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Game 23 Afterwords: Overtime Is the Stars' Elysium

Why bother piling up the shots when you can get your goalie a nice post-Thanksgiving workout instead?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas plays again tonight, and lots of us (including me) are traveling today, so I'll try to keep this brief.

Last night was the Ottawa game inside-out, in a way.  The Stars actually gave up a lot more shots, but they won the high-quality chance battle (both at even strength and during the entirety of the game).  And just as Ottawa did earlier this week, Dallas came out the victor after eschewing the possession game.  Is there some high-level reverse psychology going on in the locker rooms of NHL teams that we just can't understand?  Well, I don't know, but if you have solid goaltending, then focusing on the high-quality chances vs. shot count is probably not the worst strategy* in the world.

*I'm not convinced that a team can purposely say "we're just going to generate high-quality chances tonight," but if any team can adjust the scoring-chance dial of a hockey game, it's probably Dallas.  Having more shot attempts is usually a (long-term) side effect of puck possession, good zone entries, and defense, not an objective in and of itself; but with all the special teams tonight, you probably just shrug and say "hockey!" instead of trying to fit the round peg of Corsi through the square hole that was this game.

There's no way you should ever surrender seven power plays to the other team.  That's basically guaranteeing a goal-against, and with the Stars' PK as of late, it might have guaranteed three.  On the other hand, perhaps the Stars sensed that they were giving up a bit too much 5-on-5 and wanted to try for some shorties instead?  That would certainly explain the needless Roussel and Benn penalties early on.

Twelve penalties isn't something you can't talk about, especially when they were as, well, "interesting" calls as they were.  I don't know if the officials were trying to keep what looked like a chippy game under control with lots of calls, but if so, I guess they succeeded in the same sense that using a taser on a rowdy junior high class keeps them under control.  Twenty-four minutes of special teams time awarded is a lot, but as with any war, sometimes the battlefield chooses itself.  It's up to the combatants to make the best of it.

And did the Stars ever do that.  For a top-ten power play, the Canucks got shut down something fierce for the most part.  The Stars did a marvelous job of preventing the Canucks from carrying the puck into the zone, forcing them to dump it in an eyeball-based 80% of the time.  The Stars' mobile killing unit was getting to a lot of those pucks first, and it was a big reason why Vancouver actually generated one fewer scoring chance than the Stars despite having four more minutes of power play time.

Just as the Stars' power play warms up when given more chances, so too did the Canucks' jalopy of a power play eventually achieve cruising speed.  With Noted Penalty Killer Ales Hemsky (who was penalized on an absurdly soft call to begin with, I might add) out of the box and into the PK box after the 5-on-3 expired, Vancouver went to work.  Radim Vrbata got the puck past Demers to Daniel Sedin right next to the crease, and Oduya was forced to do his best Trevor Daley impression as he got stuck in no man's land.  Niemi was forced to play his post tightly with Daniel in his kitchen, but that meant that he wouldn't be able to get over as quickly if Daniel found Henrik with an almost-blind backhand through Oduya.  Guess if Daniel found Henrik.  Go on, guess.

The other Canucks goal was another beautiful Swedish setup, although you'd prefer that John Klingberg maybe stick to accumulating points for his own team for the time being.  It's clear that Klingberg thought Goligoski was playing in the slot, and I'm guessing he just flat-out missed Hansen coming into the zone, as this is what it looked like when he went back to retrieve the puck:

Klingderf

He gave another quick look over his shoulder before making the pass, but I think he simply missed Hansen here (I mean, duh, right?) and took his fellow defenseman's position for granted.  Imagine how you would have felt if Jordie Benn or Goligoski had made that play.  Well the reason you're slightly more inclined to forgive Klingberg for it is because you want him playing with confidence and even cheekiness.  It burned him this time as it did against Ottawa, but if you're Dallas, you don't scream at Klingberg and tell him never to make blind passes again.  You just tell him to get better at them.  It's John Klingberg; he will get better at them.  (At least, I think that's what Ruff was whispering to James Patrick after that goal. Either that, or "FIX YOUR DUDE."  I'm not a lip reader.)

Okay, enough with the bad-news-first stuff; let's talk about the fun parts instead of mulling over breakdowns or trying to figure out why Brandon Prust looked like a good hockey player all of a sudden.

As tough as it was for the Canucks entering the zone when up a man, the Stars handled it like a walk in the park.  They didn't always utilize the Spezza drop pass, and they still found ways to get in and set up with regularity.  I will never stop being in love with watching the number-one power play unit move the puck.

That said, some of the credit for the first goal has to go to Luca Sbisa, who negated Klingberg's wizard-like hand pass to keep the puck in by basically touching the puck and then letting Tyler Seguin have it right back.  That's the sort of play that takes years off a coach's life, but that's just what happens with a number-six defenseman sometimes.  Now, you might be wondering why the Canucks are paying their number-six defender $3.6 million through 2018.  That is a very good question!  Here is my scientific answer.

Jason Spezza was amazing all night long, but even if he hadn't been, his rocket launch of a goal would have made up for it.  He's not a young gun, but he's still an elite player, and elite players know when to walk into space that shouldn't be left open.  That slapshot was a caramel apple dipped in Swiss chocolate and stuffed into a cream-cheese filled cronut wrapped in dynamite.  My favorite part of it might have been the sound.  There's just something special about a puck hammered into the top shelf with today's composite sticks by a player who knows how to use them.  That's a lot of prepositional phrases to basically say, "wow."  Wow, Jason Spezza.

One last note on regulation: Val Nichushkin went back to his hard-luck ways last night, but he was still a force to be reckoned with.  It was more of a comical "how has he not scored yet" night than a sad sack night.  Between he and Janmark, the Stars may just have a wealth of puck possession across the forward lines for a healthy chunk of years.

There's not much I can say about overtime other than just telling you to go watch it again like I did this morning.  Yes, the Canucks have been awful after 60 minutes this year, but the open ice of overtime is Dallas's Elysium.  We had to weather the desert of the last seven years to see its arrival, but boy howdy has it been worth it.  (Was anyone else almost sad to see the penalty called halfway through it?)  I don't know what to do with the fact that the Stars' Fantastic Four played about four minutes of the five-minute overtime, but I'm not going to complain about it.

Something interesting about the Stars' 4-on-3 power play is how Jason Spezza plays it.  Two or three different times, he got the puck at the point, took a step or two towards the net, then passed the puck down low and bulled to the slot.  The play carries the point man on the PK to the net with Spezza (or else he'd be open for a tap-in on the doorstep), and it opens up the slot perfectly for the low guy to feed the puck right back for a high-quality one-timer up the gut of the ice (or another pass back down low, such as the Benn one-timer than Miller saved).  The Stars weren't able to score on it somehow, but it's a simple and effective way to break down the three-man penalty kill.

I was worried when the game went to a shootout, just because it's more of a coin flip than the shootout.  Thankfully, the Canucks after 60 minutes are a team calling tails with a double-headed nickel.  Tyler Seguin typed in seguin_shootout.exe and hit return, and Antti Niemi did not play Superman in overtime just to get beaten by Glen Gulutztan & Company.  Dallas won, again.  It's cool to only need to use "again" in the one context so far this year.