The Dallas Stars are playing with a figurative arm tied behind their figurative back. We know this, rationally. We’ve told ourselves it’s OK to lower our expectations for now.
But it still stings when they don’t sweep a home-and-home, especially in the Murderous Central, where every two points is more like three. It was too much of everything and not enough of anything in MTS Centre tonight, but we’ve lived through this before.
It didn’t take long for the Jets to assert themselves in their own house: 15 seconds into the first, Tyler Myers blasted a shot through Antti Niemi. The Stars and Jets then peppered each other with five shots each in less than five minutes as the game quickly turned into Big Guys Barging Into Each Other courtesy of Brett Ritchie, Joel Armia et al.
The Stars got the first power play at 06:34 after the refs caught Brandon Tanev elbowing John Klingberg in the head. With 1:16 left, Armia went off for slashing Radek Faksa, but the Stars couldn’t convert on the 5-on-3.
Starfox turned it into a 4-on-4 at 09:05 with a minor of his own for tripping on Myers. The Jets PP that followed resulted in a flurry of brilliant saves by Niemi (and a missed net by Adam Lowry off a Mark Schiefele feed), before Patrik Nemeth finally got the puck out of the zone as the penalty expired.
Kyle Connor made it 2-0 with less than four minutes left in the period, scoring his first NHL goal on a missed pass by Dan Hamhuis and the resulting two-on-one. The Stars would spend most of the last two minutes on the penalty kill after a slashing penalty on Ritchie.
The Jets pushed the Stars’ defense hard, and it paid off. At least the PK worked well: Both Winnipeg goals were 5-on-5. And the two tallies aside, Niemi stood tall, saving 20 of the Jets’ 22 shots on goal and pretty much singlehandedly taking the Stars back to the dressing room only (...only) two points down.
The Stars tightened up a bit at the beginning of the second, but Klingberg went off for hooking on Tanev at 04:22, and that was all the opportunity Patrik Laine needed. The ultra-rookie whistled one from distance into the Stars’ net seconds into the power play to give the Jets three unanswered goals and Laine his fifth point of the season to date.
Another fruitless power play ensued after a Matthieu Perreault slash on Gemel Smith, but the Stars finally started holding the Jets’ shot totals down, ending with only eight on the period. A Johnny Oduya penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct could have spelled disaster, but the PK bowed up without him, and the team escaped without further scoreboard injury.
Much of this period was a continuation of the Dustin Byfuglien Show, with Big Buff doing what he is liable to do, i.e. use his size and shot to terrorize opposing offensemen and goalies alike. The good news was that Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin reunited for a few good chances, and Nemeth looked good in both ends, including a beautiful chance on goal.
A Perreault high stick on Esa Lindell would send the Stars to the room with more than a minute left on the power play to begin the closing frame.
TIME TO MAKE THE DONUTS! Finally!!! Seguin the sniper made Connor Hellebuyck pay with a high and short-side goal on the PP, mirroring the game-winner he scored on Michael Hutchinson in the AAC on Tuesday. Alas, it would be the only snack for starving Stars fans.
A scary collision with Antoine Roussel sent Byfuglien to the locker room seconds later, and the Stars seemed to come uncorked for a few minutes. They would finally pull ahead in SoG this period, ending with 39 to the Jets’ 36 and more than doubling Winnipeg’s total for the period.
Unfortunately, one of those shots came from Laine, during a 5-on-3 power play in which Gemel Smith and Jordie Benn were reduced to watching from the sin bin as Winnipeg stretched the lead to three, again.
Twice the Stars went on the power play. Twice Niemi sprinted for the bench to give Dallas a 6-on-4 advantage. Neither time did it matter. At least Our Gang kept it out of their empty net as the game finally ended.
The Stars had to kill seven power plays with their depleted line-up, and they only managed five, which effectively put this game out of reach early. The Jets were desperate for a win, and they have one. Stars have seven of 14 points, even with every offensive line disrupted. Yes, it’s OK to lower your expectations just a bit. It’s also OK to be bitterly disappointed, because I’m pretty sure the Stars are, too.