When neither goaltender gets cleanly beaten by a shooter more than a couple feet above the goal line despite five goals winding up on the board, it makes for an odd game. When one of those teams is the Leafs and the losing one is Dallas, it makes for a broken piece of living room decor within arm's reach of your chair. The unthinkable happened twice in two weeks, and the only reason it did is because the Stars couldn't score on any of their premier chances.
Don't get me wrong, this team absolutely shouldn't have surrendered three goals to Toronto, but you absolutely can't squander the myriad opportunities Dallas had and expect Mike Babcock not to invoke some Ancient Magic to make you pay for your lackluster finishing. If you don't treat Goal Scoring Opportunities the way Goal Scoring Opportunities deserve, they will end up cheating on you. The Stars were cheated on tonight, and it is kind of their fault.
Hemsky had a good chance early (after a previous toe-drag move didn't quite work), but Reimer shot out his pad to stop the wrister. Don't stop there, though, because things are just getting masochistically good. Hemsky would follow that up with an unreal chance late in the first after a loose puck bounced to him, and you immediately felt like, "hoo boy, what's Hemsky gonna do to simultaneously impress and infuriate everyone in the building?" Here is what I am talking about:
Ales Hemsky checked his Twitter notifications, frowned imperceptibly, and then waited either too long or not quite long enough before Reimer's glove miraculously got a piece of his shot to send it over the net. It was the type of play that immediately validated a lot of the negative perceptions of Hemsky, and I'd say Ruff agreed by giving Hemsky the least ice time on the team, but this is not the first time this has happened lately, so I think they're keeping his minutes down on purpose.
That said, so many others failed to score when given the chance. Janmark also had a glorious chance in tight that Reimer stopped, which is to say that James Reimer was there, and the puck was there, later. It seemed almost unfathomable that this goalie could really lay a golden egg against the Stars twice in such a short amount of time, and I suspect Ruff had a lot of kindhearted suggestions for the troops after 20 minutes.
The Oduya penalty call was borderline, but it became clear later on that this was not going to be called like a 2006 game with Gary Bettman in attendance, so Oduya's loving embrace was as good as any to pick for the game's first call. Despite some good "outworking" by the penalty kill, it was a lack of good decision-making by Dallas that enabled Toronto to keep the puck in and eventually score. Brad mentioned that the penalty kill has been allowing goals with regularity for a while, and while that's not always a back-breaker, the Stars needed every break they could get tonight, and they got negative breaks.
This team cares about winning faceoffs, and they did not do that. That led to a lot of the zone time against, and it also engendered some scrambling by tired players. Most of the time, it was all right, but it meant the Stars had fewer chances in transition, and again, they probably could have used more chances. You want to force bad teams to take risks and come back, and despite a solid opening to the game, you just had to shake your head when the Leafs scored late in the period. It was the opposite of punishing, was Dallas's play for most of the first.
Reimer and Niemi exchanged beautiful saves early in the second, but that Dallas power play was more of the same, by which I mean it was more of the Stars generating tons of scoring chances while failing to score. Obviously they would have certainly scored one given more chances, but hey, about that whole "good teams draw penalties" thing? Yeah. Seguin hit a pipe when Reimer was down at the end of a flurry early in the second, but the Maple Leaf Hockey Club's goalie also came up big a couple of times before and after that because of course James Reimer is going to deny the Dallas Stars power play. This is James Reimer!
Jamie Benn came down with Ales Hemsky's disease with about 9:00 left in the second after Matt Hunwick fell down at the Leafs blue line, at which point I really began wondering if Toronto is in this team's head. Dallas is something like 1-7-2 in their last 10 games against Toronto (I'm not positive on those numbers, seriously this time), so you have to wonder if something's going on there. It was really strange to see Benn take a 3-on-1 opportunity like that and choose to wait until he was almost at the red line before flinging a wrister wide. I'm sure the coaches were preaching "SHOOT THE PUCK ALWAYS" at the intermission, but you need to do something better with a gift rush like that one, even if it's a pass to a less-great player.
