Sic transit gloria stellarum.
If you aren't familiar with the term, "apple" is hockey-jock parlance for an assist. The Stars had, officially, four assists tonight. Unofficially, they had just about all the assists, as turnovers succeeded in torpedoing any chance they might have had to pull out a win in what was supposed to have been a glorious homecoming.
Returning to the AAC after a five-game winning streak and a perfect road trip, the Stars had to feel great. This team was atop the Bestern Conference with all the underlying stats that indicated they belonged there. Goals were showing up like crazy, the special teams units were clicking, saves were as timely as you could ask for, and the other team just wasn't able to cash in on their chances.
Tonight, this team wasn't in sync, and despite their still-sterling record on the year, none of us are going to accuse the Stars of being too calm after giving up goals. Things went badly in the first, and all the good feelings had evaporated well before Kari got yanked later in the game.
If you took the Pittsburgh game and reversed it, I think you just might have seen this match tonight. In both cases you had a team who looked dominant early, and while the Penguins didn't actually score on Thursday, the Stars certainly looked equally great early on, and the Jamie Benn power play goal just reinforced that perception. Everything was clicking, and even an early breakaway surrendered was negated by a Kari Lehtonen save. Yessir, things were right as rain in Dallas Stars Land, right up until they weren't.
That first Jagr goal was a weird situation. Kari had to see Jagr losing the puck before he noticed it himself, so the last thing he probably expected was for this AARP member coming down on the off wing to almost seamlessly recover the puck and roof it in one motion. It's not a good look for Lehtonen, but his playing it poorly was partly a result of the odd circumstances, so I don't really worry about that one too much. Learn from mistakes, we all make them, etc.
You do wonder if that goal got in Kari's head a bit, though, because the next goal was not not not good. That is almost the Mike Modano first career goal, except replace Modano with Nick Bjugstad. Yeesh, I don't like putting those two names together, but maybe the repulsive nature of that juxtaposition will make it clear just how bad that goal was. To top it off, that goal gave the Panthers a lead they would never relinquish, so it's the worst possible time for Kari's worst goal allowed this year. That just kills a team. It really does.
Anyway, much like the Penguins in the Pittsburgh game, the Stars couldn't maintain their momentum early on, and their lapses in defense, forward coverage and goaltending came together with an inability to put away glorious scoring chances, and there you have it: Stars lose. You can pick names like Klingberg and Goligoski if you're looking for easy targets, but those same players also had good moments where they showed why we expect so much better out of them. Mattias Janmark also was -4 somehow all by himself, but I think it's safe to say he was not really the big problem tonight, unless you count his missed chances as big problems. Everyone missed chances, though. This wasn't a game where the team consistently played bad hockey so much as a game where the team inconsistently played good hockey, and I believe there is a difference there. Combine that with a game in which your goaltending doesn't bail you out and you don't finish your chances on the other side, and guess what? You're going to lose.
Jamie Benn has eight goals, and hey! That's more than anyone else in the league. He and Seguin are also tied with David Krejci for first in points! Meanwhile, Anders Lindback has a .953 save percentage in two games for Arizona. Stats aren't devoid of meaning just because it's early, but the Stars still have over nine-tenths of the regular season left to play. Be happy about goals and points and whatever, but remember why players say things like "one game at a time." It's almost unbearable to think about what they still have to do this season, least of all after a game like this one.
This was a bad game to be missing Jason Demers. I'm still stupid-grumpy about that suspension because well, it is stupid. Nemeth and Oleksiak were understandably out of sorts at times, and this isn't a team that can hide their third pairing completely. Jordie Benn and Oduya probably had the best night of any of the pairings, but that's not saying much when the team was gifting Florida pucks (and chances) like they were tonight.
I tend to want to skip over bad losses like this. "Do the bad things less and the good things more" isn't a super helpful suggestion for the team, but "only make risky passes when they work" doesn't sound much better. This team is built on speed and pushing the attack, but the Stars kept tripping over their own feet tonight. When you carry a gun as loaded as Dallas's offense is, that means you're going to shoot yourself in those same feet.
Patrick Sharp, boy howdy. Did they maybe give him Hemsky's locker from last year? Just curious, just asking. I'm not sure how else to explain weird droughts by two obviously skilled players during their early days with the team. Certainly the psychological things involved with "pressing" comes into play, but I refuse to believe that a seasoned veteran like Sharp just can't put pucks on net all of a sudden because he's wearing green. I agree with Josh that his goals will come soon if he keeps playing well, but I don't think I'm the one who needs to be convinced of that right now. Maybe text Patrick Sharp some happy emojis this week. I mean, if he gave you his number, do that. Don't be a creep.
I keep coming back to that Pittsburgh game Thursday, though. Just like tonight, the Penguins had chances throughout the game, but Dallas was able to put theirs away while Pittsburgh couldn't. That's been a huge problem for the Pens (and Anaheim even moreso) this season, but it's been much rarer for the Stars. Could they have gotten overconfident after the early goal, assuming things would come easily? Smart hockey players will remember recent history and draw comparisons, so it's very difficult not to be overconfident against a middle-class team you've beaten recently like Florida, especially when you go up early on the power play. But the Stars were rudely awakened tonight, and their top line really did get shelled by Florida for the rest of the game, even with Benn's second goal. The third line also got completely outshot, but with far fewer offensive zone starts. It's never good for your third line to get walloped at home like that when you're the one matching them up.
The Stars surrendered nearly all their goals from the runway leading right up to the net. One should have been stopped, but the four shots aside from Jagr's goal came from almost precisely square to the net. That's a very dangerous area, and the Stars weren't able to prevent Florida from shooting from it, thus the goals, and thus the score. That's a team defense thing.
If you're the type okay with brushing off a bad loss and "gettin' 'em next time," then you're fine, let's move on. If you're still not sold on this Stars team being nearly as good as their record, then this validates your concerns. If you are just generally annoyed at Dallas for choosing to fail in all the critical aspects of puck control, finishing and goaltending on what was supposed to be a fun game night, then I guess just keep being annoyed until they stop doing that so much.
This team has only lost twice this year (in eight games!), but in both of those losses six goals were given up. You might conclude that it takes six goals to beat the Stars, which is a formidable task for any team. That is not a very scientific conclusion to make, but this team does only seem to be beatable when multiple things go wrong. So far, when that has happened, "multiple things" has equaled "all of the things." Would you rather have a car that drove perfectly 67% of the time but the engine exploded 33% of the time, or would you rather have a car that needed consistent, minor maintenance 45% of the time but drove mostly all right (with some misses and clacking) the other 55%? Well, the Stars are now on their third engine. If this one lasts another five wins before blowing up, that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Even explosions are exciting, once in a while.