October 10th, 2015: Fresh off a shutout of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Dallas Stars went to Colorado and took a two-goal lead. Then they gave up five goals in a row and lost.
Tonight was different, but it wasn’t really that different. The Stars’ had a 2-0 lead, then they gave up five goals in a row and lost. The score changed, but it produced the same things: deflated pride, a .500 record, and a humbling reminder that the Avs still have that vial of melted ice from Reunion Arena lying around somewhere underneath Pepsi Center, continually being used to brew a special anti-Dallas serum administered into the water taps of the visiting locker room the day before the Stars come to town. It’s getting old.
Lost in all the goal-line scrambles and general nonsense that filled this game was the fact that the Stars made a 5-2 deficit in a road game eminently watchable. That’s not to say giving up six goals is a “good” thing, no, but it was comforting to see the Stars capable of making things interesting, just the same. We pay for entertainment, and this was that, technically.
It’s not “ideal” to keeping having first periods where you let the other team go on a 50-SOG pace, but hey, at least the Stars only got doubled up in shots (16-8) instead of septendecimaled up like they did in their first first period of the season. These are the silver linings you look for in Colorado.
Adam “yep, still here” Cracknell immediately drew a penalty from Blake Comeau (who latched onto Cracknell’s arm like someone who just wanted a buddy), and that meant a chance to see how many shorthanded opportunities would be allowed on the power play. The answer was zero(!) this time* as the old Spezza-to-Benn-to-<wild scrum>-to-Seguin strategy got the Stars an early lead. It wasn’t exactly a gorgeous power play goal (read: it was fortunate and ugly), but Tyler Seguin scoring a goal is not something you really break down too much. He scores a lot of them.
*it would not be zero every time
Speaking of Adam Cracknell, he embodied the sound of his name with a baffling collision with Antoine Roussel in the first. “Why did Adam Cracknell check Antoine Roussel” sounds like a bad joke setup, but sadly it is just a plain ol’ mystery.
Devin Shore’s first NHL goal was a slick one. The former Black Bear (best bear) led a 2-on-1 rush with actually Dan Hamhuis, but Shore did what anyone should probably do in that situation and shot the puck himself, going five-hole. Jordie Benn did, we must note, have a Kris Russell Shot Block (patent pending) to start the break, so make of that what you will.
And speaking of breaks, the Stars got one right after that when Matt Duchene had the puck hop over his stick for what should have been a gimme goal. I don’t know what pregame festivities the Avs put on, but Jarome Iginla would also have a puck bounce on him during a chance in alone on Niemi. Maybe the Pepsi Center ice will get better with time (much like Pepsi gets better with ice, making it less like Pepsi with each second). “It’ll get better with time” is a thing people also say about players who don’t play well at the start of the season. Anyway, the Avs settled for a power play instead of a goal, and that’s where everything got interesting.
The Stars got scrambly in the crease after Niemi couldn’t hang onto some wild pucks (though he made a couple of nice saves to keep the puck out at all), and the sequence would end with Patrik Nemeth doing his best “have to use the bathroom” gesticulation as the puck slipped underneath him. A penalty shot was initially called, but that would have been a gift for Dallas, all things considered. After all, the puck went in fair and sq...hold on.
Upon a closer look, Joe Colborne seemed to have punched the puck along the ice with his glove. I believe that’s what Lindy Ruff was asking the referees about after the initial review, but apparently no one agreed with him. Either that, or there was just so much absurdity involved with the play that the officials had no interest in reopening the can of worms that was the entire sequence. Tough break either way, but it’s not as though the Stars’ play was deserving of much better to that point.
(Erin also reminded me of the stupid other hand-pass goal from two years ago, if you’d like to re-live that. I chose not to, but I am not here to judge you.)
The 2-0 lead fully evaporated after the Avs’ power play mirrored the score: 2-2. The point shot found Niemi, and Joe Colborne scored his second PPG by pitchforking the puck in through a stricken Niemi, confirming that Joe Colborne really only scores goals when hockey looks least like itself. The most painful part of it was that Seguin had just hit the post on the Stars’ power play (and the puck then bounced over an open Benn’s stick). 3-1 would have looked very different from 2-2, but that’s math for you: stupid, as always.
The Avs’ third goal was also unfortunate, but the Stars still had no excuse for letting Carl Soderberg get in behind the defense. Patrik Nemeth had pinched in the shift before, but the Stars were well-placed to cover for him. The Stars then became well-placed to do other things that immediately looked unimportant, as Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp got split by Soderberg, who opened up the five-hole on Niemi, who has not had a great season so far when it comes to breakaways.
Nathan MacKinnon scored the Avs’ fourth goal. The broadcast blamed the lost faceoff, but I’m much more inclined to say it was some sketchy coverage (not sure where Klingberg was going?) combined with an unfortunate bounce right back to the Avs after the shot was blocked. I have said “unfortunate” a lot so far, which makes me either a blind apologist or a fatalist, or something. Ask David the Philosophy Nerd about that.
I was surprised Kari Lehtonen wasn’t brought in for Niemi after goal #4, but clearly Ruff had a plan, and that plan was to not demoralize Lehtonen by sticking him in the net while Joe Colborne was still on HERO mode. If the universe has a Jordie Benn voodoo doll, then it also had whatever the opposite of a Joe Colborne voodoo doll is tonight.
The Stars’ power play didn’t go full Thoreau, but what could be simpler than Tyler Seguin throwing the puck at Jamie Benn at the top of the crease? Those bread-and-butter plays are good to see, even if it still only made a (to that point) blarghity game 5-3, Avs. Here is where I was going to talk about how two power play goals on the night felt like a nice sign, but I’m guessing tonight isn’t where you say, “hooray for the power play, that which went 2/4 and was successful!”
Last-minute(s) power plays when a team is trailing are different than the other ones, and there are a couple of reasons for that. One, the ice is at its absolute worst. Two, the other team is utterly desperate. Three, your net is usually empty, giving the other team a juicy incentive to win every possible puck. The Stars had a final power play tonight, but they couldn’t really set up for all that much of it. Is that because the power play isn’t good enough? I will let you tell me.
People talk about momentum, but I wonder if the penalty kill on the Nemeth high sticking call wasn’t even more of a morale booster than the Jamie Benn goal. The Stars weathered a late flurry of Avs chances, and Tyler Seguin put his second of the game in with a high slapper as Roussel Rousseled in front shortly after the PK ended. Maybe the answer there is “both.”
By the way, Lauri Korpikoski used up his goal allotment in game #1, in case you were wondering. He had three whacks at the puck on Varlamov’s porch, but the force fields were very much back up, and he was unable to put it home. Admittedly, this came after Andreas Martinsen rang the post at the other end, so at least the universe stayed balanced or something.
Through two periods, this game was weird. The two goals felt a little like a false hope rally in waiting, but this old and improved Avs team was still looking a bit like a Jr. Stars team who were unsure what to do with a lead.
Question: When the goal horn erroneously blew with about 14:00 remaining in the third, was it:
A) The Clarion Call of Fate signalling that it was high time the Stars just gave up pretending they can win in Colorado, already?
B) A warning of the horrible Kari decision right after that to throw the puck at Jordie Benn instead of covering it up?
C) The same guy who magicked extra seconds onto the clock at Staples Center back in the day?
D) This is not a real poll?
Sadly, a tense and fun third period got all grody when the Stars got a bad-bounce hat trick of their own. Stephen Johns did a pretty solid Trevor Daley impression off to Kari’s right, and that was sort of that, we thought. Bounces are part of the deal with a kinetic game like hockey, but it sure hurt to have one come at that time in the game, at that point in a crazy but fun third period. Losses aren’t so bad; it’s the specific moments like that one that really stick it to your psyche. And hey, speaking of sticking it your psyche, what were we saying about false hope rallies?
Devin Shore’s move to get Ritchie the puck was just arrogant and smooth, in good ways. when Hemsky comes back, logic would say that Cracknell would be headed down, but when Eakin comes back, I’m not sure they’ll be able to justify sending down Shore. I suppose we’ll see, won’t we? We always do, eventually.
Antti Niemi, unlike Thursday, was not great. Antti Niemi, like Thursday, was not the problem. We have two games now that felt like the Stars were a bit behind at times, and while two games don’t constitute a trend in my book, it also isn’t, well, ideal.
John Klingberg played much of this game like people were throwing snowballs into his visor, and the Stars still scored five goals. Joe Colborne scored a hat trick, and the Stars were still just a bounce away from getting points out of the game. The Avs were permitted to glove the puck into Patrik Nemeth’s gentleman’s vegetables behind the goal line, and the Stars still had a whole two minutes of power play time to end the game in which they could have equalized.
I guess I’m saying, this game could easily have been only just slightly better, and that would have been great. It wasn’t. Games here are never great. They are only an obligation, a scheduled penance for the wonder the Stars wreak across the rest of the league at home. Pepsi Center is Ben Folds’s one relative that isn’t impressed with his music. And no matter how much new music he makes, Ben still has to see that relative at Thanksgiving every once in a while. The universe humbles us all, and often more regularly than we would like.