The Western Canada road trip always feels a bit like Get Healthy time for Dallas. Usually, that is because those three teams have been, like most Canadian teams, not very good. This year, it is because the Stars have little choice. They need to start winning games, and these three teams will be as mediocre as any in the West, no matter what Edmonton’s early surge might say.
Folks have been pining for a goalie to steal a game for Dallas already, and that...did not happen tonight. Kari Lehtonen couldn’t quite squeeze the arm on a near slapshot, and the Flames would soon tie the game on another goal that wasn’t on him. When all was said and done, you have to be pleased with the effort, but I guess that just means that Antti Niemi gets his chance to one-up Kari now, right? Right. (RIGHT.)
The Jamie Benn hit on Gaudreau may have served to unclog the proverbial ketchup bottle for both of them, as each would tally a pair of goals in this one to break a long drought. Very nice of Benn to share the wealth like that, but we all know he’s a nice guy.
On the first goal, I very much appreciated Dougie Hamilton and Sam Bennett going clownshoes with Radek Faksa forchecking like crazy. As the whole play started with Sam Bennett turning it over in the other end, it was only fitting that he was sprawled by his goal to watch Korpikoski’s nice shot beat Elliott’s glove hand.
I’m still not sure how the Flames aren’t better, by the way. Part of it was/has been coaching and goaltending, but you really should be able to make something of that young forward talent and defense. Then again, the Flames when healthy don’t look that different up front from the banged-up Stars, so maybe that’s your answer.
Stephen Johns was benched for a portion of the second period after he chose to fake a hard clear and try a reverse play with the puck behind his own end. He would end up getting stripped of the puck, and that would lead pretty directly to the first Johnny Gaudreau goal. You can argue about whether the punishment fits the crime, but that certainly appeared to be a needless bit of fanciness with a 2-0 lead. From what I was able to piece together, it was that sort of decision-making that got him a two-game break earlier in the season. Hopefully the same won’t happen this time around, and Johns can learn on the fly.
The second Flames goal was a bit of a bad break, as a Radek Faksa breakup of a T.J. Brodie stretch pass facilitated an easy Gaudrea entry, after which the Flames would wend their way to the Gaudreau tip-in that looked a bit too much like Gemel Smith’s own game-tying goal in Chicago the other night.
John Klingberg had a couple of great plays tonight, and while he only got an assist on one of them, his keep/pass on the power play absolutely created the Jamie Benn goal (with some help from a very smart Roussel pass to Seguin as well). That’s the sort of thing Dallas has been needing from Klingberg, and while he didn’t have a 100% clean game in his own end, two prime scoring-chance creations like that embody the whole Dallas Stars mentality of last season: outscore your mistakes.
I guess you have to talk about the Micheal Ferland hit on Tyler Seguin and the subsequent Roussel fight. Seguin gave Roussel a pat on the head (Good boy!) in the penalty box right afterwards, but as much as that seemed to balance the scales, Stephen Johns later unbalanced Ferland completely. I don’t think a fight really deters hits on star players, but a fight and a bit of extended vengeance might at least cause Ferland to think twice. (Or, more likely, just to think at all.)
I was really hoping for a late faceoff with the game close so we could all make “don’t forget to put out two centers” comments about our ol’ buddy Glen, but Antoine Roussel defused the drama with a nice empty-netter. That combined with Jamie Benn’s goal really did evoke shades of last season, so maybe we’re getting closer to the Dallas Stars equilibrium? In any case, Patrick Sharp is skating again, so the injury wave is at least beginning to look not quite so tidal.
You know how happy movies usually have the sad, painful second act where the protagonist suffers, the villains sing a song, and Daddy Warbucks has an epiphany? That was the second period for Dallas tonight, except basically just the first of those elements. And that was just at even strength.
Yeah, the Stars ended up vindicating the man-advantage in the third, but the late second period power play for Dallas was a disaster, mitigated only by the fact that the Flames’ two high-danger scoring chances didn’t result in a goal. I know that it’s shocking that a Jo. Benn-Hamhuis-Ritchie-Korpikoski-Shore power play unit didn’t control the puck, but yes, it’s true. And that isn’t so much a critique of the coaches as it is a statement about the Stars right now. That you even have to think before coming up with alternative names for that second unit speaks volumes.
Brian Elliott was big to start the third, with two saves on a rejuvenated (or just juvenated?) John Klingberg and Jamie Benn (who worked magic to generate the chance in the first place). Then Kari Lehtonen came up big on Gaudreau’s wrap-around attempt after Lehtonen lost the puck for a moment, and we had ourselves a respectable hockey game once again.
While Stephen Johns was at both extremes tonight with his play, Jamie Oleksiak was more on the “solid but not spectacular” and “erroneous but not catastrophic” spectrums tonight. Johns laid hits on players all over the ice, while Jamie Oleksiak preferred to use his reach and skating, as is his wont. A cynic might say the Stars figured that a back-to-back was as good a time as any to remind any trade partners that they still have eight NHL defenders lying around, but the safe bet is that we’ll see Lindell back in tomorrow and/or Sunday, and that things will be back to the unhappy status quo for Oleksiak soon enough. Go listen to Sean Shapiro’s latest podcast on the Oleksiak situation if you haven’t yet, because it really does cover the whole thing extensively.
Stephen Johns and Adam Cracknell each hit crossbar in the third. I suspect that will be the last chance Cracknell will have to re-tie Jamie Benn in the goals department, but it was a fun little run while it lasted, for Adam Cracknlell and his fans.
It really was a breath of fresh air to get the lead late, as an initially incoherent power play finally deciphered itself with that oldest of chestnuts: Seguin to Benn. It was a bit like everything the Stars hadn’t been able to figure out lately just fell into place for a moment, and all was well with the universe. I am sure this will remain the case going forward and that we are pretty much done with adversity for the season now.
While that might have seemed like a fantastic train wreck of a Too Many Hockey Guys on the Ice for Like a Whole Entire Minute penalty late in the game, in retrospect you have to give Lauri Korpikoski a lot of credit. Looking at the toothless Calgary power play, Korpikoski wisely hopped onto the ice to take the penalty, ensuring that Dallas would have two free minutes of scoreless hockey at a crucial time. Great veteran move there.
The Stars now get to play Edmonton, and normally you would say, “that will be a wild game in the ol’ Rexall Place!” Instead, you are just hoping that Connor McDavid doesn’t score more than three goals, and that the Stars can find their way to the faceoff circles in the new building before the opening faceoff. We’re still calibrating our expectations after wins.
Finally: a big Thank-You to Jyrki Jokipakka and Alex Chiasson. You are wonderful reminders of the past, but these are the new Dallas Stars, where Lauri Korpikoski(!) leads the forwards in ice time. We don’t need you anymore.
(On an unrelated note though, Alex, if you aren’t busy or anything, feel free to give us a call. It would be great just to catch up and...well, who knows? We might be able to squeeze ol’ Chaser back into the lineup for old time’s sake, so long as you don’t mind playing on the top line and probably quarterbacking the power play periodically. But that’s our absolute best offer.)