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Game 7 Afterwords: Stars Demoralize Penguins, May Never Lose Again

Despite oodles of charity power play time, the Penguins got badly outplayed by the Stars for the second time in two weeks

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Being first is very important in journalism on the internet, so I am going to go ahead and lock in my vote now: the Dallas Stars might never lose another game.

This is a very controversial opinion, but I am brave enough to stand by it after what happened in Pittsburgh tonight: every member of the hockey cognoscenti simultaneously discovered that the Stars are good, and the Penguins are not.  If you followed the game on social media, it felt a bit* like when the cool kid at school has clearly been dealing pot all semester, but no one believes you when you point it out, and then finally he gets busted during a locker search and everyone is like "whoa, Joey deals?" and you're like, "Yes.  This is what I have been telling you."

*It may not totally be like that.

I don't want to bag on the Penguins too much, though.  It's sad to see a team that's been carrying two of the best centers in the league for a decade face the fact that they may not win another cup with both of them.  Never was that more apparent than in Pittsburgh's second contest of the year against Dallas, a tilt in which the Penguins committed the Hollywood oopsie of launching all their attacks in the first five minutes, only to watch the smoke clear and see their enemy standing there unscathed and unhappy.

Antti Niemi still faced more shots than you'd like to see, but man, I'm practically used to it by now.  You know how last year, a team would rush towards the Dallas net and shoot, and even if the puck got blocked, you just knew it would somehow end up in the net?  I don't have that feeling anymore.  Not that the word "feeling" implies that my prediction of Dallas never losing again is based on anything other than sound science, of course, but that Malkin breakaway just didn't even matter to Niemi when he gloved it aside.  He discarded it.

If this team has shown some shakiness after giving up a goal, the converse appears to be equally true.  When things start breaking right for Dallas, they pour it on, and good luck to you if you're anywhere remotely close to sea level.  In fact, tonight, even when the Stars did give up a goal, the Spezza line got it right back for once.  Hooray for punching back!

Someone in the comments earlier today (you know who you are) mentioned that the Stars had one older guy and two younger folks on each of Ruff's four lines tonight, and the Spezza line really seems to feed off that combination of youthful exuberance and veteran sagacity.  The Stars do seem very big on pairing Nichushkin with Spezza, and Janmark could well be the catalyst to elevate that line into a regular high-grade threat.  It certainly worked that way this evening.

Maybe I lied about not bagging on Pittsburgh too much, because that defense...woof.  Kris Letang is still fantastic, and Maatta should be a staple for a while, but beyond that?  It's no wonder this team can't get depth scoring, regardless of who the forwards are.  Your top defense pair is usually out with your top scorers, so that means Scuderi or Lovejoy or one of the kids is probably doing their best to dig the puck out of their own zone a good amount of the time when the lower lines are out there. That kills your transition game, and it really makes you realize just how foolish that Simon Despres trade was.

In the interest of balance, I will mention that Phil Kessel completely jelly-legged Oduya and nearly beat Gologoski to a loose puck for a breakaway tonight.  He might have been the Pens' best player tonight even though he didn't score, which is not much consolation when you're a team as desperate for scoring as Pittsburgh is.

Nevertheless, Dallas really does have a solid defense (at least, against the East and the Oilers).  The season (and the Central Division) will really test them, but you have to be thrilled with Dallas' management of rebound chances and interior passes in the early part of the season.  I'm still really bullish on how well this defense moves the puck, and I think it'll only look better as the year goes on.

Mattias Janmark continues to look good, and he will probably score in every game for the rest of the season based on my math.  Taylor mention NIchushkin's great play in the recap, but I am greedy and would also have loved to see Janmark get that 2-on-1 pass through to Nuke to finally get him some confidence.  I still think games like this can help with mojo, but you want to see some of the goal-type rewards at some point for Nuke.

Janmark, for the record, does not appear to be lacking in confidence, and that extends all the way from his defensive play to his skating.  He just looks so well- balanced out there, even at high speeds.  You don't see that from rookies too often.

