I would be okay if Pepsi went bankrupt tomorrow and they had to relocate the Avalanche to Boulder or Fort Collins or something. That place has nothing of value for Stars players, coaches or fans. Any volunteers for a Dirty Work-style "get-this-building-condemned" montage?
This game had way too much of the classic movie plot arc, except without the happy ending. The first period was mostly setting things up, showing who was who, and watching the protagonist do their thing (scoring). Then adversity struck, and things got bad in a hurry; our boys' plans unraveled as the game was tied up quickly. The final act would prove to hold no redemption or heroics whatsoever, which makes it avant-garde or something stupid. There was a fight, though.
Lindy Ruff wasn't pleased with the group's effort in the final frame, and you can understand why. The Stars were out-possessing and (earlier) outskating the Avs, and another goal from Dallas seemed almost a given. Unfortunately, the Stars went on to give up three goals (all of the rather embarrassing variety) while putting nothing past Varlamov. I'd guess that exactly no one feels good about that game.
First, some good things:
Mattias "two-first-names-for-my-last-name" Janmark looked like a center last night, which is encouraging. Yes, his scoring will ebb and flow because that's how scoring works. Just enjoy it while it's happening, and maybe remember that Hemsky is a big X-factor on that line. Those two are working right now.
Last night, Seguin put roughly 45 shots on goal and nothing went in. Klingberg worked his way to the slot and couldn't replicate his rookie-year highlight reel. Janmark shot once, twenty seconds in, and scored. I'm going to bet that this will self-correct as the season wears on. It's good that Seguin is shooting (and from lethal areas), so just remember that those pucks will start finding the corners any day now. I've heard modern shooting compared to golf swings as far as the large amount of technical work and finesse that top shooters put into their release, and Seguin is almost done at the driving range. He'll be on the course finding holes any day now. That is a golf comparison because the Stars lost and we deserve to suffer.
This team is still getting better. Seguin was flying early, and the Spezza/Sharp line has tons of potential to score. Despite the penalty kill and the third-period meltdown (no, this one's different from last year's meltdowns, probably) the team looked dangerous almost every time they had the puck last night. Even with Benn's wonky hips and Nichushkin's frustrations, this is a stacked team. Colorado capitalized on their errors because that's what dangerous, potently offensive teams can do, but don't forget the good that came early on, too.
Cody Eakin scored two goals, and that's great. His one-timer is very quick, and I can see him scoring with that on a regular basis down the road (though he didn't do so tonight). Hooray for Cody Eakin's goals.
Oduya had a good game tonight, I thought. Again, he's a second-pairing defenseman who is going to be solid and hopefully not that noticeable. He made some good reads and great plays tonight. There's a big difference between his play and Trevor Daley's play, and that difference (it's mostly a good one) will add up over the course of a season.
The power play looked good earlier on. Sharp and Seguin had good chances, and the top unit can just move the puck around so incisively. Yes, you need to start seeing more goals from them (Eakin's was from the second unit), but Klingberg makes so much difference back there directing things. I'm glad we get to watch him do that for the rest of the decade and more.
Now, the not-so-great things, or at least the ones that I can stomach talking about:
Reffing was iffy at best, but that's no excuse, of course. It went both ways to some extent, but the Stars got stiffed two times on what looked to be pretty clear calls, and that stings. For a team that's determined to draw penalties and stay above the muck, they need to get at least one of those calls to lean on the Avs more. That's not the main reason they lost tonight (not by a long shot), but it's something to watch as the season moves along. If I were a generic color commentator (perish the thought), I would say that the Stars need to "earn" the respect of the officials in order to get all the calls they should. That's not how it should work, and I hope it doesn't. That occurred to me, is all.
Alex Tanguay is Jagr-lite, right? I'm just throwing that out there for anyone who wants to use it. I remember my friend Matt who grew up across the street loved playing NHL 2000 or 2001 on his PC. He always played as the Avs, and I distinctly remember him loving Alex Tanguay. I am not going to be talking to Matt about this game, though.
Gabriel Landeskog was fairly unstoppable. Kudos to Janmark for sort of trying to body up on him once later in the game, but that ain't happening, kid. This was a captain in beast-mode on home ice at altitude. Bad situation when your team starts flagging.
The Stars had the better of all the metrics except for one: high-danger scoring chances. The Avs got 14 to the Stars' 8, and when you remember where most of their goals were scored from, well, there you go. Speaking of which, Antti Niemi actually shut down one of those high-danger chances on the Avs' first power play after Jordie Benn's stick was mysteriously broken and he had to borrow Roussel's, which I assume felt like Frodo swinging a Morgul blade. The Stars were in scramble mode then, but #31 came up big against Soderberg to freeze play. [Note: The Avs have signed Carl Soderberg to a five-year, $23.75 million contract, in case you forgot. I guess you always want to have a guy named Carl around if you can, or something? That is my only plausible theory for that deal.]
