You have to give the Dallas Stars credit: giving Matt Moulson two golden opportunities in the first period is about as close to throwing a gauntlet down in Fate's living room as you can get. Add in the brilliant chances given up to Jack Eichel, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the Stars were purposely reminding all of us why Antti Niemi started game one of this wonderful season.
John Klingberg doesn't have incidental assists. Sure, almost half of them have been secondary assists, but this man creates scoring chances so easily that you have to consider all of his points primary ones. On the other side of the puck, you had to love his perfect poke check on Ryan O'Reilly as the Buffalo Sabres forward came in on a near breakaway. Klingberg had a shaky stretch in his zone early in the game, and he did get a bit roasted by Eichel at the end of a shift in the third, but you really can't fail to notice his intelligence in every part of the game these days.
He may have been a bit overconfident on a couple plays in the O-zone tonight, but actually no, it's John Klingberg so I'm pretty sure overconfidence is impossible. Credit to the now-26-year-old Antoine Roussel for getting a good shot off, and the opposite of credit to Chad Johnson for whiffing on the maybe-dipping puck.
With three seconds left in the first, Jyrki Jokipakka had the puck without immediate pressure. Apparently Jyrki wasn't hungry, because he chose to throw the puck out of the zone instead of eating it, which was easily the proper play. I'm not positive if anyone yelled at him (you'd hope his Finnish brethren in the crease would help there), but you need to use your frame and protect that puck in the dying seconds if at all possible. I'm sure he's not opposed to the idea in theory, but man, that penalty was the spitting image of avoidable that gave Buffalo the 5-on-3 to start the second period.
Thankfully, the Sabres opted not to actually do anything up a man, due in no small part to the Stars' crazy aggression killing the 5-on-3. Speaking of violent metaphors, Nicolas Deslauriers took no fewer than eight punches from Jamie Oleksiak in the side/back of the head shortly after even strength, and I would be absolutely shocked if he didn't get a concussion. The human skull is designed to absorb impact from the front, and you're doing yourself a disservice when you allow someone with a free hand and longer reach to rain down blows on that vulnerable part of your brain box (though I guess if you pick a fight with Oleksiak to begin with, maybe you're not using much of said box's contents anyway.)
Mattias Janmark and Valeri Nichushkin had what were in many ways their best games of the year tonight. Janmark was repeatedly finding himself in the right spot to get the puck moving out of the zone--my favorite moment of his came in the third period where he pulled a Klingberg-esque delay before calmly starting the transition--and his work with Jason Spezza and Patrick Eaves the other way just made you think "veteran" without hesitation. He's so good about knowing where to be and where to send the puck, and he's just 21 games into his NHL career. You should be very excited about this kid.
Oh yeah, Val also looked like someone you really don't want to see coming at you from the other side of the ice. He forechecked, won pucks, and bulled through players even when it ended with him getting knocked down. He's quickly graduating from the "learning" to the "doing" stage, and it was a joy to see tonight.
Ales Hemsky had a very good game, even doing some puck jacking to create a good scoring chance for himself in the second period. He held the puck with confidence, and if you ignore his blown tire earlier in the game, you'd probably be shocked to hear he's been playing on the fourth line. If you watched most of this season, you probably would be less shocked.
The first power play unit was a bit out of sorts tonight for much of the game, to put it kindly. A positionally sound Buffalo didn't surrender many deadly passing lanes, which led to Dallas re-acquiring the power play funk they had on Thursday as well. The second unit did a much better job at getting pucks to the net past a fearless Buffalo penalty kill, but you'd like to see them cash in on one of their four power plays instead of letting the Sabres hang around. Fortunately for Dallas, they were given a fifth chance, and they made it count. Still, 20 percent is still a pretty good conversion rate for, like, every team except Dallas.
Jamie Benn did a little bit of making up last time he took a bad penalty, so of course he went ahead and scored twice after taking a less-bad (but still unnecessary) penalty tonight. O'Reilly sold the cross check for sure, but it's easy to sell it when you get cross checked in the first place. Really though, Jamie Benn can take all the penalties he wants if he's going to maintain his current 3/2 post-penalty scoring pace.
Well, it's time to talk about Jamie Oleksiak again, and ho hum, let me just get my script I have here so we can describe his play, and oh right, Oleksiak had an amazing game tonight. On an evening where the Stars were missing Jordie Benn to a mystery illness that Jamie Benn had already fought off (per Razor), they ended up asking even more than planned of Oleksiak after Jason Demers went down early in the second with a lower body injury.
And as probably Derek and five other people predicted, he rose to the challenge and then some, with the highlight of his great play being a sapient poke check at the blue line to defuse a Sabres rush. If that wasn't enough for you (and let's face it, we're all super greedy), Oleksiak then proceeded to beat his man to the puck with his long skating stride, even drawing a penalty before feeding the puck out front for a great scoring chance.
I've said more than once that I don't think the Stars will carry eight defensemen past Thanksgiving and that Oleksiak would be the casualty of their resultant move. But if tonight's game is any indication of progress (and depending on the injury to Demers), I don't think the Stars would be shy about giving Oleksiak a bit more time. Let's wait and see about Demers, though. Lindy Ruff said he'd be out "a bit of time," which probably means I don't get to lord my Sports Predictions over y'all this time, but we'll see.
Finally, Antti Niemi started the second quarter of the season the same way he began the first, and despite Buffalo being a markedly worse team than Pittsburgh, I'm probably happier with tonight's win than I was then. The only time I ever expected to write "17-4" this season involved a Ladislav/Gerald Diduck hallucination that I'd rather not get into. The Stars' goaltending tandem is working as perfectly as you ever could have imagined as the defensemen move the puck with alacrity, and that predictably has made everything okay. With the Stars, "okay" means they are the best team in the NHL. I am going to enjoy this, and you should, too.