Panthers and your Dallas Stars was like watching Transformers 2. It wasn't really that good from the start, was awful at some moments, left you feeling insulted as a fan during other moments... but yet you still watch from start to finish because of your never ending fandom compels you to, because there were some moments that made you smile and because you kinda hope at the end of it there would be a happy and fulfilling conclusion that would make the suffering through the ordeal all worth while.
Only, we didn't get that. In either the movie or this game.
The Panthers and Stars stumbled and bumbled their way to a shootoout before a Rostislav Olesz goal in the third round of the shootout sealed a 6-5 victory for the cats from Florida.
You know it's going to be a very long night when Steven Reinprecht rattles off a natural hat trick on you within the first fifteen minutes of the game. Now give credit to Reinprecht who is having the best start ever in his ten year NHL career and is apparently doing so by wearing an invisible cloak that makes opposing defensemen oblivious to his presence around the net. Truth is though, the Stars casual defense around said net combined with the inability for Alex Auld to control any of his rebounds was a huge reason why Reinprecht had the three goals and why Florida was able to keep putting pucks in the net.
The Panthers clearly had read the book on how to attack the Stars and deal with Auld. Attack the blue line with speed and then as you crash the net, make sure to bring the puck with you. Four of the five Panther goals came from around the ten feet away or less area of the Stars goal. It's one thing for the Dallas defensemen to collapse around the net, but the problem is they stay far too stationary and try to swipe away at pucks with their sticks instead of taking a body in a white jersey and making sure they don't have room to operate around the goal. If the Stars are going to improve on this, they need to start taking the body and imposing their will a little more on the other team.
Between the seven defensemen that dressed tonight, there were seven hits credited in the game - four of those hits belonging to Stephane Robidas of course who brings his hitting game almost every night. Jeff Woywitka had a hit as well, but only saw a little over five minutes of ice time, so in a way you could say of the five other defensemen the Stars had, only two of them managed to get a hit that was big enough for the statistician to bother giving them credit for one. (That would be Fistric and Niskanen for your information.)
Again we saw long stretches of play in this game where the Stars simply couldn't carry the puck out of their own zone even when there may have only been one forechecker to get in their way. There is a reason there is such an outcry by fans and media alike for the Stars to get a puck moving defenseman because this team needs one and hopefully he'll show the rest of the defensemen how it's done!
I'm not going to totally pin this loss on Auld because while he didn't 't look that good in net, seemed to lack confidence in his play and was giving up all kinds of bad rebounds the defense in front of him should have been better.
It wasn't too long ago that Auld was bailing out poor defensive play in front of him with his netminding efforts against Calgary and Chicago... Tonight would have been a good night for his defense the to pick up the slack and help out their goalie who was clearly fighting the puck all night - and perhaps also fighting some nerves knowing it was Auld-or-bust night at the AAC with Marty Turco down and out with the flu.
That's how hockey works my friends. Sometimes your goalie isn't going to have a good night and it's on the players in front to support him. If you have to lean on your goalie 82 times in a season and his name isn't Dom Hasek and the year isn't 1998-98, then you're doomed.
But there were some positives to take from this game and it's mostly with the forwards - especially the line of Tom Wandell, Brian Sutherby and Fabian Brunnstrom who were by far the best line on the ice for Dallas and who along with Loui Eriksson were the only Stars forwards to finish on the positive side of the plus/minus ratings for the game. The entire forward unit as a whole wasn't too bad, and you have to give them credit for taking a cue from the Panthers and throwing all kinds of shots on net and crashing when they could. They weren't quite as effective as the Panthers were in that regard, but still 37 shots on the night is still a good total. Every forward for the Stars except for Jamie Benn was credited with at least one shot on goal and even then I'm pretty sure I saw Benn at least shoot two towards the net if not right on.
Fabian had his first multi-point game of the season (goal and assist), Wandell added two assists and Sutherby scored his third of the season and added an assist.
Faceoffs are still an issue (I'll stop there before I start sounding like a broken record) and there could have been a little better effort to back check in the game,but overall a coach can't ask for much more offensively from his players.
Special teams wise the Stars were fairly ok if not good. A perfect 2 for 2 on the penalty kill - although Jordin Leopold's goal in the second period off a Panthers rush into the zone came shortly after a PK and maybe would have been prevented had the Stars stayed in a penalty kill type mind frame for the next few moments after when Fabian was trying to get himself back into the play. Still kudos to the PK for playing fairly well and to the team overall for keeping the amount of penalties taken down. Interesting to note the Stars have killed 25 of their last 29 times short handed dating back to the middle of this month - good for an 86.2% success rate.
The Stars power play did score once on six tries so it wasn't a total failure, but still Florida really had penalty troubles in the second period and although there were a few chances Dallas just couldn't close the deal.
Speaking of closing the deal, that brings me to the shootout. Just give me a moment to sigh heavily and rub the temples of my brain for a moment before I continue...
Ok, I think I'm good.
Look, tonight was Marc Crawford's 1,000th game as a head coach in the National Hockey League. Me on the other hand? I have yet to even get near a bench for one, so I am sure Marc is maybe moire qualified at picking the shooters for the shootout than I am.
But doesn't he see by now that his constant picks for the Stars trio of shooters - Brad Richards, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro - it's just not working! It's time to switch it up and get some new shooters coach Crow!
Allow me to talk to the shooters themselves if I may...
James Neal, yes you have a laser cannon of a wrist shot but sadly it doesn't actually burn holes through goalies (yet) so in the meantime you've rattled two of your attempts off posts and broke your stick during two other tries. We all love you on the ice and you are due for some good luck in these skill contests eventually, but right now it's not working out!
I don't know what has happened to you Mike Ribeiro, but I'm starting to suspect Dave Tippett before he left did some sort of Jedi mind trick that prevents you from trying any kind of crazy deke moves like we saw at different times last year! How else can I explain the rather mundane attempts you have fired off so far? Look, if you're not going to score on these things anyway, at least do something like throw the puck between your legs or point at the goal like Owen Nolan circa 1997... At least this way when you miss the net or get stopped by the goalie we can say "well the finished sucked, but getting there was fun as hell!"
And Brad Richards... You frustrate me the most. You wind up from your own end's face off circle, come in with a ton of speed and try to go blocker side. You've tried it every time this season (and you haven't scored) and you've tried it almost every time last season. We get it, it's your move. Don't you have something else though in your bag of tricks? The problem is we all - from your fans down to the goalie you're facing - know what is coming and with the speed that you come in at it's hard for you to throw any kind of variant or change up in there. Try something different please?
And Coach Crawford, if game 1,001 against the Predators tomorrow night in Nashville comes down to a shootout again if your first thought is to pencil in Neal, Ribeiro and Richards, please lead by example and change up the routene you seem to be stuck in because just like the shooters you've been picking over and over again, with four shootout losses to the team's credit, it's just not working.
Defending Big D's Three Stars of the Game:
Steven Rienprecht, Florida - Natural hat trick in the first and a four point night overall
Nathan Horton, Florida - Three assists, nuff said
Brian Sutherby, Dallas - A goal and assist and it no mere coincidence the Stars are 6-1-1 when he scores a goal.