The post-Gaglardi dinner game in Vancouver has generally been a wonderful victory toast for the Stars, regardless of their place in the standings. Tonight was shaping up to be such a game. Multiple leads, multiple big goals, and multiple nice saves all could have been the story for how the Stars came back from a tough stretch with a three-game win streak on the road.
Instead, Dallas has only five of six points to show for the CGY/EDM/VAN 3-in-4, and it’s that last point that seems so bitterly absent. The Stars had many ways they could have won tonight, but they did not realize any of those ways. Let me count the ways.
The standing ovation from the Vancouver crowd was a nice bit of appreciation for Dan Hamhuis. Safe to say he’s still a ways out from earning similar love from the Dallas fanbase, though. How is everyone feeling about Hamhuis, right now? I’m a bit underwhelmed, personally, but that isn’t really the defenseman story of this game, is it?
Stephen Johns was scratched for Patrik Nemeth after a bit of an up-and-down game for the USA native, and boy, did defense seem like an afterthought for both teams to start (and finish) this one.
The (first) Patrick Eaves goal was awful clearance attempt by the Canucks that felt like an “earned” goal by Dallas. Those are the sorts of things Vancouver has been allowing to happen lately, and it’s nice that Dallas is still the caliber of team (to an extent) that can benefit from that. Patrick Eaves hasn’t practiced for about four years, but he’s still scoring goals and playing well on the top line. You’d say it’s the perfect gig for an NHL player, but then you haven’t seen the duct tape and bailing wire that show up on Eaves’s x-rays, have you?
No one wants to say it, but the Bo Horvat goal stung a little more now that Valeri Nichushkin (whom the Canucks passed over to draft Horvat) is in the KHL. It was nice of Hamhuis to return some kindness to Vancouver after their appreciation by losing Horvat completely, but I can’t agree with his method. Incidentally, this goal is not one you really blame Kari for not stopping—the pop-into-slot-undefended-from-behind-erstwhile-defenseman-shot is a notoriously tough category for goalies—but we’ll get to Kari. Oh, we’ll get to Kari.
Korpikoski continued the calamity cavalcade for each team’s defense with a 2-on-1 goal in which Radek Faksa was left looking while his linemate took the shot. And, unlike Faksa before him, Korpikoski scored with a gorgeous shot off the post and in. He’s done that lately.
Brett Ritchie took a late-first period hooking penalty in offensive zone that seemed like a very unnecessary bit of stick-reaching. But maybe he knew what he was doing all along, because Patrik Nemeth got a great shorthanded chance on his backhand during the kill that he couldn’t put home, and then Radek Faksa got a clean breakaway that he also couldn’t put past Ryan Miller. It was too bad Dallas couldn’t capitalize, but oh well, it’s not like one goal would end up making the difference in this game anyway.
Brendan Gaunce is Cameron Gaunce’s brother. I don’t have much reason to mention that, but I wondered about it and it turns out it’s true, so there you go. The Gaunce family’s hockey DNA runs thick.
Speaking of hockey brothers, Gaunce took a high-sticking penalty to put Dallas on the job, and Jordie Benn managed the most Hemskyish bit of misfortune in front of an open net we’ve seen in some time. The broadcast later gave Jordie Benn due credit (as they have done quite often in their brief time so far) for foiling Alex Burrows on a wrap-around attempt shortly thereafter, but man, you can’t have players missing open nets from that close, even if the puck does jump on them. Oh well, it’s not like one goal would end up making a difference in this game anyway.
That Tyler Seguin feed to Patrick Eaves for the third goal was a great way to cap a 200-foot sequence of a good breakout pass by Nemeth and a really nice zone entry by Roussel, who had a heck of a game tonight, for him. It’s a shame Roussel had to have one of his best games while a lot of Stars decided to do the opposite of that.
