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Game 14 Afterwords: Carolina Fails to Czech Itself, Is Wrecked

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And you might not have noticed it, but Colton Sceviour got two primary assists tonight en route to being named the number one star.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

None of us actually knows how hockey works, in case you hadn't figured that out by now.

Scratched players usually skate late the morning before a game.  The thought is that they don't need to conserve as much energy, and so they might as well work on fine-tuning some aspects of their game while they have the coaches there since they won't need the extra oomph for the game that night.  You don't want to oversharpen a knife and all that. So, the logic goes that a player who puts in extra work on gameday morning is going to be less likely to have enough energy to break out of a slump that night if he gets dressed last-minute.  Yeah, about that.

When Antoine Roussel was absent for the Dallas Stars warm-ups, it became immediately apparent that the lines were going to look different than we had seen in the morning.  Not that they didn't look a bit odd already with Jason Spezza playing right wing beside Tyler Seguin, but when we realized that Ales Hemsky would be playing left wing next to Vernon Fiddler while Cody Eakin centered Mattias Janmark and Patrick Sharp, it just felt like you had to throw up your hands as though you most truly did not care.

We expend a lot of energy in the hockey world debating lines and positions, but Lindy Ruff has increasingly demonstrated his willingness to throw centers on the wing without always explaining why.  The Stars are 11-3 now, Ales Hemsky broke his goal-scoring slump, and the Hurricanes ended the game by scoring on themselves in ostensibly the very last moment of the game, as Jason Demers "scored" at the 19:59 mark and the puck was never dropped after that.  Everything we know is wrong.

(I mostly suspect that Ruff is just trying to set a record for most line combinations ever used in the first 20 games of a season.)

The Stars only missed five more shots than Carolina's 16, but it felt like twice that many.  From Seguin to Val Nichushkin, pucks in prime areas of the ice were rung off the glass with regularity for the first two periods.  Corsi is indicative of possession, but all the possession in the world won't help you if you don't hit the net.  Admittedly, it is tough to complain about missing shots when the Stars scored "only" three goals themselves, but you'd like to not have to come from behind in what seems like eight of the last six games.  (I checked the math on that, and it's correct.)

Jamie Benn wasn't missing that many shots, but for someone who looked like he was a man among boys for the majority of the contest, it was odd to see him held off the scoresheet.  Benn clearly wanted the puck every time he was on the ice, and little wonder since he created six individual scoring chances.  It's funny; you have to think the Hurricanes' game plan was something like, "Shut down Benn and Seguin and don't give them power plays."  They certainly did that, but they still gave up four goals.  Carolina looks like a team reading the same manual as the better teams in the league, but they just don't yet have the personnel to execute the plan.

Fiddler didn't miss a shift after blocking a shot off the back of his leg/ankle to end the second period, but you probably noticed that.  That is Vernon Fiddler, and it is another reason why coaches love him.  It's not hard to see that shot going on net and giving the Hurricanes a dagger of a goal to end the period.  I'm not saying it was likely, but coaches do love having players who will do whatever it takes to negate such chances no matter the risk.  Dude plays hockey.

As fruitless as the first period's 34-8 shot attempt advantage was for Dallas, you were hardly surprised when they were scored upon.  It was a weird play that saw the puck basically circumnavigate Johnny Oduya, and actually, let's just watch the goal with an eye on Oduya the entire time.  Here:

Eric Staal more or less turns this into a nightmare for Oduya all the way around, putting him into the boards during a puck battle, then picking up the rebound off the boards and spinning around to feed Jordan in front.  Oduya turns a full 360 degrees mere seconds after slamming into the boards and getting up to skate back into position as a Ron Hainsey slapshot comes his way.  Playing defense in the NHL kind of sucks sometimes.

(Also, note Kari Lehtonen pushing hard to get back to his post here just before Jordan Staal puts the puck away.  As soon as Kari sees Eric turning to shoot, Kari is making sure there are no gaps along the ice.  That's his job, and considering that he had just been out to challenge the slapshot, you can understand why he isn't deeper in his net.)  I guess you hang this one on Demers if you have to, but no one looks exactly great here.

So, remember this game against Pittsburgh last year when Seguin slid into the goaltender (thanks to some help from the defender) and his game-tying goal was disallowed?  The Stars' tying goal in the second period brought that to mind after Ales Hemsky toyed with Noah Hanifin along the boards, lost him, and fed a streaking Sceviour.  Eddie Lack got enough of the backhand attempt to force the puck into the post, but Ales Hemsky got to the rebound before Hanifin (who had drifted down towards Sceviour) and potted it high into an empty net.

It's not an easy angle or an easy shot on a bouncing rebound at all.  Oh, right, the net was empty kind of because Sceviour made some contact with Lack, but I think we can all agree that there is really no reason this shouldn't have been a goal.  Sceviour even kind of jumped to avoid Lack, just because he's a nice guy (and so is Lack), so maybe the officials were invoking the Good Samaritan rule when they shot down the challenge after review.

