The Stars more or less stole a point from the Kings the other night after Jason Spezza beat Peter Budaj—there’s a sentence you would not have believed in 2013—to force that ill-fated overtime. Dallas then promptly waited around for a tired Columbus team to stumble into victory, and that is precisely what happened. It was a weird couple of games, but it was nothing near as a weird as Tuesday should have been.
Names that were actually playing for the Stars tonight: Gemel Smith, Curtis McKenzie, Brett Ritchie, Lauri Korpikoski, Devin Shore, and Justin Dowling. (It almost makes Adam Cracknell seem like Jaromir Jagr, doesn’t it?) And, lest you sit in the seat of scoffers, allow me to clarify: every single one of these gentlemen played 11 minutes (10:42 for Cracknell), meaning it wasn’t just a token “here, Travis, run around on the 4th line for seven shifts tonight and take your jersey home as a keepsake.”
The Stars were decimated—more than decimated, technically—by injuries, and Winnipeg was hungry to take a chunk out of a division rival. The Jets have two good young goalies, Patrik Laine, and a whole host of large men who were looking to make the Dallas Stars regret playing them. Instead, the Dallas Stars were two dumb-dumb goals away from shutting them out. Read those names in the last paragraph again, then digest this: Jordie Benn was the Stars’ top defenseman tonight in ice-time.
Yeah, I know. Every fan has a very particular opinion of Jordie Benn by now, so I’m not here to preach or anything. But the Stars changed things up on the power play (“about time!” you say), and that meant swapping Jason Spezza out for Jordie Benn (“[CRITICAL ERROR. CORE MELTDOWN IMMINENT]” your brain says). It didn’t not work, in that the Stars scored a power play goal, won the game, and did not surrender a shorthanded goal. But most fans are probably ready to publish the third edition of their Jordie conspiracy theories by now, and while I’m not going to feed those, I do have the right to laugh. Jordie Benn was partnered with Klingberg on the power play, and it sort of worked. You might think you have this whole thing figured out, but hockey can still sneak up behind you and steal your shoes if it feels like it.
Justin Dowling played his first NHL game, and that is just swell. Gemel Smith played one of his first NHL games, and that is also just swell. It’s easier to be happy for these guys instead of frustrated that the other guys are hurt when the team wins. I’m glad the Stars could make that happen tonight, because Dowling’s story is really pretty cool. These are the types of guys we root for, because these are the types of guys most of us could see ourselves being in some alternate but not too dissimilar universe. We want to think we would be coldhearted NHL GMs, ruthlessly fixated on moving pieces around in order to achieve maximum potential, but it’s okay to be happy for these stories when they come along.
Antti Niemi is another such story. Yes, he also borked up a simple play to ruin his own shutout, but confidence can do weird things when it shows up after a long period of absence. Niemi more or less kept the Stars in a position of comfort despite their cats-underneath-rocking-chairs play at times, and a couple of breaks came their way. Niemi only had one or two bad rebounds, and that’s something a team can usually tolerate if he’s saving their collective bacon on breakaway after breakaway.
Really, the Stars should do something about those breakaways. I would suggest that they “not turn the puck over high in the attacking zone like five dozen times,” but I am not* a hockey expert.
*I am actually a hockey expert.
Defense Pairings: Nemeth-Klingberg was okay. John Klingberg clearly got the “YOU ARE JOHN [colorful descriptor] KLINGBERG” message, and that translated to some more aggressive plays along with a determination to skate the puck out of his zone more rather than forcing bad passes. It mostly worked.
My favorite Klingberg moment was his four-foot ollie (do kids still ollie?) to facilitate Eaves’s “power play” goal. That sequence was nuts, and Paul Maurice’s choice to challenge the goal without (I assume) realizing that it would result in a two-minute montage of a lascivious stick-grab on Klingberg just capped off the craziness.
Hamhuis-Lindell was, I think, okay. Hamhuis cleaned up some messes (every pair had some messes), and Lindell continued looking like Clark Kent when he is only just barely nudging parked cars out of his way. You’re not sure you saw it, but something in your periphery suggests that he has a lot of capabilities that aren’t quite realized yet. Still, Lindell seemed to embody that “he doesn’t let teams score goals” reputation he picked up somewhere, and that’s gold for Dallas right now. Lindell also played on his off-wing, so double props for not sinking the ship while doing so.
Oduya-Jordie was a pairing of defensemen that existed. Stephen Johns was scratched for this game. Those two sentences will provide you with what you need to validate your opinions about those players. Jordie Benn really did have a good game (Razor and Ludwig’s almost campaign-like mentioning of him notwithstanding), and while the Stars probably are not at their best when he is playing 25 minutes, you just have to pocket these two points and remember to tell stories about them later. These were some unique two points, all right.
Devin Shore was fun. He really had no issues at all with putting himself and/or the puck in front of his own goal, and that resulted in a couple of heart stoppages on my part, Shore’s play along the boards and in general continues to make me feel comfortable with him, for now. He is very comfortable with the puck, and he’s been able to use his size in a bullish sort of way. Those are good traits to have.
Brett Ritchie hasn’t quite become the tall sniper we might have envisioned two years ago, but he still has one heck of a shot, when he has a chance to use it, and boy, did he ever do that on the opening goal. The Texas Stars jokes are all well and good, but there was a very real feeling of happiness in my hockey heart from seeing so many Cedar Park bodies contributing tonight, from Curtis McKenzie on out. Depth is useful, even if the circumstances necessitating its employment are not ideal.
Outside of Niemi, I was most relieved by the Tyler Seguin goal. Those are the 5v5 goals your Tyler Seguins have got to score over the course of a season. When you have an injury-riddled team in a divisional game, it’s hard to oversell how much they mean. Snipers and game-winning goals are made for each other.
Also, it would have been equally nice for Jamie Benn to add a tally of his own on the breakaway right before Niemi’s little adventure. No, we don’t expect players to score on every breakaway, but it was nice of Seguin to pick up his (usually) linemate later on after Benn got stopped at such an inopportune time.
This game, man. It was fast and fun, even if the names were weird. The Stars looked almost like they were employing the dreaded “swarm the puck” defense at times, but Niemi and their legs helped them through this one. Was Lindy Ruff really (really) just messing with all of us by playing Seguin with Lauri Korpikoski? Is Antti Niemi really going to start stopping one-on-one chances now? Can Jordie Benn’s trade value get any higher than it is right now? Well, yes. Everyone’s value can always get higher, because we are greedy little humans.
The Stars will trade some defenders away. They have to, right? In the meantime, it seems like we’re going to be forced to sit and watch while players are paraded through the lineup at the whims of the coaching staff. When the team squeaks out a much-needed win, we can laugh and shrug it off. When it doesn’t, well, then you get whatever we felt for the five days before Tuesday. I didn’t like that feeling. I much more enjoy a chagrin win, a victory that may not have been unequivocal, but was at least undeniable.
The Stars lost to Toronto twice last season. They lost to Columbus just the other night. Dallas is now 3-2-1, which was Pittsburgh’s record going into Tuesday as well. Dallas isn’t missing Sidney Crosby, but it has sure felt like they are missing something. If they can keep picking up points while they search for completion, we will all just have to be okay with what we can’t change. Certainly Lindy Ruff seems content to move his chess pieces seemingly at random. If Seguin keeps scoring and the goaltending keeps trending up, we’ll find a way to be okay with victory. How big of us.