Yeah, about that...
The Stars basically played an even game against the Ducks on Monday night at the American Airlines Center save for a five-minute stretch of the second period. But in that five minutes, the Ducks picked up three goals and cruised to a 4-0 win in the first of a three-game mini-series between the two teams.
Here's how things went down in Dallas....
After a few dings off the post from both teams, including a very pretty forehand shot on a 2-on-1 by Loui Eriksson that caught the elbow, there wasn't much to write home about for either team in the first. Play was largely kept to the outside with few Grade-A shots at the net.
Kari Lehtonen had to make nine saves, and Eriksson had the best chances of the period on a 2-on-1 and a quick move that got him in all alone on Viktor Fasth. The Ducks also had an early chance ring off the pipe.
The Stars offense finally got some life to it behind a pair of power plays early in the period. Although they couldn't generate the game's first goal, the Stars got good chances from Erik Cole, Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney as they dominated the zone time early in the frame.
But it was the Ducks who finally opened the scoring on a power play of their own, when Ryan Getzlaf made a no-look pass to a wide-open Bobby Ryan, who fired a puck past a sliding Kari Lehtonen. The Ducks took the momentum from there, as Bobby Ryan forced Brenden Dillon to turn a puck over off the faceoff, and Corey Perry took advantage of a poor rebound from Lehtonen and some area coverage from Stephane Robidas to put the Ducks up 2-0.
The lead went to three a few minutes later when Matt Beleskey was not picked up by Philip Larsen at the top of the crease and knocked home his own rebound. The Stars actually outshot the Ducks 14-10 in the period but ended the frame on a very fitting broken stick from Jamie Benn.
Dallas came out with some jump early in the period, but once again they were unable to turn that into offense. Benn in particular looked like was on a physical mission much of the game, and while his line produced several quality chances, they were never able to cash in.
They eventually got on the power play, and Ray Whitney had a great look on the doorstep that was stopped by Fasth's pad. But the rest of the power play fizzled, as did a brief one later in the period. And the Stars could never generate many chances beyond that, going quietly into the night in a game their coach implied would be a measure of their compete level this season.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- Let's start with the thing that's on everyone's mind - does this change the Stars' approach to the trade deadline? I'd argue it does not. Derek Roy is almost certainly being moved, and that would have happened regardless of the result tonight. Jaromir Jagr isn't going anywhere without a king's ransom, and that's also still very much the same. People who are only allegedly in play (Stephane Robidas has been floated a few times) are almost certainly staying as well because they have value next year to the Stars as well as this one. None of that changes with this game. It anything, it might quash the very small temptation anyone had about keeping Roy, but my suspicion is even if they won 7-1 tonight, he'd be gone before the teams next meeting.
- Here's the thing about this game that makes the inner five-year-old in me want to scream - The Ducks didn't deserve to win, particularly by this much. They played absolutely uninspired hockey save for a a five-minute stretch in the second and their stints on the power plays in general. The Stars, again, outside of that stretch in the second, kept their most dangerous players to the outside. That little inner five year old wants to scream about how it's just not fair.
- But that said, the Stars didn't take advantage of the Ducks' flatness because they came out pretty average themselves. Sure, they weren't getting strafed like they were on Sunday against the Kings, and they have some very good looks at Fasth. But outside of a few short stretches, they also didn't establish prolonged zone time or create a multitude of second-chance shots. That's particularly concerning given the public tongue-lashing their coach gave them after the egg of a game they laid on Easter (hey, I have to get a pun out of that somehow - everyone else did).
- You could see the effort there tonight, particularly in Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson. Benn went out of his way to make a physical impact, and Eriksson had several glorious scoring chances, especially early. But that effort didn't translate into results, and when that happens consistently, as it has a disturbing number of times this season, you have to question the way over the will. Is it a system problem? At this point, that almost certainly plays a role, and that's a very serious question that the Stars front office has to start examining.
- Essentially, this game came down to capitalizing on mistakes. Both teams made pretty similar amounts of errors, such as Fasth badly misplaying a puck early in the third where Benn couldn't pounce on it for an open net. But for a short stretch, the Ducks took advantage of them while the Stars did not. And that made all the difference. Their game-breakers, and that includes Perry as much as it absolutely pains me to said it, broke the game open for them.
- What does concern me from a larger picture standpoint is how this team seems to let things snowball. It was the penalty issues early in the year, and recently it's been quick or successive goals that seem to take the air out of the group. Razor mentioned several times that the team demeanor was not good. That has to go back to the leadership discussion Brandon had earlier today - this team is screaming that it needs a leader, that it needs someone to be that emotional barometer that when one bad thing happens, it doesn't become a full 5-10 minute freakout.
- And that problem is just as much on the shoulders of the current core as it is on the people look to as veteran leaders. Look, this is Jamie Benn's team. We know that, he knows that, the franchise knows that. I would clone him if I could, and I certainly can't fault his on-ice effort tonight. But he more than anyone else either needs to become that emotional leader or help facilitate someone else becoming that emotional leader.
- Though again, if Eriksson gets the back of the net instead of the elbow early in this one, it's probably an entirely different game given that the Ducks didn't appear to have much spunk in them.
- The team got boo'd off home ice for the first time this season. Honestly, this game in and of itself doesn't concern me as much as it might because I thought the level of play was fairly even. What does concern me is the lack of apparent faith this team has in itself, from cratering mentally for a stretch when things go bad to struggling to turn physical effort into actual sustained pressure. Those are not new issues, and the Stars have shown flashes of ability to overcome them, such as in their most recent win over the Minnesota Wild. But on the whole, it's a consistently inconsistent team, and that is understandably frustrating for everyone with an emotional investment in them, especially the fans.