Hemsky had skated late this morning in what was assumed to be preparation as the scratched forward tonight, but then tonight (after some up and down play) he makes a nice place to set up Sceviour, and he gets rewarded for it.  He celebrated with relief, practically sighing the monkey right off his back.  Please do not go another 12 games before scoring again, Mr. Hemsky. We know your hips are still sore, but we need you.

Sharp moved back to 1RW at the start of third period because Lindy Ruff just wants us to know that he can play regular hockey lines any time he wants and there's nothing we can do to make it happen sooner or later than the exact moment he chooses.  If I were an NHL hockey coach, I would dress three goalies every night and change them on the fly, so I cannot really critique anything.

Still, I believe the universe agrees with me about keeping Sharp atop the right wing depth chart, which is why the molecules coalesced in such a way as to cause Ron Hainsey to overskate the puck that Seguin eventually alley-ooped to Sharp for the go-ahead dunk.  Listen to the universe when it starts messing with your hockey games, is my advice.

Moment I want to whine about: Cody Eakin at 1:17 into the 3rd completely turns the puck over after John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski succeed in breaking up the Canes' cycle in the Stars' zone.  I'm not sure why Eakin makes that pass without being sure someone is there, and I am probably harping on this by now, but Cody Eakin in his own zone is not my favorite of things to observe in a tie game.  Is it possible that Cody Eakin is actually the player so many fans seem to think Ales Hemsky is?  This is a working theory.

Displaced by Sharp, Jason Spezza had begun the period playing 2RW because Ruff is just so raven, although it sort of worked when Mattias Janmark sprang him for a breakaway soon after the Eakin turnover.  The "sort of" is because Spezza didn't learn the lesson from Jamie Benn's first period chance, so he also slapped the puck into Lack's voluminous folds, a play of no benefit to his team.  Spezza dangled early in the game and just missed a highlight-reel goal, but the Hurricanes seemed to get wise to his tricks later on.  Spezza is still dangerous, but this probably wasn't his best game of the year tonight.

Ever since the end of the first period, Carolina had been playing the Stars' top line like it was a power play.  Seeing the five players collapse so willingly late in the game, the Seguin line countered in kind, winding up late in the second period for a trademark gorgeous zone entry, which worked until the Canes got a shorthanded (basically) break the other way.  John Klingberg dummied the 2-on-1 for a moment before attacking the puck carrier, and this time the aggressive play proved to be the right one as puck was knocked away.

This was much preferable to what happened only a minute or two later, when a Klingberg one-timer at the blue line saw his stick explode, resulting in a breakaway for Jay McClement.  How great was it to see Alex Goligoski bust back up the ice, catching up just enough to dive at McClement and knock the puck away?  That's a play a healthy Goligoski can make (and couldn't at times in years past).  That is, the play was pretty great except for the fact that a backchecking Nichushkin tried to swat the puck away from the net, only to have it bounce back into the slot, forcing Lehtonen to make a tough save after the play looked to have been shut down by Goligoski's initial dive.  Whyever would you want to do things the easy way, though?

Val Nichushkin once again had a key play to set up a teammate's first NHL goal.  (How great was Radek Faksa's smile, by the way?)  It's big of Val to keep helping all these other guys collect their first pucks when it's been ages since his last one, but it has to come sometime, right?  He looked great tonight in his skating and puck protection and backchecking, and again, the Stars are scoring all the goals anyway.  We can be patient if you can, Valeri.  That kid line looked tantalizing at times, even if it won't last after some of the folks start to get healthy.

Razor mentioned that Klingberg had an odd game tonight, but I liked it.  He played calmly in the defensive zone with Goligoski, and they both racked up about 26 minutes tonight.  Ruff leaned on his top pair heavily (though his forwards were very balanced due to the lack of special teams play) and it held up well.  Klingberg may not kill penalties, but he's a very good defensive player, and don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.  The Stars have the player they wanted for so many years, and we're watching him be amazing every night even when he doesn't score.  This team is a bunch of goofballs that don't all look exactly like the Dominant Stars Team of the Future we all pictured back in 2010, but they are playing winning hockey, effectively.  I am enjoying it very much.

Finally, Kari Lehtonen was definitely wearing his Keep Calm and Kari On shirt tonight.  You need a goalie to inspire confidence in a tight game, and Lehtonen did that.  It's going to be fascinating to see how the goalie situation shakes out, but Jim Nill must be absolutely giddy at the start Kari, Niemi and the team as a whole has had this year.  Kari is implementing technical advice from Jeff Reese, and it seems to have improved his play noticeably.

I'm never going to try to figure out how much of Kari's (early) improvement is mental, but the technique and the psyche are inextricably linked for goalies, and not just because all of them are a little insane.  We love them anyway, and that's also why we chant their names after a series of amazing saves.  For the Stars, allowing less than three goals a night counts as amazing, because they'll score that many and more unless they're playing, like, Toronto or something.