This match was set to be something special from the outset as the Dallas Stars were fresh off putting a beatdown on the slumping Winnipeg Jets and looking to prove that the Central Division win was no fluke. Minnesota was without Zach Parise, but they've been a very good team this year, and this was a chance for them to show that Dallas really wasn't that far away from them.
An overtime win makes this game look close, but watching the two teams tonight couldn't leave any room for doubt about which was the superior club. Dallas barely edged Minnesota on scoring chances, but they had 20(!) high-quality chances to the Wild's eight. They put 36 shots on goal to Minny's 24, and Minnesota's two goals were not obtained from their best chances of the game. We'll get to that.
Special teams early on seems like something that would favor the Stars in a vacuum, so long as their PK kicks its troubling habit of allowing a goal on its first kill. Well, they had the Wild's number tonight both early and late when down a man, and the power play (essentially) came up big on its first opportunity early.
Jason Spezza's trademark entry led to a pretty Benn pass which begot a nice Klingberg move to open the lane, and finally the originator of the sequence himself was able to tip the puck in, which must have been a relief. Spezza has been good for most of the year, but he's had a couple of tough games lately. Even aside from his goal, he was one of the Stars' best players tonight. I've probably harped on how much of a luxury Spezza is for Dallas, but feel free to harp a little more yourselves. This guy is really good.
The Valeri Nichushkin embellishment penalty was a mystery to me. I suspect Steve Kozari thought the stick was just in front of Nuke's legs instead of between them, because Nichushkin really didn't appear to help the penalty along. I didn't even think he was that demonstrative while falling down, but Kozari clearly subscribes to the Ni-choo-choo-shkin Fan Club and refuses to accept that one mere stick could bring Val to the ice. It's a nice thought, but a less-nice penalty. Maybe teams atop the league always feel like the officials don't give them enough opportunities? It's been so long.
It could've been 3-0 after the first if not for Devan Dubnyk's being big. I suppose you also have to chalk up his holding Dallas to one goal to his also being a decent goalie, size notwithstanding. (By the way, "decent" is exactly what he's been this year. Hope the Wild are okay with "decent" for the next six years in goal.) It's not like Kari Lehtonen is small, though, of course.
One of the nice little bonus moments tonight was Tyler Seguin's skate save behind Kari Lehtonen. It wasn't quite Demersian, but it saved a goal just the same. Would someone please send a Vine of Seguin's goal-line save to Cam Neely? I know that may not be the Boston Way, but still seems like it might be a good thing to do, I don't know.
I can understand the difficulty with the reviewed Wild goal, but this really is a grade-A example of why the NHL shouldn't have referees reviewing their own calls. Each ref is going to back the other up, and while I do believe that all officials just want to get the call right, I think they are less inclined to reverse their own call if they can find even a modicum of reasonable doubt that they should do so. For the record, the Minnesota broadcasters were adamant that Lehtonen's being outside his crease (which he only kind of was) rendered any potential interference moot. My heart wanted the goal called back, but let's not lose sight of the winner in all of this: Us, because we got to hear Evgeny Romasko on the microphone. That was pretty great.
Between his (ostensible lack of) goalie interference and shenanigans with Radek Faksa, Nino Niederreiter did not make any friends tonight. You can't fault him for trying to pick up some slack in Parise's absence against the best in the West, but I won't be pleading for Jim Nill to acquire him any time soon. If you want to call diving, just watch him collapse after Faksa's retaliatory shot there. Good on the officials for not taking the bait, but still, that was some nonsense and rubbish.
Colton Sceviour's penalty killing was a boon to this team tonight. It wasn't the only factor in the unit's great work tonight, but I love seeing players like him find ways to chip in. He and Vernon Fiddler both played over three minutes shorthanded tonight, so we'll see if that continues. Sceviour is a sneaky-helpful player to have in the lineup, and even if he ends up eating a healthy scratch here and there when everyone starts getting healthy, that's not the worst thing in the world. He can handle that and bounce back.
Also of note was Ales Hemsky's replacing Sceviour on the second power play later in the game. Ruff mentioned afterwards that he had noticed that Hemsky only played like two shifts in the second period, so that precipitated the promotion there as well as the bump to the Spezza line. That, of course, impacted someone else on the Spezza line...
Cody Eakin had a largely forgettable game until he drew a good penalty alongside a great piece of puck rushing by Nichushkin early in the third. That's where his speed can really contribute, and I can't help but think it would be a greater asset on the bottom six than beside Spezza and Mattias Janmark. My gut is that Ruff will stick with his third-period lines next game (depending on who gets back to full health in the mean time), but anyone who bets on Lindy Ruff line combinations is going on a Costco-sized fool's errand.
That said, Mattias Janmark had a very good game tonight even before the change. If the Janmark-Spezza-Hemsky line could be a consistent thing, I would be very happy. Even if it's not, I'd just love to keep seeing Janmark on the ice. Don't overlook his being paired with Spezza in overtime tonight. Ruff likes the kid, too.