Speaking of gifts, Jasons Spezza and Demers got their own early Starbucks Red Cup presents almost directly after the failed 3-on-1, but neither of them could beat Reimer either, and is it time to start exorcising pucks before Leafs games? I am not saying it isn't time for that.
The Stars were starting to force things by that point, and there's no better indicator that you're overtrying than giving up a 2-on-1 with your lone defender being Mattias Janmark. It was great to see Janmark play it so well, and it was even better to see Klingberg get back just in time to knock the pass wide, but man oh man, things were going off the rails for a Stars team that had been preaching patience for the last couple of days. That might have been the final straw for Dallas in a way, because the last few minutes of the second period felt almost like the end of the game for how hard the Stars were pushing. I wondered at the time if teams like Toronto thrived on "weathering the storm" after getting a lead, but I think hockey skill is necessary in all facets of the game*, and Toronto does not have as much of that as Dallas does.
*I am a hockey expert
Patrick Sharp is one of the "older" folks on the team, you know, but that doesn't mean he can't still skate faster than most of us will ever be able to fathom. He mostly beat Matt Hunwick down the ice after the Stars won(!) a defensive zone faceoff in the final minute of the Taco Goal Period, and while Sharp and Demers weren't able to put anything clean together, Sharp wasted no time in grabbing the loose puck and stuffing it behind Reimer. As Razor said, it was huge to end the period tied, although you almost wonder if the Stars aren't almost better off just continuing to pour it on with abandon. Against Toronto, though, any goal is a good one to get, I think? I don't really know anything about what is good against Toronto anymore.
After the early Lupul chance was saved by Niemi to start the third, the Stars activated Hero Mode for a few brief moments. Alex Goligoski broke out with the puck then did a full swivel to feed a skating Seguin, who stickhandled beautifully through the Leafs defense before himself turning and dropping it to Benn. Sadly, Jamie Benn forgot to press the up button when he shot, and the wonderful display of skill and prescience was not put home. That would be a good but wordy title for this game.
Cody Eakin had his own great chance right afterwards, but James Reimer made it clear that he was going to stop everything in front of him. Vernon Fiddler certainly took that statement at face value, and if you have not yet watched the slow-motion replay of that backhand/roof from downtown, then pour a nice glass of warm milk and just wallow in the puck-sized gap Fiddler found over Reimer there. Lucky and good and laughable all at once.
Do you remember how the Leafs absolutely hemmed the Stars in for nearly a full minute, and it resulted in just a microsecond of missed coverage by Jokipakka on Parenteau which resulted in a pinball sequence that ended with Jordie Benn's skate driving the golden spike into the transcontinental railroad of zone times for Toronto? That wasn't the best, but you have to credit Toronto for finding a way to exploit the universe's declared hatred of Jordie Benn by now.
Even after the game was tied back up, it seemed like the road team was more determined to end things in regulation than to sit back and take its chances in 3-on-3. Sure enough, all it took was a slight glance off Sceviour's stick from a shot from distance (after another good chunk of zone time for the Leafs), and the Stars had put three goals into the nets in the third period. High octane offenses sometimes get turned around.
This game was fine, but it ended like a dumb game, and I think maybe just forget about it. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are going to effect much more good against most teams than they did tonight, and John Klingberg will absolutely find a way to be John Klingberg most times.
Mike Babcock is a good coach, you know. The Leafs have started doing things better this year, and while no team as good as Dallas should ever lose to them twice, tonight felt a lot more like "one of those nights" than did the loss last week. Something happens to the Stars' legs when they get back from road trips, and I am not just talking about how their various appendages conspire to score upon their own team, although also that, too. Things were weird tonight, and no one knows that better than the Stars. The Real Games are coming up now, and if this was the gross mouthwash rinsing that takes place before the hot date smooching time, let's hope Minnesota and Winnipeg aren't allergic to Victory Green lipstick. Or, I guess let's hope they are.