The Dallas Stars once again share the top spot with the Washington Capitals with 52 points. Though their schedule is getting tougher, they're still putting it on teams with their high flying, saucy playstation level offense.
As fun as Dallas is to watch, it's important to note that their entertainment level is drawn as much from their strengths as they are drawn from their weaknesses. For Dallas, they should need to tip the scales of watchability justice in their favor to be effective against any team in the league. Tonight was one of those games.
1. The Elven Surgical Spurgeon
Every now and then, and by that I mean pretty much all the time, there are players from other teams you wish you had, and Spurgeon is definitely one of those players. He's the size of a BB-8, but plays bigger than Jamie Oleksiak or Patrik Nemeth. It was a stoppable goal, and one that would be replicated soon after...
2. Keep Calm and Bench Kari?
Kari - I just don't trust you anymore.— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) December 22, 2015
Bob had some strong words for Kari Lehtonen, as did a lot of fans after Charlie Coyle potted the second Minnesota goal of the night. The hardest part about being critical of a goaltender is that it can feel lazy. After all, there are a host of sequences that lead up to a bad goal. In this case, John Klingberg left Spurgeon with too much room on the first (nitpicky, but worth mentioning for argument's sake), and then made an ill-advised pinch on the second when every forward was too low. But this is how every scoring chance can be dissected; opponents will get chances. The lesser the chance, the more accountable the goalie should be. A shot from distance isn't prima facie the more dangerous (just ask any goalie who ever had to stop Ilya Kovalchuk's point blast), but Lindy Ruff made the correct move in pulling Kari right away.
3. Yukon Do It! (Sincerest Apologies)
I must be the only person who actually hates that reference, but it's after midnight, and I'm creatively inept as is. Jordie Benn actually had a pretty mediocre game otherwise. But the goal really set the tone for the onslaught that would follow.
4. Prince of PP Eaves
Patrick Eaves with an all-time redirection. Good lord. If he's scoring like that...— Travis Yost (@travisyost) December 22, 2015
One of the narratives throughout the season has been the fans' desire to see the vets leave so that players in Cedar Park can take over. I've got no problem supporting that narrative. But it's one thing to demand playing time for rookies; it's entirely another to argue for veteran inefficiency. Patrick Eaves on the 2nd PP unit isn't that much of a travesty. Just look at that shot attempt differential per 60 relative to his teammates:
That's highly impressive. While generating shots on their own doesn't speak to their quality, power plays typically yield higher quality shots on principle. As long as the first unit remains stacked like an IHOP, who cares about the side order of ham and bacon?
5. Why Don't We Do it on the Road
Tonight is the tenth time this season that the @DallasStars have scored twice in less than two minutes. That is the most in the NHL.— Josh Bogorad (@JoshBogorad) December 22, 2015
Of all the stats, this may be my favorite (next to their consecutive losses "stat"). Dallas is a team that thrives on high event hockey. This is their magical performance enhancing spinach.
6. Higher Learning
Defenseman Johnny Oduya on the Stars playing in the tough Central Division pic.twitter.com/IErDvTlvzf— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) December 21, 2015
The story that will continue throughout the season is how well Dallas can perform in their division. While I agree that it's important to win these division games, people exaggerate their importance. More important than quality of competition is quality of habit. But if you must know, Dallas already has more points against Minnesota this season than all of last season.
On to some stray observations...
- In non-Stars related news, everyone's talking about the alumni uniform stuff Minnesota chose because this is why Sean McIndoe has a section about what the hockey world is pretending to be outraged about. The hockey universe is easily ruffled, and I'm actually on the side of Emilie Wiener, who doesn't care, and was quick to point out that the North Stars merchandise goes to the NHL anyway. As long as Dallas owns Minnesota on the ice, who cares?
- Antti Niemi was probably better than the 2nd star of the game sandwiched between two Minnesota players on the NHL's website, but ok. He stopped 30 of 31 shots, and was absolutely stellar. The Niemi signing is looking better each game. I kind of told you so too.
- Minnesota is a sneaky dirty team. I get it. Finish your checks. I'm totally cool with that. But there seems to be "peripheral effort" on their part when going for hits. Which makes sense since some of their roster has plenty of history; see Nino Niederreiter's hit on Alex Burrows, or when Stoll took Vlasic out with this elbow to the head (not sure if this is the headshot that took Vlasic out of the playoff series from two seasons ago).
- I wouldn't be opposed to letting Kari start today. This is why you spend this kind of money on two goaltenders. You need to find out if Kari can bounce back. He hasn't been terrible against the Hawks either. If he's worth his weight in cap, he should be able to handle the pressure.