Lehtonen robbed Charlie Coyle twice tonight, the second time necessitated by Jamie Olekiak's being too concerned with aggressive, physical crease-clearing to track the puck. I am doing my best to refrain from ranting about "crease-clearing" in general right now, so you're welcome for that. I can't refrain from talking about Oleksiak again, though. You can preach patience all you want, but he didn't help his cause tonight. Two penalties (and one of them of the rather embarrassing variety) as well as a minus that even Lehtonen couldn't save him from is not going to keep him in the lineup. It might not even keep him on this team.
Late in the second, the Wild got trapped in their zone with a stickless forward, and Jason Spezza went to work. Maybe it was pent-up frustration from an earlier miss on a chance earlier, or maybe he was just happy to see Ales Hemsky back on his line for the first time in forever, but either way, Spezza Inc. inhabited the Minnesota zone for something like a full minute, peppering Dubnyk and his defensemen all the while. Nothing found its way through, but it was good to see Dallas log some greedy puck time in the offensive zone against a stingy team.
If the first could have ended 3-0 for Dallas, the Wild could well have had three of their own after the second. Kari Lehtonen was wonderful though, and that kept Dallas in the driver's seat. As much as Antti Niemi was the goaltending story of the first chunk of the year, Kari Lehtonen's resurrection might prove to have the bigger impact. Kari is 8-1-0 this season, and he's been solidly average and oftentimes far above that. This team isn't going to turn anyone into a Vezina candidate, but stable goaltending makes this squad nigh unstoppable. A country doesn't need the best air-defense network if they have air superiority and all that. (This is not a military strategy blog.)
The Stars' power play finally cashed in for the first or second time, depending on how technical you want to get about it. That's exactly what you have to do against stingy teams in close games--take advantage of your opportunities. And while it was a great tip by Jamie Benn, I'm not sure that Klingberg's original shot wouldn't have beaten Dubnyk on its own, as Benn was already providing a very effective screen. That's not to take anything away from Benn, who absolutely did the right thing, but come on, we all want to see a Klingberg hat trick this year, don't we? Nevertheless, Jamie Benn was fabulous tonight all over the ice. He created the rush for the OT winner, and he moved throughout the offensive zone at will for much of this contest. Without Parise on the Minnesota bench, it was like Hector fighting Patroclus out there.
Here is a thorough breakdown of the Wild's tying goal in the third period:
STOP IT, UNIVERSE. NO ONE'S LAUGHING. YEAH, WE GET IT, JORDIE BENN'S SKATE FROM LIKE 20 FEET OUT. NOT COOL.
Patrick Sharp got chances throughout this game, and while he didn't finish them, many of them were also created because of his great positioning and speed. He is just exactly the sort of player that great teams have in their ranks, even if they aren't leading the way. He'll probably hit 25+ goals if he plays with Seguin and Benn all year.
Cody Eakin also got a great chance in OT, after which Ryan Suter fed the puck back to Dubnyk for a whistle. I am adamant that this should be a penalty in overtime. I know the bunt back to a goalie amid a scramble happens during the game from time to time, but we need to 86 it from the Cavalcade of Wonderful that is 3v3 OT.
The Stars' power play did its job despite the Wild's pressuring their entry. They found a way to adapt later on, changing their entry slightly instead of relying on Spezza to carry it the whole way, and it worked perfectly a couple of times. That's a group brimming with confidence right now.
And finally, if you got this far, I have two things left for you.
First, John Klingberg. John Klingberg! Here is Jason Spezza talking about John Klingberg tonight:
"I think he is only going to get better. I think he defends really well. His poise with the puck is the stuff you can't teach. I think the comparisons with Erik [Karlsson] are going to be inevitable because of how offensive they are. I think they are a little bit different in how they play. Erik uses more of his legs, John [Klingberg] a little bit more with his head and hands.
If you can choose between a defenseman with great legs and one with a great head and hands, there is only one choice. We can actually discuss whether Klingberg is better than Erik Karlsson, and that is bonkers goofynuts. This game enables you to talk about that, though, because John Klingberg beat the Minnesota Wild tonight. That is what happened.
Second, let me set the scene here. Klingberg's neck is stuffed full of gum and other miscellany (courtesy of Janmark and Roussel, among others) and he has just been given the game puck before some obligatory interviews and First Star of the Night Skating. What to do with the puck? It would be so gauche to hold it throughout the interviews, and he doesn't want to accidentally drop it while handing off a stick to some lucky youngster. But ho! Our young Swede espies a suitcoat upon one of the gameday staffers. The perfect hiding place! John says to himself. Unfortunately, John could never have suspected that, here in the USA, some men never cut the threads that hold their breast pocket shut:
And thus it came to pass that John Klingberg found one place he could not put the puck. Sweet dreams.
I laughed at this. pic.twitter.com/Ow2b6x4Ls7— Robert Tiffin (@RobertTiffin) November 15, 2015