There were plenty of facepalm worthy moments from the Dallas Stars on Thursday in their 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, but none as cringe-worthy as the amount of time and space the Wings were afforded on their fifth goal of the game.
I mean look at it. I could have scored this goal, and my main objective every game is not to hurt myself running into the boards.
(Okay, I wouldn't have scored this goal because I am terrible at ice hockey and would have probably fallen on my butt instead of catching the pass. But the amount of time afforded the shooter here, even by special-teams standards, is embarrassing.)
So how exactly does a guy get left as wide open as the Texas sky right in front of the net? It's actually a relatively simple breakdown at the hands of a very talented player in transition.
Thanks to @beepeearr on Twitter for the screenshots I was too lazy to get on my own.
Everything starts in decent shape. Antoine Roussel is pressuring Pavel Datsyuk as the puck carrier, Jason Demers is keeping an eye on Kyle Quincey, Jordie Benn has solid middle lane support and Vernon Fiddler is on the weak side to contain Darren Helm. There's probably a little more gap than is healthy from both Benn and Demers, but it's nothing critical at this point.
Demers has made the decision to step up on Quincey, who got the puck from Datsyuk, and Roussel at the same time has made the decision to peel off, passing coverage of Datsyuk to Demers and taking the high part of the zone coverage.
This is the biggest breakdown on this play, which will become evident in the next screenshot. Datsyuk, being the crafty guy he is, immediately recognizes that he has two Stars players stopping/turning on the play (see the angle of Demers and Roussel's skates) and no one to go with him if the puck chips down the boards. Quincey recognizes this as well. It reads like a set power-play zone entry play from how seamlessly they execute it, and Demers and Roussel bit hard.
So what should happen here? The Stars need to sort out which of the PK guys is going to stop high and which is the safety valve for down low. The 2-on-2 matchup isn't a numbers problem yet, but the Stars are asking for it to turn into an odd-man rush.
So yeah. About that odd-man rush. This has turned from 4-on-4 to a low, wide 3-on-2 very quickly, and the most dangerous man on the ice has the puck.
Both Benn and Fiddler recognize the odd-man situation developing and shift from their usual coverage roles to try and play the situation. You can probably criticize Benn here for not being aggressive enough on Datsyuk, but I honestly see what he's thinking. First of all, in a PK situation (and an odd-man rush to boot), being overly aggressive can create numbers mismatches if the puck gets through. Second, it's Datsyuk with the puck, and he has a well-earned reputation for taking advantage of situations where defensemen try to step up on him.
Given both of those, my thought is Benn wants to keep the puck in front of him rather than sell out to take Datsyuk's body, and while I understand the criticism of that, I don't have a problem. What I do have more of an issue with is both Roussel and Demers are puck staring. One or both of them needs to look around and notice Tomas Tatar with acres of space on the strong side. They might not be able to get to him in time, but Demers could easily get into the passing lane. That would allow Fiddler to shift back over to Helm.
Unfortunately for Dallas, that's not what happened. Demers ends up doubling Benn's coverage on Datsyuk, leaving the lane for the pass. Fiddler is now forced to play the situation like a wide 2-on-1 and leave a very excited Helm all by his lonesome in probably the most dangerous area of the ice. Roussel is covering space at this point, though I'm sure he's thinking the puck might bump back to Quincey.
Then Tatar gets the puck to Helm, and Jussi Rynnas has pretty much no chance.
This play boiled down to an individual overaggressive read by Demers that was compounded by his (and Roussel's) poor read of the ensuing situation. The Stars transition game on both sides of the puck has been a struggle at best, and this type of breakdown is just another reason why.
The Stars have a lot of problems right now around both blue lines, whether that's making decisions in those key areas when they have the puck or switching coverage there when on defense. And when those mistakes come with the puck on the stick of one of the most talented players in the game, it will often cost you.
Still, mistakes are inevitable. The Stars need to get better at responding to the situation once an initial breakdown happens rather than getting caught puck staring.