Right after the Eaves goal, Seguin also won a critical battle right in front of an open net and cleared the puck out of the zone. How’s that for two-way play in response to being called out by the coach earlier in the week? Also, a footnote: Seguin is tied with Mark Scheifele (and maybe that’s the real story) as the LEADING SCORER IN THE NHL right now despite spending most of the year playing with an assemblage of linemates (healthy or otherwise) that even Lindy Ruff might have a tough time naming by February.
This is the paragraph where I keep talking about Tyler Seguin, because my gracious, how good is this guy? Seguin is unequivocally (I’m way over my adverb limit for this post) the reason Dallas isn’t in the basement right now. I will try to give Seguin a paragraph of praise for a while just because he deserves it.
The Stars’ overlap game was great in the offensive zone (which is to say the Canucks weren’t great at defending it), allowing for a bit more cycling than we’ve seen in some time. By way of contrast, Kari Lehtonen might have been the best at breaking up the notorious Sedin Cycle in the other end, foiling two or three great attempts at a back-door pass with a smart goalstick.
Antoine Roussel started the third period with two great moves, two great chances, and two saves by Ryan Miller. When the game was then tied up by Vancouver, you really felt the acute absence of any capitalization on those chances. When Roussel later found some loose change off a sloppy Ryan Miller play to regain the lead, we forgot all about it. Really, it was not a bad game for an undrafted free agent that everyone keeps confusing for a journeyman goaltender from 20 years ago for some reason, eh?
Is that a human-sized muppet no wait that is actually Loui Eriksson was the beneficiary of a Jamie Oleksiak turnover along the wall to bring the Canucks back within one goal. For all the talk of sitting Stephen Johns, one would think that sort of a mistake (or Jordie’s missed open net) would create a blueline vacancy in the very near future. Of course, how to parse such a vacancy got complicated after a bad Jordie Benn turnover midway through the third to create a 3-on-1 that was, of course, very well-played by Jamie Oleksiak. I don’t even know anymore. Maybe dress all eight defenders? In any case, Oleksiak stopped seeing the ice as the third period went on, so maybe that’s your answer.
Also, let’s talk about Kari Lehtonen again, because everyone keeps spouting the “FIVE GOALS ON KARI AGAIN” bromide as if it is impossible for a goalie to give up five goals without every single one of them being completely his fault. Please, let’s not resort to casual criticism of Stars goaltending. We don’t have to do that. We can, instead, look at this goal and see what is happening here. Due to the late turnover and open Eriksson in the low circle, Kari has to go from holding his post to pushing out to challenge, and it’s tough to push out there while keeping your five hole closed. No, this doesn’t mean Kari gets a free pass at all—this shot can be stopped—but it’s also not great evidence for waiving Kari and eating his cap hit forever just because you’re upset. (That evidence, should you interpret it that way, would come later.)
Speaking of which, hey, Henrik Sedin was absolutely shut down by Kari Lehtonen (after the Stars decided to pretend he was invisible) to avoid a quick second goal by the Canucks. Craig Ludwig called it a “timely save,” and yeah, that’s exactly what it was. It was a nice bit of salvation that ended up just kicking the can down the road until a soft call on John Klingberg led to somehow the only special teams goal of the night.
That Brandon Sutter goal was not on Kari, and you need to understand why. Let’s watch it again:
That is a prime scoring chance in the slot which you hope your goalie could stop maybe like (pulls number out of coffee cup) 65% of the time. Instead, it is clearly deflected off Oduya’s stick and goes to Kari’s right instead of his left, as Kari originally read off Sutter’s stick. David mentioned to me that Kari wasn’t completely set, so maybe that contributed, but honestly, that’s more of a tough break than anything. Oh, also watch Patrik Nemeth just kind of get lost and skate an “S” here, if you’re bored. There is much goaltending angst that was deserved in this game (and in the last couple of years), but this (and most of the goals) were poor justification for it. There are great reasons to be critical and unhappy about the Stars’ goalies. But this game provides specific points of analysis that we can talk about. Let’s maybe do that instead of just screaming “FIVE GOALS!” while fantasizing about how Marc-Andre Fleury would have pitched a shutout behind a tired and sloppy Stars team tonight.
