After a wonderful beginning to the season, the Stars were starting to struggle after 60 minutes.
Dallas started out the year undefeated in overtime (3-0) and the shootout (1-0), but the magic may have been lost when they let Calgary come back in December and win in the shootout. After winning four straight extra-time games, the Stars went on to lose their next four, two in the shootout and two in overtime.
The most recent occasion was still fresh in their memory, having come in New Jersey while Jamie Benn was in the penalty box in overtime. So when Patrick Sharp was whistled for tripping after a tightfisted 60 minutes of hockey, you could see the writing on the wall. Once again, the Stars couldn't score on the power play. Once again, they failed to produce with their dream of an overtime line to start the 3-on-3 session, and they were going to pay for it. That is not how this game ended, though.
If you were ever curious if the Stars were tired, overtime confirmed it. Benn, Seguin and Klingberg won the opening faceoff and couldn't generate anything, and Benn would eventually get caught on the ice in his own zone. Patrick Sharp got a bit overeager with his stick, and he got it into the skates of Perrault, and because it wasn't Klingberg executing a grade-A move at high speed, the penalty was called.
But if you have been looking for a sign that the sun also rises, it might have finally come. The Stars killed a 4-on-3 penalty, and Kari Lehtonen was good when he had to be (which wasn't as often as I had expected, since the Jets seemed a bit too married to shots from the low point/high slot instead of just taking what the Stars were giving them down low). It was a good kill, especially against a team in the Central Division; as overtime ended, just taking away a golden chance for Winnipeg to get a ROW seemed like a victory.
Shootouts are shootouts, and five of the six shots either went in or hit posts. Kari Lehtonen was the only goaltender from either team to actually make a save in the shootout, and that was good enough. Incidentally, "good enough" was also the motto when I was washing dishes at a restaurant during my high school days. Don't worry; I'm sure you never ate there.
I'm not sure what the Jordie Benn lower body injury is, but it's safe to say that it didn't help Dallas to lose him tonight. Patrik Nemeth and Jyrki Jokipakka in particular got drilled tonight, and even though it didn't quite feel like Kari properly stole this game, the fact is that he was facing tons more shots from inside the prime scoring areas than Hellebuyck did, as evidenced by War-on-Ice's shot tracker:
The Jets were certainly closing off the boards as Razor said, and Dallas wasn't quite crisp enough up the middle to generate much on the rush. And when they did get into the Jets' zone with possession, Winnipeg did a great job closing lanes and shutting things down. The Dallas Stars only recorded 24 shots on goal in 65 minutes of hockey; this means the other team's plan worked very, very well.
Both of the top lines looked good early, and Spezza-Nuke-Benn put a glorious chance right into Hellebuyck's bits. Shortly after that, Seguin threaded a quasi-Jussi-on-the-power-play pass to Janmark, who was also stopped after having to recapture the puck mid-breakaway. Hellebuyck was good, but Kari Lehtonen was better. I suspect Kari enjoys beating this franchise, relocated though it may have been since his departure.
The game really should have been at least 3-0 Dallas after the first period ended, but one was better than zero. Seguin/Sharp finally got one after a Goligoski point shot off a cleanly won faceoff was retrieved by Janmark, passed to Sharp, and fed in front of the net (off the goalie's stick, which couldn't block it). Credit to Seguin for managing to get the puck just over the pad and in--that's not as easy as he makes it look at all.
But the coulda-woulda-shoulda that really hurt was the chance Colton Sceviour got later in the first frame after a Hellebuyck error with the puck. Roussel stripped him behind the net and fed the puck out to Sceviour in front, whose eyes were drawn too strongly to the suddenly gaping net (with a Jets skater desperately trying to obfuscate it). The puck was wobbly on its way out, but Sceviour really had no excuse not to collect that puck and deposit it instead of flubbing it wide as he did. Of course, this error wasn't unlike Patrick Sharp's decision in the third period to try to beat Hellebuyck's pad along the ice rather than taking another second to elevate the puck there, too. It's a similar thing in both cases: a prime scoring opportunity in a tight game that you usually don't have. Both of those probably should have been buried, but you can understand why they weren't, given the context. Still, Sceviour had to feel bad after that one, though not as bad as he was about to feel.
