Let's be obvious; the Dallas Stars played one of the absolute worst games of hockey in recent memory. Over half the roster was trying to make plays like they were hermetically sealed in a bottle of Aunt Jemima.
It's easy to move passed the physics of a minecraft character when you're a 64-bit professional, and that was the story of the Dallas Stars last night. If Glen Gulutzan were still here, this would be the time where he'd question who does or does not have a set of huevos.
Now that we've stated the obvious, let's be honest; The Stars are still 2nd in the entire league. They also have an eight point cushion over the 2nd best team in the division. They've chosen a good time to struggle at least. But that's not to say that the struggle doesn't reveal anything about the team's identity or flaws.
1. East Coasting
That said, we don't look very good at the moment.— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) January 6, 2016
One of the very first things that popped out to anyone watching was the Stars' laziness. They've played 7 games in their last 11 days, so there's a 'tired legs' component to the loss, but that can only explain the laziness. It doesn't explain the bad positioning, awful decision making, cherry picking, and host of problems that allowed New York to take control within the first five minutes. Derek Stepan got on the board right away and the Rangers wouldn't let up.
2. Possessed Possession
Score Adjusted Corsi (5v5) through the 1st pic.twitter.com/r7RfNmBwEn— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) January 6, 2016
John Klingberg would tie it up late in the first period, and before Stars fans could even lift their arms up in celebration, Keith Yandle gave the Rangers their lead back. There weren't many bright spots as Dallas once again failed at even the simplest things; like making the quick play to clear the puck out of the zone. And it also didn't help that Dallas took two penalties before the second half of the first period had even begun. Jamie Benn has not had a good run in this department, as he was once again a first period delinquent housed in the sin bin.
3. Madison Square Burdens
Brassard just scored a goal after the puck hit three Dallas players, including Niemi twice, before going into the net. It's hard to do that.— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) January 6, 2016
The second period was kind of uneventful. Brassard would get credit for a goal when Dallas got caught playing drunk foosball with the puck, right near Antti Niemi. I can barely remember the second period now that I think about it.
4. Silver Linings Scrapbook
.@DallasStars forward Jason Spezza becomes the 137th player in NHL history to record 500 assists. Congrats to him on a well-earned milestone— Josh Bogorad (@JoshBogorad) January 6, 2016
Derek Stepan's short handed goal more or less killed any self respect the Dallas Stars could potentially earn back. The mere fact that it was a short handed goal is embarrassing enough, but it was a goal in which Stepan managed off his own rebound (!). Viktor Stalhberg would then make it 5-1 just to turn Dallas' performance into a Mel Brooks film. At least Jason Spezza would come out looking kind of clean, as he ended up recording his second point of the night.
5. Art Ross Furlough
Eventually Benn and Seguin would get benched for most of the third. Naturally, this will be a major talking point among fans and observers. The Rangers very quickly made this a route in the third, so the idea that benching Benn and Seguin was some sort of detriment is functionally invalid. Nobody was about to stage some miraculous comeback. Especially not against Lundqvist.
The real debate is whether or not it's effective in sending a message. Dallas playing the Rangers is fitting, since the Rangers were in the same exact blame game boat as Dallas before yesterday's tilt began. Ranger coach Alain Vigneault criticized Lundqvist, essentially saying that 'if Henry plays better, so will the rest of the team'. The folks over at Blue Shirt Banter didn't take too kindly to AV's wording.
Whatever your opinions about AV's decision, they played a hell of a game last night from everyone involved. Will this work for the Stars? Ruff has openly questioned his star players before. He did so in his first year with Tyler Seguin after a game against Ottawa; Dallas would win their next game with Seguin playing a key role. Will it work again?
6. Rising Below Vulgarity
The Stars' slump. pic.twitter.com/AGGVJSLxFC— Pat Iversen (@Pat_Iversen) January 6, 2016
Our own Josh Lile observed on Twitter that the significant bulk of Dallas' losses are to teams that like to hit, and play physical. With the loss to the Rangers that is now 9 of Dallas' 14 losses that are to teams that are top 15 in the meatclacking industry. Is there something to be said about this stat? On to some stray observations...
- Let's ignore discussions about Alex Goligoski in general, and his overall value. Let's talk about something granular; is there a top four defender worse at struggling to settle down a bouncing puck? If a puck is bouncing like a basketball on the ice, the best thing to do is to use your hands, skates, or anything other than the equivalent of a toothpick corralling a bullet.
- Wouldn't you know it, Vernon Fiddler, Patrick Eaves, and Travis Moen weren't that effective 5 on 5. Dallas' success won't hinge on the limited play of their 4th line, but they have a roster with a 4th line that can help.
- You try to avoid the screaming pockets of humanity now that society has a way to tighten the echo chamber of the misguided, which makes them feel like their lunacy is validated, but it can be difficult. It's with that in mind that I'd suggest to anyone who missed the game to avoid listening to anyone who would blame Niemi. Several goals were scored off rebounds that should have never occurred, or with players who had enough room to set up their own Wi-Fi coffee station. It was one the starkest examples of a goalie completely left on his own I've ever seen. If that's not enough, check out War on Ice, which has New York's high danger scoring chances totaling 18 (14 of those were at 5 on 5, which is telling on its own).
- I see a lot of talk about Ruff's system, and whether or not it's efficient. Some of these comments amount to rants written in macaroni shells. Others are a little more thoughtful. If you're the guy who founded this highly useful website, you might feel like Corsi percentages are largely coaching driven. This argument would favor Ruff. He has a team that is relatively small on the backend, and so relies on getting them to make quick outlet passes. For the most part, it's been successful, and has been since Ruff took over (possession wise, at least). But are there ways to amend it? Is there where Nill must come in? To make a lateral move similar to Jason Demers for Brenden Dillon, but with handedness being replaced by size? It's hard to imagine Nill making a move before the deadline. Even if he wanted to, a ton of teams are still in the playoff hunt. Tampa Bay has struggled, yet they're only 2 points out of a Wild Card spot. The Avalanche, Dallas' worst nightmare, is only 4 points out of Nashville's second wild card spot. Then there's the Pacific, where even Emilio Estevez could coach a team into the playoffs.
- Dallas doesn't need to do anything dramatic, but if they're all in this year, could Nill feel some pressure? It's always tempting to add that extra cherry on top. Nill's rubik's cube is figuring out if he's dealing with the right fruit.