Lots and lots to talk about after a game that was ugly in the traditional and the medical sense. We'll get to the second period in a moment, but the flow of this game was pretty noticeable, so let's start there.
Early on, the Lightning were sending forecheckers hard, and the Stars were facing lots of pressure on defense that they didn't seem ready for at first. That led to the Klingberg giveaway which led to the Stamkos chance that should always go in, but that wasn't the only bad decision John Klingberg made tonight. The young Swede had his moments, but he also showed that he still hasn't played 82 games in the NHL, and the most potent offense in the league last season brought Klingberg's inexperience to the fore tonight.
The thing about often being the savviest player on the ice is that when you go up against a team that's seen the best the league has to offer, you might need to adjust your perception a bit and make the safe play more times than you'd prefer. I'm still okay with Klingberg getting his mojo going, but tonight was a good lesson for him.
That might have been a good metaphor for the team at large tonight. After going down 1-0, the Stars found another gear, almost like when the heavyweight boxer first starts to bleed and gets enraged (although no one would call the Stars heavyweights tonight). Dallas looked like a team determined to bust out some Western-style offense on the best team of the lesser conference, and that's what they did for about half the game.
Speaking of, let's just wallow in that Spezza-to-Benn pass on the back door, shall we? Spezza fading away, apparently being forced to rim the puck around, and suddenly he puts the puck on Benn's tape. That's a world-class play right there from your second-line center, folks.
The second period was what this game was about, though. Benn's hit was after the puck was gone, but I have to think Hedman should be expecting another body coming into that play, and the way his head snapped back after Benn hit him, you can tell he was focused on the puck. Benn is a big boy who hits (when he hits) hard, but that hit was body-to-body all the way. I love Hedman, and I hope he's all right, but that's such a bang-bang sequence there that I just don't see how you can fault Benn. We'll see what comes of it, I guess. For what it's worth, former NHL ref Kerry Fraser also didn't see a penalty there:
@GeoFitz4 Hedman had just handled the puck and Benn was committed to the hit. Possible interfere? It was from front vs Nesterov from behind.— Kerry Fraser (@kfraserthecall) October 16, 2015
However tough that hit on Hedman was, there's no excuse for Nesterov's hit on McKenzie. I'm not sure his hit was all that premeditated, but any player in the NHL knows that you can't lay into a guy that close to the boards from behind, because sometimes it results in this:
Lindy Ruff said Curtis McKenzie was taken to hospital. Didn't say what injury was, only said McKenzie was in "excruciating pain."— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) October 16, 2015
That just flat-out sucks for McKenzie. Best wishes for a speedy recovery to our favorite college hockey player.
The whole "stand up for your star players" thing is all well and good, so I get that Tampa is looking to return the favor after losing Hedman, but when it's Jamie Benn laying that hit, shouldn't there be some respect that prevents you from putting a guy's career in jeopardy like that? I know the answer is that Nesterov wasn't thinking, heat of the moment, adrenaline, yada yada yada, but if the department primarily concerned with Player Safety wouldn't mind taking a moment to remind players that injuring other players is stupid and punishable, that would be good.
The Roussel punch, you could sort of see how someone would say it's from a scrum; the Oduya board was pretty egregious, but since no one got hurt, it's in the league's best interest to give special treatment to the rookie they've been marketing since the summer; tonight, though, you have to hope that the league doesn't see the major penalty as sufficient. Honestly, who knows anymore?
Okay, hockey. Early on, the Stars were blocking a lot of shots, and Lehtonen was cleaning up the remainder, but after the halfway point (and in the third period in particular), pucks started getting through to Kari en masse. Props to Lehtonen, who really did have a fantastic game, but you'd like to see your team doing a better job (or even a halfhearted job) of shot suppression with a three-goal lead. Score effects and all that, but the Stars could have lost this game in regulation if Kari hadn't cleaned up for them. Any time your team gives up 42 scoring chances and you only surrender three goals, you have to be pretty happy with your goaltending, and Dallas more than most.
That said, you have to give Dallas credit for staving off the tying goal after Tampa's one-two punch. They didn't exactly thwart the Bolts' onrush, but last year's team likely falls apart in the third period and gives up two power play goals or something. Good on Dallas for staying out of the box, something they've been good at so far in the early season.
Mattias Janmark looked good on both sides of the puck even without Hemsky by his side, which is encouraging. Eakin-Janmark-Sceviour took a beating in possession, but so did everyone not named Benn or Seguin. Janmark had some very nice plays with and without the puck, and if you're Jim Nill, right about now is when you just walk around with a smug smile on your face every time someone mentions Janmark's name.
Patrick Sharp is still close, so very close; did you also suspect that he eschewed getting his first point on an empty-netter? Not sure how else a sniper like Sharp misses the empty net by that much. I am probably joking, unless I am not.
The difference in this game was Kari Lehtonen, but he only had a lead to defend because of the power play. Dallas's penalty kill actually looked good, but the offensive side of special teams got the goal you have to have when your teammate gets injured on a major penalty. Jason Demers played well tonight even before the goal, but let's hope the Stars continue to produce on the power play. When you draw penalties as well as puck-possession teams can do, you need your power play to be highly weaponized. One would hope Sharp is a big factor in that sooner rather than later.
Tonight was a rough ride, but it's so much easier to take these games when your team capitalizes. Dallas was grossly outshot and outchanced tonight, but Kari outdueled Bishop and the Stars capitalized. That's the way you have to beat the best teams when they play well, even if it's not a sustainable strategy. This early in the season, the Stars don't have to concern themselves with anything more the fact that they have a 3-1-0 record, and their goaltending has been a strength. I think we'd all have been thrilled with that at the start of the season.