Lehtonen made two solid saves on Sven Baertschi (or Bärtschi if you prefer umlauts) to preserve the 3-3 tie, and Roussel would then put the Stars up again. Then the Stars gave up another 3-on-1, Alex Burrows pitchforked the puck and Kari’s pad across the line to create a “goal,” and Kari’s sort-of-nice game to that point began to look different. At least, it did until the officials got Nick Burns (your company’s computer guy) to repair the ref Gameboy, after which the zebras called off the goal and the ice crew cleaned some debris thrown on the surface by unhappy Vancouver fans who have never ever pitched a fit over not getting their way in a hockey game before.
A word on that “goal”: a few games ago, I tossed out a comment about a game officiated by Kendrck Nicholson and Justin StPierre saying, essentially, that at least they aren’t Brad Watson. Well, Brad Watson was the senior ref tonight, and he and Nicholson managed to get the call right (in Lindy Ruff’s eyes if not those of Willie Desjardins). Officials are humans, and we sometimes must grudgingly accept that they do not generally have vendettas against our favorite teams.
John Klingberg got hacked on the knee by the Canucks’ Daniel Sedin in the third, sending him to the ice in agony (though he would later return). If there’s any upside to such an event, it’s that Brenden Morrow will surely be sending Klingberg a sympathy card. Remember those Canucks games? Now those were frustrating.
The Stars were on the end of a rough five-game road trip to finish a stretch of six games in nine days. To that end, getting a point out of the game and heading into overtime was nice. But when you consider how bad this Canucks team has been, that fourth goal through Kari really was a dagger. Yes, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.
Sure, Jamie Benn got beat at the blue line pretty badly. Yes, Oduya went down on one knee to screen Kari’s view of the puck off the stick a bit. But if you’re a big goalie who goes down into the butterfly by default (i.e. ALL GOALIES), you’d better be closing up the five-hole. That did not happen, and it was inexcusable. This was a player who had never scored an NHL goal. That was a goalie who has allowed many NHL goals.
The Stars’ goaltending situation is bad. Sometimes the goalies have a nice night, and sometimes they do not. Other times, the goalies are just so-so, but the team carries them. Other times, the team is so-so, and the goalies are so-so, and one really bad goal can make the difference. That is what happened tonight. This wasn’t quite Game 7 when it came to all of the goals, but it might as well have been considering how deflating that goal was. That, far more than any other goal the entire night (or most that I can recall this season) is the sort of goal that makes you say, “man, the Stars really need to do something about their goaltending.” We are still taking suggestions!
Sutter was denied by Kari in overtime when he attempted to thread the to-that-point generous five hole of Lehtonen. You can point to this as some evidence against the “Kari gets rattled and gives up a bunch” argument, if you want. Lehtonen gave the Stars a bit of time in overtime. He didn’t pitch a shutout or anything—five goals is not that—but the Stars got a few big saves in this game, including that one. They got some timely goals, including the Roussel tally. What they did not get, when overtime arrived, was, well, the puck.
The Stars are a horrible team in overtime this season, and there’s no excuse for that other than the only excuse. Yes, that whole “everyone is still broken” issue was exemplified by the crew that ate the final minus: Korpikoski, Roussel and Hamhuis isn’t exactly a lethal trio (despite the two forwards’ three-game goal streaks) when it comes to open space and golden goal times. In fact, I’d say that you almost would want to put a center (ANY CENTER) out there for the d-zone faceoff, then plan to make a quick change if you win the puck, but that’s tricky in 3-on-3, so I sort of get it. I am not an NHL coach for many reasons, most of which are related to the bugaboos of my ignorance and complete inability to perform that very difficult job on even the lowest level of hockey imaginable.
Oh, and that fifth goal was just a really nice shot off the post and in from like fifteen feet away. Doubt most goalies stop that one. Oh well, they’ll get ‘em next time, right?