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Game 15 Afterwords: Stars Take Advantage of Chance to Remind Oilers Who They Really Are

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Seriously, Edmonton. It’s time you took off that crazy “good hockey team” costume you’ve been sporting since October.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Rogers Place vs. Rexall Place, the OFFICIAL REVIEW:

ATMOSPHERE: REXALL PLACE. I preferred the feeling that one had stumbled into a parallel universe where there was nothing but hockey and that one had to watch it from behind a mirror. Like Alice through the looking glass, Rexall Place offered the spectator the chance to experience hockey as though one were a janitor with cataracts peering out at the game from a broom closet. That was the Edmonton hockey I grew up with, and that is the Edmonton hockey I will forever miss.

AMENITIES: ROGERS PLACE. Reports have it that more than two people may walk abreast on the concourse at a given time now, so it’s tough to argue with that. Also, the soda fountains no longer serve nothing but Josta and Crystal Geyser, so that’s something to be thankful for.

PLAYING ENVIRONMENT: ROGERS PLACE. Whereas the former building would surely have manufactured four more Twilight Zone bounces in order to make the third period as insane as the first 10 minutes, Rogers Place appears to be a playing surface upon which hockey can reliably be expected to take place in accordance with the normative boundaries of natural law.

CONCLUSION: I miss Rexall Place.

***

Lindy Ruff chose to go with same lineup two days in a row, and the Stars piled up 10 shots on goal in the first eight minutes of the game. That seemed great, but the Stars did end up fading a bit down the stretch. However, the Stars were able to hang on and win, so you be the judge: MOMENTUM, or SOME FRESH PLAYERS? This is apparently a choose your own adventure sort of thing we’ve got going here.

Kari Lehtonen on back-to-back nights, however, did not look tired at all. Still, a 2-2 score after 20 minutes was certainly indicative of Stars/Oilers games of yesteryear, making me wistful for that eerie ice surface no longer able to effect absurdity upon our beloved team and its opponent.

If this trip is going to be a “get healthy” time before the Stars’ actual Get Healthy Time, then this might be the way Dallas will have to win games. Score a power play goal, be stingy on the PK, and capitalize on a turnover or two while the goalies make a big save or two. Good recipe for success with this team as currently (and necessarily) constructed.

The Edmonton Oilers have more scary names now, but they are still the Edmonton Oilers. They tried to be all tough and stuff, but the Stars were a veteran lion tamer dealing with a particularly grumpy tabby cat tonight. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was doable, and they did it.

Jamie Benn showed even more encouraging signs of his resurgence tonight, none moreso than when he puck-jacked Darnell Nurse to feed Korpikoski for the early goal. It’s easy to see Korpikoski as a placeholder in the top six, but as the Stars have little else but placeholders these days, it’s pleasant to see a low-cost addition chipping in.

The first period, at least, was true to Stars/Oilers form. The Oilers scored on a delayed penalty when Stephen Johns lost track of Patrick Maroon, who got to a Kari Lehtonen rebound. Lehtonen had some rebounds tonight, so maybe that was evidence of fatigue after all. Or maybe it was just something that is going to happen when 42 pucks are shot at the net. Either way, the Stars and Kari managed to keep things largely under control in spite of the numerical bombardment.

I was watching the Flyers power play earlier today, and they score an early power play goal that was simple as could be. That’s what the Dallas goal reminded me of, as Seguin shot the puck from a ways out with traffic, and Patrick Eaves got the tip to regain the lead. That’s really all it takes, most of the time. I wonder if sometimes the Stars don’t benefit from being fully “set up” in that it removes their dynamism a bit once players are in the assigned positions. I am not an expert at power plays.

Kari Lehtonen went full “Lion in the Coliseum” on Benoit Pouliot when he bowled into Lehtonen for a goalie interference penalty. I’ve heard the occasional “Lehtonen doesn’t seem to care” comment here and there over the past couple seasons, and that little incident was a good reminder that goalies care. They care a whole lot, about far too many things.

