After the Stars gave up the third goal to Nashville Thursday night, it seemed like every bit of good that had been built up over the last fifteen minutes or so had all disappeared faster than a handful of leprechaun bubble bath. Not again, we thought. How can they possibly recover from that?
And because the world of hockey this year is merciless and sadistic, we went right from seeing a replay of that goal to watching this happen:
Picture #1: Jordie Benn prepares to pass the puck while skating slowly.
Picture #2: Jordie Benn does pass the puck, sort of. Also, his legs turned into brand-name gelatin dessert. (incidentally, it did look like the ice was awful last night, but who knows how much that factored into this event.)
Aside: If this seems familiar, it's because a certain player named Stephane Robidas also committed a practically identical bungle when the stakes were much, much higher. Remember this?
Thankfully, it was 2008 playoffs, so Turco took care of his literally fallen comrade, and the game would end differently, although I can't remember exactly how. Did we win that one? So long ago, you know.
Picture #3: (I zoomed in, so forgive the quality.) Here we see the tip of Olli "Holy Moly, thank you for the pizza" Jokinen's stick as the puck is propelled towards the net. Kari Lehtonen alone retains the Stars' hopes for preventing this catastrophic sequence from ending the game right there.
Of course, Kari also came through last night, but unlike 2008, the Stars couldn't subsequently force the puck into the net. Despite the talented and desperate skaters on the ice throwing pucks at Pekka Rinne for the last five minutes of the game, the Stars were left staring at the ice, the ceiling, anywhere but at each other. It must have been a truly awful feeling for those guys on the ice who found themselves completely spent as the horn sounded.
I didn't choose this sequence just to rub salt in the wounds of Jordie Benn or the Stars. Incidentally, I'm also not saying he's playing great lately, either. (In fact, he's not, which puts him squarely in the company of quite a few people on the team during this little slide.) But as the Robidas reminder shows, these things do happen, even to veterans. And generally speaking, embarrassing events like losing your balance without a soul near you or the puck tend to happen more frequently when you're feeling fatigue or pressure of some kind, like how you suddenly forget how to use Google competently when your boss is staring over your shoulder. In Robidas' case, that fatigue could pretty clearly be tracked to an extended amount of playing time during high-pressure hockey with no margin for error. In Benn's case, I'm going to make an educated guess and say that his recent benching is very fresh in his mind, and he knows his play has been noticeably sub-par for much of this season. Combine that with the sting of seeing your hard-won tie game lost late in the third period for what seems like the hundredth time this year, and you have a player who loses focus just for an instant with the puck on his stick as his skate catches, and suddenly Lehtonen's heart is beating slightly faster than it was a second ago.
Brandon mentioned that the locker room Thursday night was particularly somber. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that this team is fighting it right now, yet they know they need a win to pull themselves out of the funk. In other words, they know they can't keep feeling the despair they feel if they want to win the next game. To win, a team generally needs to play with confidence. But to play with confidence, the team needs to believe that their instincts and skills can be relied upon to see them through a game. Right now, this team is seeing their best efforts and instincts come up short. Maybe if it's in midseason or in a bad road loss the team can shrug it off; but right now, the evidence for doubting their instincts seems to be mounting. That weighs on a player, especially one who has had to earn every bit of ice he's gotten for most of his late-starting career.
Kari Lehtonen isn't immune to this either, I think. His positioning was off on that third goal, and that's just as inexcusable in its own way as Benn's fall right after. But sadly, this is what happens when your good players are not getting good results. They start trying different things, they start pausing instead of making that instinctive move, and it usually throws off their play as a result.
And that's why one win can change things so much. Seeing your instincts come through, watching as your skills actually result in positive outcomes, that is what motivates a team. And until Dallas starts to feel that positive reinforcement in bigger ways than "playing all right" in another regulation loss, that monkey is going to sit high atop their backs. And don't be surprised if you see another embarrassing play in the meantime.
Hey, though, if they can win tonight, I don't care if their pants fall down with the final buzzer. Let's just get one.
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Saturday is here, folks. I'm going to get some reading done. See you later.
Razor gets candid with you in his postgame vlog from the Nashville trash. I recommend this one highly. I'm sure Razor wasn't planning on doing these as consolation and catharsis, but it's better than nothing right now. [Stars]
Does Kari Lehtonen have a higher-than-average tendency to let in "soft goals?" Not particularly, it turns out. Check out this great piece on shot quality from [Puck Daddy]
Mike Heika gives some of his insight and introspection on this whole rodeo right now. [DMN]
Chicago fell to its future outdoor opponent Washington last night, as Matt Niskanen capped a three-goal burst by the Caps in the final five minutes of the second period. The Caps would withstand a barrage of shots from Chicago to hold on and walk away with the win. [Japers Rink]
Remember Jonas Gustavsson, famous Scandinavian goalie the Stars were targeting oh so long ago? He's out for two months with a shoulder injury; incidentally, his replacement had no trouble, even with Pavel Datsyuk also taking the day off: Petr Mrazek did a great job watching as Jimmy Howard led the Wings to a 4-2 win over New Jersey last night. [NHL.com]
If you get annoyed by the term "Original Six," Keith Olbermann is here to lambast and protest by your side. Hey, he looks like that ESPN guy from the 90s a little bit. [YouTube]
The Down Goes Brown grab bag includes some great notes on an old commercial starring #99, but the Jonas Hiller GIF is what you are really looking for. [Grantland]
Finally, if you thought the Stars' boards could be weird sometimes, check out the notorious panels encompassing the Joe: