Maybe Dallas Stars hockey was too busy fighting cancer Saturday night to fight the Columbus Blue Jackets.
A touching evening began with Dave Strader's son singing the National Anthem, followed by tributes from national hockey media stalwarts peppering the video board throughout, punctuated by a tear-jerker video from Strader himself.
The product on the ice evoked, err, different emotions.
Columbus mucked things up as much as they were able under the tutelage of John Tortorella, whose stylings you may remember from such films as the 2016 USA national team that went to the World Cup. Dallas won the possession battle, but mustered little in the way of what Lindy calls 'A' chances, meandering their way to a 3-0 loss at American Airlines Center.
An ugly first period from both squads saw just 14 combined shots and a Dallas power play that went the way of most of the others this season. A huge surge from the Stars in the second period saw them throw over 20 pucks toward Bobrovsky's net in a ten-minute stretch to race ahead of Columbus in the possession race. Then something weird happened-
Brett Ritchie and Jamie Benn looked poised to earn the Stars' highest quality chance of the night when the puck found not one, but two different officials piled up at the blue line- And then hockey gods taketh away they usually take everything, as predictably the interference resulted in a Blue Jackets goal at the other end of the ice within seconds.
That would prove all Torts and his grit and grind would need to put the Dallas Stars to bed. A bizarre third period ensued during which the Stars had plenty of power play time to claw their way back in, but odd man rushes the other way were plentiful, and a penalty shot was awarded to Cam Atkinson while the Stars were on the job. He would miss the net, lucky for Kari Lehtonen, who had plenty already to do to that point.
John Klingberg and Dan Hamhuis continued to struggle in particular, while the forwards fared little better .Ruff put Hemsky back with Faksa and Rousel as many speculated he would, while reuniting Spezza with Seguin and Benn as was so often the case two seasons ago.
Two seasons ago- That's what tonight looked like. What October and November might look like. The Stars had their talent concentrated and it was out there somehwere between 25% and 33% of the time. The remainder saw no threats to score. Like 2014-2015 when the Stars missed the playoffs.
Jim Nill has worked hard to combat that- And it's here. It's all sitting in the press box and at home. Patrick Sharp. Jiri Hudler. Cody Eakin. Mattias Janmark. Patrick Eaves. You can argue that five of the intended top nine are on IR. The result is what you saw tonight- Which is too bad. Giving up just the two (plus the EN) and winning the possession battle is supposed to be an easy win for this team. Not with the injuries.
Kari Lehtonen was the shiny penny in this game. He gave up two. They were both on high-quality chances on which he needs more help than he got. A sterling performance from him all around, including 3-4 different breakaways for Columbus.
Sergei Bobrovsky gets the first star of the night with the 32 save shutout, and I cannot recall very many of them. The possession metrics say the Stars were even, but this is one night where the eyeball test tells an extremely different story. There was no quality to go along with the empty quantities.
- The Stars dominated the faceoff circle taking 42 of 66 draws but it did not translate into quality offense.
- At some point in the third period the Stars began a power play with Jordie Benn, Stephen Johns and Radek Faksa. This seems illustrative of...something. I have neither the wit or the patience after this one to add much in the way of exposition.
- Thought: Can we invent a new noise to make? We've got cheering. We've got booing. When your goaltender makes a save on a shorthanded breakaway neither are appropriate. You want to cheer Kari, sure, but there are five other guys that need the opposite. I suggest a high-pitched shrieking of some kind.
- It's not 1978. Skill talks. Not sitting in the penalty box. That being said, Jamie Benn is the kind of guy that is going to get into that fight to fire his team up. Sadly he's also the team's best chance of catching up on the scoreboard. You can't really hate what he did. I guess. But five minutes a remaining 24 with a deficit to chase is tough in a sport where guys play less than one out of every three.