With the bad taste still in their mouths from the beating at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, the Dallas Stars arrived home to take on the Chicago Blackhawks in a critical game in the battle for playoff positioning. 1:42 into the game the Blackhawks already had the game winning goal on the board. The scoring chances for the game won't fully reflect the 4-1 deficit. The Stars were chasing the entire game, and score effects (the trailing team will generally take more shots/generate more chances due to trying to make up the deficit) kept the chances closer than they should have been.
|Period||Totals||EV||PP||5v3 PP||SH||5v3 SH|
The Stars outchanced the Blackhawks 16-14, but anyone that considers each goal a scoring chance would have the chances at 16-16. The game wasn't this close though. After the jump we'll look at what went wrong.
Two main issues stuck out for the Stars in the loss. The Stars gap control was not where it needs to be, and the Blackhawks defensive game plan gave the Stars fits. Both of these issues are correctable, and we'll start with the gap issue.
If you go back and watch all four Blackhawks goals you'll notice two things. One, all of the goals were stoppable on a good Kari Lehtonen night. He was definitely off. Two, the Blackhawks had entirely too much space to operate. The Stars defense backed off way too much in response to the oncoming advances of the Hawks forwards. When Marian Hossa made the score 3-0 33 seconds into the third period he had about twenty feet of space in all directions with which to operate.
As Ralph and Razor pointed out on the broadcast, the forwards weren't offering much help defensively. On Patrick Sharp's first goal he had a ton of space on the side boards with Brenden Morrow and Jamie Benn backed off. Dave Bolland and Hossa had tons of space on their goals too. None of this is intended to pick on any specific player or position. The point is that, as a team, they have to stay together. They play a zone in the defensive end. If they get spread out like they did against the Hawks the zone is useless. You can't give a team as skilled as the Hawks that much time and space and hope to survive.
The other issue is that the Blackhawks coaching staff shut the Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder duo down. Ryder and Ribeiro were -8 and -11 Corsi. As you might expect they didn't get much in the way of offensive zone starts. The Hawks defensive group of Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, and Johnny Oduya took the most ice time against that duo. Ribeiro and Ryder also saw a lot of Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell. That group of five deserves a good deal of credit for the Hawks win. It's worth pointing out that Seabrook and Keith saw more of Benn than Ribeiro at even strength. They were everywhere, and they show how much easier life can be when you have top pairing defensemen.
The Stars scoring chance leader was Philip Larsen at +5. The defense as a whole was in the green (aside from Adam Pardy and Trevor Daley at -3 each). Stephane Robidas was +4, and Mark Fistric was +2. The forwards were led by the bottom two lines. Tom Wandell and Tomas Vincour were +3 chances in seven minutes at even strength. Vernon Fiddler, Eric Nystrom, and Adam Burish were all +2 chances. They were, obviously, pretty good against the Hawks. The Vincour/Wandell partnership continues to push the puck into the offensive zone.
The Stars remain in third place in the Western Conference, but the teams they need to lose refuse to do so. They sit only three points out of 11th, and they're currently tied with the Colorado Avalanche at 83 points, but with two games in hand for those of you looking at what happens if they don't win the division. Tuesday night the Stars host the Coyotes in the closest thing we've seen this year to a must-win game. If they fix the gap issue, and find ways to get Ribeiro in the offensive zone they'll be able to take care of business.