Turns out, the East Coast Collapse of 2016 wasn't caused by rats, bad weather, or that overrated sauce from In-N-Out Burger. It was a virus, and it hasn't yet left the Dallas Stars system.
In all seriousness, I think it's very clear that the Stars are on borrowed legs. Whenever they got their legs moving, their mind was six feet behind. Whenever their heads were right, the legs were still in the locker room surrounded by Shania Twain's lyrics. I hear puck presbyopia can be fixed by five day rest, so hopefully Ruff's practices can be the necessary corrective lens.
1. The Ruffle Scientific Struggle
Science was, is, and always has been messy. German scientist Adolf Butenandt, who was the first to ever isolate androgen (a class of steroids for which testosterone falls under), didn't make his big discovery in 1931 with a three hundred dollar fork knife and spoon with a bottle of Grey Poupon. No, it was a bunch of actual piss from a police barracks that allowed him to change the course of endocrine history.
My point? Coaches can be a little like mad scienists; searching the grimiest places to find chemistry. Jamie Benn and Cody Eakin seem to have it when they're outnumbered. But at 5 on 5, I think we can call them the phlogiston. However, the line of Mattias Janmark-Tyler Seguin-Patrick Sharp has been a revelation, while Benn with Jason Spezza seemed to fizzle in the last game. I'm quite alright with letting curiosity take its course; the San Jose team from several years ago that was actually elite dabbled with a third line of Matt Nieto-Joe Pavelski(!)-Tommy Wingels. Fans may hate this curiosity, but efficiency should always trump optics. Dallas has wiggle room to try different things right now.
2. Fortune Filibuster
It's interesting that a league starving for goals has a system that only ever takes away goals, and never adds them. When Valeri Nichushkin made a deft patient play to sweep the puck to a pinching John Klingberg, Dallas fans celebrated not just the goal, but the display of both talents. But Dave Lozo is right; the NHL isn't as fun as it should be. And so a brilliant exchange between talents turned into a five minute delay of legislative jiu jitsu.
It was technically the right call. You can impede a goalie's vision as long as you're not in the crease doing so. But that raises all kinds of questions; at what point is the onus on the goalie to find lanes, and create space for himself? How many goals have been scored with an entire bench in the crease? Nevermind the ridiculous inconsistency. Dallas had a great first period, all things considered. Shot attempt totals were 32 to 8.
Charlie Coyle forces a turnover by Cody Eakin and Vanek scores his 13th goal...Pretty short breakaway— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) January 10, 2016
Ignore Russo's unintentionally hilarious choice of words here. The second period was an uphill battle. Minnesota successfully counter attacked but Dallas just plain gave it to them. First it was Jyrki Jokipakka's struggle to do much of anything successful to prevent Carter from grabbing the rebound and then Eakin made one of the more dreadful passes I've seen in recent memory that allowed Vanek a breakaway. Just like that, the Wild were up 2-0.
4. To Quote Admiral Ackbar...
Stars trail Wild 2-0 Optimist says "this is EXACTLY where we want them" Realist says "better reunite Benn-Seguin-Sharp & hope tank not empty— Bruce LeVine (@BruceLeVinePuck) January 10, 2016
One would have hoped. Score affects quickly became score inertia as the third period was largely a hangover of the second for the first half. Minnesota kept the middle isolated and forced Dallas to take a bunch of perimeter shots that helped Dubynk make it easy on himself.
5. One With Glacier
The Stars are playing tonight like they get paid for each turnover in front of the net.— I Also Go By Ann (@merrinish) January 10, 2016
Dallas had a massive advantage in shot attempts. But only 6 were tabbed as high danger per War on ice. In contrast to Minnesota's 15 (!). Dallas is still one of the league's worst in allowing high danger scoring chances. And a promising night turned into gaffe after gaffe.
6. Go Go Gadget Wristers
A look at the Rocket Richard Trophy race pic.twitter.com/7jnxqzfbn4— DTM About Heart (@DTMAboutHeart) January 9, 2016
Jamie Benn would technically open up the scoring late in the third. For those that don't remember how to read these, xG, which refers to Expected Goals (a stat that combines shot quality with shot attempts), go like this: diamonds refer to goals on special teams, squares refer to goals at even strength, the bigger the shape the more probable the xG, and pink refers to 'Paid the Bill'. If nothing else, this could be another seminal year for the Captain.
On to some stray Observations...
- Nuke's playmaking is his bread and butter. His vision needs a little work, as he gets tunnel vision in the corners it seems, but when his head is up, and he's tasked with finding the open man, he excels. It's too bad he didn't get credit for his play on that called back Klingberg goal.
- Speaking of, it's also one of the reasons why Nuke and Spezza are kind of awkward. They can both possess the puck like beasts, but one doesn't like to shoot the puck, and other can't. I'm oversimplifying and dramatizing obviously, but still. Janmark-Spezza-Nichushkin is still a line worth getting its playing time (Spezza needs wingers with speed), but I hope this line can be as productive as it has the potential to be.
- Minnesota has some underrated depth, which is what I assume Ruff was trying to counter. But Dallas has played them well without trying to get cute, so I have to assume part of it was trying to keep the legs warm without burning them out.
- Jamie Oleksiak looked okay. Not great, which is expected given his time off. But not bad. I don't like how easily he's forechecked and pressured given his size and frame, but he's a lot quicker at retrieving the puck and using his body to separate from his opponents. And his version of 'rsuty' looked better than Nemeth's.
- Minnesota's announcers are hard to listen to. There's a decibel level I like to call 'petty' and they hit that note constantly. I don't mind homerism. You expect it, and actually kind of welcome it because it provides the commentary booth with character and identity (think Darren Pang, or even Jack Edwards when he's not being a caricature of himself). But when that homerism is used to be overly critical (calling Spezza "invisible" when it was too early to make that kind of claim after a dominant first period from Dallas), and rote, it's unbearable.
- The five day break can't be emphasized enough. The team clearly needs it. Chicago is three wins away taking Dallas' spot. After awhile Dallas is gonna need to treat that first place spot like a wild card because it'll be the difference between playing St. Louis or playing....Colorado?! Nevermind. Keep slumping Dallas. Kidding. Or am I?