Radek Faksa got a taste of intangible rewards, as he got whistled twice for transgressing the sacred tenet of "don't touch a Penguins player when they're losing." You could feel some of his pent up frustration on the one-timer he blasted just wide at the end of the second period.  I also expected that to go in, but apparently we'll have to wait one more game for Faksa's first hat trick.

I'd love to get a look into what the officials were thinking with some of the calls last night, but the Penguins are going to get more favorable calls based on reputation, so if you're Dallas, you need to brush that off and keep going no matter how many times you get run without anyone caring.  That's what happens when you're dominating in this league: teams will try to get you off your game any way they can.

The Stars learned tonight that the officials won't always have their backs, and Jason Demers' frustration was clearly borne out of the high stick he took directly beforehand.  I think the major was probably sufficient to deal with it, but Bonino is on the Penguins and we're all bitter sunbelt-market-team fans, so we actually have no ability to predict the league's next move at any given point.

This is not to say that the officials are to blame for the nasty elbow Bonino took.  Referees generally like to keep the game in hand with some strategic calls during the later minutes of games with big deficits, and maybe that's what they were trying to do with the absolutely laughable boarding call on Sharp.  Whatever their plan, however, it demonstrably failed during the game's final five minutes.  When a player's adrenaline gets flowing after taking a cheap shot, their judgment starts going down the tubes in favor of immediate vengeance, and you can hardly expect good things to result from that.  Let's hope Bonino is okay and that Demers pulls off his next reversal with safer execution.

When Oduya manipulated that first puck past Fleury, the Penguins deflated.  Razor referred to Crosby's body language, but the whole team was frankly disjointed after getting behind, and even a 3rd-period flurry didn't do much to change that.  Road teams always preach playing a safe game and keeping things close, and the Stars probably did that to a fault at first, giving up some better chances than they needed to rather than counterattacking aggressively.  Once they started punching back, Pittsburgh couldn't handle it, and that was really your game.

A penalty kill like the Stars' just feasts on indecision, and most of the Penguins' power plays fell prey to that in one form or another.  The Penguins' power play looked like a stray dog romping around the Stars' yard from the perimeter but being repeatedly fended off and whacked with a newspaper whenever it approached the porch, all the while being told "NO" in that really fake-mean voice you use on puppies.  Antti Niemi probably loves dogs in real life though.

Niemi vs. Fleury wasn't much of a battle tonight.  Niemi was splendid on pucks from distance through traffic, which is where a lot of the quality shots came from; Marc-Andre Fleury did not have a very Niemi game tonight on the first and second goals, although you can't really fault him for the last two.  You can absolutely fault the Penguins' defense and David Perron for those, if you feel like it.

I would appreciate it if Jordie Benn wouldn't wait until I have just started praising his immense value to validate ill-informed criticisms of him in the defensive zone.  That little saucer pass behind the boards usually doesn't get tapped down by the forechecker, but he could have sold it better to ensure its completion.  It was a little bit of an overconfident play, which you're liable to do when you've been playing well enough to scratch Patrik Nemeth for seven straight games.  Benn went into full fire safety mode after the turnover instead of bodying up on Bonino, so it's safe to say he won't be splicing that sequnce into his retirement montage.  Maybe Jamie will just to mess with him.

John Klingberg certainly makes a power play look lethal, doesn't he?  The Stars still need to get Sharp going on the man-advantage, but if it continues working a third of the time and he doesn't score, no one's going to be too broken up about it.

Sharp actually had a very good game tonight.  He really is a stalwart defensive player, and even if he never reaches the 60 points I spuriously projected for him, he's more than welcome to hang around if he keeps picking off passes and staying in position against the opposition's good players.  Besides, he's there for leadership above all else, and you can't put a price on that.  If you could, though, I'd say like $5.9 million.

Like opening night, the Stars' top line wasn't relied upon for scoring.  Like opening night, the Stars shut down the Penguins' top line, albeit with even more help from Niemi this time around.  Like opening night, this team worked as it's supposed to and beat their opponent by three goals.  And like opening night, the Stars won and are now tied for first in the Western Conference.  This team is 6-1-0 to start the season.  They will never lose again.*

*probably