Razor perfectly labeled Lauri Korpikoski’s cleanup play on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’s loose stick: A “You Can’t Do That” play. The Stars had a couple of wrong-place-wrong-time penalties (the Oleksiak interference being another such example) tonight, but the PK was good enough to keep Edmonton discombobulated, and that’s the best way for young power plays to be kept, I think.

***

During the Faksa/Benn 2-on-1, when Faksa shot wide instead of attempting the pass, how did you feel? I was initially upset that Faksa didn’t pass, then glad that he took the sure shot instead of risking a pass, then upset because it’s JAMIE BENN, then glad because Jamie Benn still hasn’t been unleashing his normal shot lately, so who knows what would have happened. Do you understand how hard it is to be me, sometimes?

Kari Lehtonen was forced to make another good shorthanded save as Nugent-Hopkins was allowed to collect his own garbage and attempt another deposit, making Lehtonen the best worst bank teller in this entire hockey game. Also, the Stars are practically manufacturing shorthanded opportunities for the other team on purpose now. Stop doing that, Dallas Stars! Stop doing that.

Jamie Benn refusing (or not hearing) Oleksiak’s request for a stick after the large man’s stick was busted was interesting. We’re all okay with Benn breaking standard forward/defense protocol there, right? I mean, yes, you always give a stick to the defenseman, but where would you rather see Jamie Benn’s hockey stick in that situation: in Jamie Benn’s hands, or being wielded like a toothpick by a knight in Oleksiak’s hands?

To harp on it, Jamie Benn had at least four solid takeaways tonight. Further reassurance of his return, or an alternative means of “impacting the game” as he continues to find himself? I choose the former. Western Canadian road trips are for optimism or they are for nothing.

After a failed clear by Dan Hamhuis, Tyler Pitlick was allowed to waltz into the crease completely unimpeded. We’re talking full NHL 17-style here. He would (as ones does in NHL 17) beat Kari far side. It was not a great clear by Hamhuis, but Oleksiak certainly could have done more to defend the crease as well. You don’t often see players allowed to just do that, but it’s good to know that one of the most reliable old video game techniques really does work in real life, when the chance arises.

***

Connor McDavid is really good. I’m still learning to appreciate just how much his skating, confidence and stickhandling coalesce to form the Ideal Young Hockey Player. People say that Sidney Crosby does all the Little Things Only Pros Notice to perfection, but I can’t imagine Connor McDavid isn’t in that same place two years from now, or sooner.

Justin Dowling had a glorious chance all alone in front of Talbot in the second, but it was the classic “too much time” scenario, and Dowling wouldn’t be able to solve the Oilers netminder. I think we all get a “too much time” scenario in life at one point or another, whether it’s suddenly being alone at the snack table with your secret crush and freezing up or getting the puck all alone in front of an NHL goalie in a game you never dreamed you’d be playing in. Dowling did make a nice try, though.

I don’t think I’ll ever weary of watching Antoine Roussel score goals. His goal tonight was just a wonderful assist by Seguin capped by a nice backhand move by the French pugilist. I think Seguin and Eaves have a bit of the first-round pick secret handshake thing going on, but for Roussel to even manage some synergy with them is a bonus. It was nice to see the dispersed talent paying dividends tonight.

***

Kari Lehtonen robbed Anton Slepyeshev with the glove, and that save was crucial in maintaining the Stars’ newfound lead. Lehtonen also robbed Milan Lucic, who found a rare third-period opportunity to break in alone, only to be stopped again. Then it turned into the Unabashed Kari Lehtonen show in the final two minutes as the gassed Stars more or less turtled while the Oilers started firing pucks from in close. The Stars won. They did not play a perfect game. They played maybe 40% of a perfect game though, and when the other 60% can be papered over with goaltending and serviceable puck clearances, you’ll be thrilled to have survived.

Survival is really the word of the day right now, too. These Dallas Stars are not looking to start a new human colony on Mars right now. They are merely hoping to continue piloting the spaceship until the more experienced crew of experts awakens from their sleeping pods in the sick bay. Each correct bit of navigation until that happens is nothing short of gravy. Gotta love that sweet space gravy.