There was loose play both ways in the second period, but Perrault got a drop feed from the freshly fined Ehlers, and the backchecking Colton Sceviour was a bit too much backed off as he turned around in his zone, now unable to get into the shot lane. Perrault's wrister was a classic "left-hand on the right side" shot that found its way over Kari's pad, and you just felt like maybe the Stars' forechecking was a bit overeager to allow the Jets' third man to be that open in the high slot coming the other direction. Perhaps you also felt like Kari should have stopped that, but it's a scoring chance for a reason, and given Kari's body of work last night, he's not the one I'm pointing the finger at. Last night saw a great performance from Kari Lehtonen.
Was it extremely cathartic for all of you as well when Faksa plastered Andrew Ladd on the Jets' power play? It was less enjoyable later on when Faksa got a boarding call for another hit, but man, was it wonderful to see a young player with size hitting someone on the Jets for once instead of the other way 'round. Hitting isn't usually a huge part of penalty killing, but Faksa picked the perfect spot there, and of course this means that if he ever sits another game in the history of hockey, the Stars Fan Mob will march to the gates of Lindy Ruff's house with torches and pitchforks in hand. It's tough to disagree with their sentiment.
We truly are in another dead puck era, despite the Stars' valiant efforts to combat this glacial trend league-wide. At no point was that more evident than when Klingberg picked up a Jamie Benn drop pass at the blue line and gorgeously deked Adam Lowry with a between-the-legs move straight out of the Ribeiro Shootout Handbook (no longer in publication). Lowry's stick opened Klingberg's metaphorical can and caused as egregious-looking a spill and turnover as you will see, yet no call was made. I suspect the officials were simply so gobsmacked by Klingberg's move that they just forgot to call the obvious penalty. I have no explanation for the handsy-ness that was going on with those defending the puck carrier (on both sides) during the remainder of the night, however. This game was a grind.
Also, if I'm going to go full Fanerrific here, I'll point out that the refs could really have done the Stars a solid by making up for the no-call on Klingberg's trip by waving their hand dismissively in overtime on the Sharp trip. But I will always prefer that the officials call every penalty that they see, even if my heart doesn't want that to happen. Just pointing out a little injustice, no big deal.
It's time to be concerned about the power play as well, which continues to fail to get to the middle of the ice and get pucks on net. Honestly, the entry is fine (at least for the top unit), but puck movement in the zone is sluggish, and players aren't moving, and that doesn't create space in the shooting lanes. Whether it's great scouting by opposing PKs or lack of adaptation by Dallas (or both), they are not doing themselves any favors with their now-prolonged power play ineptitude. They are playing Goldeneye on N64 with all rocket launchers and choosing to try slapping the other team to death. It is going about as well as you would expect.
Patrick Sharp had the best legs tonight of anyone, and when he cut to the net on cue in the third, things felt like they were finally coming together. But Hellebuyck held strong, and Sharp was only able to bury the puck into the goalie's leg pad. At risk of harping on it, if Sharp holds onto that puck a second more, he can elevate it into the open top half of the net, but you don't usually have that kind of time in that spot, so you can't blame him for just trying to stuff it immediately after already making a beautiful move to beat Hellebuyck's poke check. As we said earlier, it was a golden chance, but you can see why it turned out the way it did. Not that the awareness is comforting or anything, but whatever.
It wasn't a pretty win, and the Stars aren't playing a pretty game lately. But if you balance these last few games with the five pretty great games (mostly) the Stars had around the break, you end up with a rather tolerable stretch of hockey. Busting out of a hitting slump in baseball sometimes begins with a broken-bat dribbler. The Stars didn't hit a home run tonight, but we'll settle for just getting on base. All they needed was to get going again, and two points certainly counts as that.
Enjoy your weekend. Relish the final Stars game Saturday before the extended hiatus. Hockey is chaos in a compact environment, and the Stars walked out of the chaos with a positive result this time. It doesn't mean everything is fixed, but perhaps the more important thing this game proved is that everything isn't broken, either.