Nichushkin still isn't clicking, and Lindy Ruff made good on his word to Ruffle-When-Ready, taking Nuke off Spezza's line early in the 2nd in favor of Eaves. Lower pressure for Nuke to get up to speed could be good, but it's tough to see him get knocked down. Val didn't get much ice time later in the game, which is a product of playing on the Moen/Fiddler line. I know we all want to see Nichushkin put in positions to succeed, and I'm sure the Stars do, too. Right now, it seems like this is how they're trying to motivate him while trying to win games at te same time. We'll see if it works out. (You could argue it's helped Hemsky, but of course he's an older player, etc. etc. etc.) I'd recommend a ten-game analysis period for Nuke this year, but I know we're all going to overreact after each game anyway, so whatever.
Niemi made a beautiful stop after Benn was tripped up in the offensive zone and the Avs rushed in with numbers. When Kari was at his best in the past, people would always talk about his amazing calmness that would exude from the crease. Niemi seemed to be doing that for the most part, but then he threw the puck out of play, and Erik Johnson's one-timer through a partial Eaves-screen on the resultant power play found the net and the spiral had begun. The bench also wanted to play "Avoidable Penalties (by Mattel)" and fired off a Too Much Mans salvo shortly thereafter which led to Iginla's goal. Demers and Eakin seemed to miscommunicate on coverage there, as there's no way Iginla's stick should have been available on that play. We'll come back to those two Stars in a second.
Josh GIFed the fourth goal, and you can see the issue: two or three players below the red line, and Klingberg can't get back to cut off pass to the low slot while Spezza is waiting for puck to come out the other side (surprise, though, it did not come out that side). No chance for Niemi on that one.
Only other goal I want to talk about is the Avs' fifth. This was also a result of sloppy coverage by Demers/Eakin, and you can see Demers get frustrated about it or Eakin or both right after the goal. The Stars can't clear the zone, it comes back in, and there is far too much space allowed as Demers tries to direct traffic before a great one-timer from Landeskog fizzes by Niemi through a screen (also by Eakin). I think the Stars are going to be participating in "awkward video review sessions while Ruff glares" over the next day or two.
Sharp moved up to Seguin/Benn line midway through 3rd, but the Avs were collapsing by then, and the team looked beaten. Nothing much to be divined from that other than the fact that Ruff has acknowledged the trio's potential playability.
I don't have much to add on the scrum towards the end. Given the opportunity, Iginla and the Avs decided to get their revenge on Roussel (and others, too; sorry, Janmark) who had probably been doing his thing all game. Blake Comeau decided that it's pretty sporting to punch guys who are not engaging and who are helmetless and restrained by the linesmen, which, not cool, Blake. We'll see what comes of that. Comeau isn't really a top-notch player (although the Penguins would probably put him on Crosby's wing given the chance), so the DoPS would probably be okay with docking him some cash or maybe a game just to let everyone know who's in charge. It's Roussel though, so don't count on it.
The Stars are going to lose games this year, probably dozens. You'd prefer that they not give up six goals in doing so on account of bad memories from last year, but when your team is playing at altitude and starts breaking down in coverage and discipline (technical or otherwise), this is what you get. It's early, and the Avs are bad. If you have to drop a stinker to a divisional foe, I guess this is the one to do it with? Sure, let's go with that.
Bright side: Kari will almost assuredly start Tuesday, and Edmonton is a bad hockey team--but so are the Avalanche, and that didn't seem to matter, right? There's probably a lesson here that involves 12 coaching aphorisms, but it's pretty simple: the Stars gave up prime chances with abandon, and they didn't generate or capitalize enough to stay in the game. It's early in the season, and the loss was against a team much worse than their previous foe in Pittsburgh, so there are good things about this team to hold onto. Still, you'd love to see the PK come up big as the year wears on. You'd love to see them keep a game tight and slowly add on as they start to slice up the other team's system without giving up prime chances. You'd love to see them play like Chicago, in other words. They do, sometimes. Maybe they will do that more on Tuesday.
Last night, the Stars' best players, as Ruff said, were not their best players. When Cody Eakin and Mattias Janmark are scoring your only goals and you give up 14 premium opportunities, you are asking to lose a hockey game. Tonight, the Stars were given what they asked for. That's usually not a very fun thing to get.