Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg are the Dallas Stars. That’s where this team starts at its best, and tonight, that’s where they ended, and not because they scored.
The 2014-15 Dallas Stars missed the playoffs because of an abysmal early start and sub-par goaltending all season long. Burdened by a newly post-cliff Kari Lehtonen and a defense that took enough time figuring things out that Jim Nill brought in Jason Demers and Klingberg, the 2014-15 Dallas Stars began their season with a 6-7-4 record, for 16 points through 17 games. They would go 35-24-6 the rest of the way, and it would not be good enough. They ended the season with a 41-31-10 record, seven points out of the playoffs.
The 2016-17 Dallas Stars—that’s these guys—have put up a 6-6-5 start to the season, for 17 points in 17 games. They currently sit in a playoff spot, which sounds sort of upsidey, and they have a “.500” record, which looks not-so-bad until you realize that “.500” means nothing in the world of the loser point. Dallas needs to get 83 points out of their final 65 games just to ensure a playoff berth.
This is the reality: Dallas has collected only half of the points they could have so far. They are on—even I can do this math—an 82-point pace. This squad’s pace has them finishing where Patrick Roy’s Naughty Show-off Kids did last year.
We know the reasons, and goodness knows we’ve catalogued them all: injuries, learning curves, and basically yeah, still injuries. It’s a week from Thanksgiving, and it feels like the last round of training camp cuts are still looming. No matter what happens from here on out, the Stars are now officially in trouble.
3-on-3 overtime is tough to analyze, because you hardly need to do anything beyond stare at the obvious one or two mistakes most of the time and wish they hadn’t happened. Here we had Seguin and Benn, who were at the end of a shift, trying to force I don’t even know what (fatigue clouds judgment FYI), and the puck was turned over for a 2-on-1. John Klingberg couldn’t mimic Patrik Nemeth’s earlier breakup, and the dagger pass was successful for the game-winner.
Lindy Ruff said it was the Stars’ best possession OT so far, but he also called out the Seguin/Benn exchange. The Stars have been practicing their overtime strategies as recently as Monday, but you sure wouldn’t have known it from the haphazard play with the puck in OT tonight.
The angry, vengeful part of our fan brain says to bench Klingberg, keep Benn and/or Seguin off the ice next overtime, and send out two defenders and the other goalie* instead. We know that isn’t the answer, but that’s what anger wants: a scapegoat. If only it were that easy.
*No, it’s not legal, but it’s not like that would make the Stars’ chances any worse in the bonus frame.
Aside: this was the emptiest lower bowl to start a game I’ve seen so far this year (on television). Normally that would seem like a wise decision by those latecomers, considering how less-than-stimulating games against New Jersey tend to be. Instead, the first period had all the fun parts, and then it was 1996 again until overtime, when it was very much 2016.
Also, I’m not sure what happened before the game, but the puck was bouncing all over the place. I remain jealous of the Canadian arenas with consistent ice that are more hockey-focused (though apparently Rexall Place had the best ice ever and it’s gone now). How long until Dallas has a hockey-only arena? I don’t think I want to answer that.
Jason Spezza returned, so it was great to get a third-line winger back. Anyhow, Spezza created a great chance early on the wing when he fed Devin Shore from behind the net for a backhand shot that immediately and forever validated Ruff’s moving the veteran center to right wing. That said, Ruff moved Spezza up to Benn’s line in place of Korpikoski later in the second. I can’t imagine he’ll be down on the third line for two long on this goal-starved team.
With Taylor Hall out of the lineup for New Jersey, Beau Bennett (zero goals on the season thus far) was moved up to the top line. He hit a post on a chance alone on Niemi, and is still goal-less, even after playing 17 minutes of hockey against the Stars. Beau Bennett’s story is the New Jersey forward version of the Dallas Stars this year.
The Stars started with a familiar bit of great Dallas pressure followed by a mistake, odd-man rush against, and a goal. Sorry, yeah, I know we already talked about overtime, but this is the other time that happened. This time, it was a 4-on-2 rush begotten by a John Klingberg bobble when the puck appeared to catch a spot on the ice and fall off his stick. Niemi never really had a chance.
I’m not in favor of scratching John Klingberg just to prove a point, but man, you gotta try something at some point, right? I’d imagine Lindy Ruff has seriously considered that option, and clearly this staff isn’t afraid to give players grumpypants, as proven by the Hamhuis scratch. I think my main aversion with a Klingberg scratch is that it would feel like just randomly pressing buttons on a control panel at this point, and I am not qualified to operate the Klingberg control panel.
It occurs to me that these moments, as the talent begins to return, are why NHL coaches get paid a lot of money. They desperately want to do what will help the team to win, but no one ever knows for certain what that is on any given night. We’re all just guessing about everything when you think about it.
Antoine Roussel continued his insane scoring streak with a play that allowed Patrick Eaves to redeem himself after he gave the puck away in his own zone. Roussel picked Kyle Quincey’s pocket at the blue line, bolted down the ice, and fed Eaves on the rush. The bearded Allen Iverson beat Schneider high glove. Patrick Eaves hasn’t practiced in forever, and he’s scored 15 points this season. Maybe the Stars just need to cancel practice for a while for everyone.
Oh, and speaking of nice wrist shots, Jamie Benn’s shot made a cameo on a late first period power play, but Cory Schneider caught up to it. He still isn’t quite Jamie Benn! to the naked eye, but he’s closer.
Patrik Nemeth made a case for his frequency in the lineup after breaking up a 2-on-1 with a nice poke check from his belly. This, as mentioned above, is what John Klingberg did not do in overtime, but I do want to point out that 3-on-3 is different than regulation in that you really can’t afford to take yourself out of the play 3v3 by going down on your stomach, if you can help it. I don’t know for sure that this is what John Klingberg was thinking when he Tebowed instead of blocking the pass in OT, but just sayin’. Apples and slightly different sorts of apples.
Lindy Ruff will surely be talking about missed chances for the second game in a row, and while New Jersey wasn’t as generous as Vancouver, there were some moments that Dallas needed more from.
Lauri Korpikoski’s goal streak also did its best to survive, as the New #38 beat Schenider five-hole in the third, only to see the puck trickle wide. These moments are what give me confidence to say that it is definitely still a former Oiler wearing that #38 jersey.
Dan Hamhuis got a wide-open chance to fire the puck for his first Dallas goal just after Korpikoski’s shot. Hamhuis was fed on the open wing from a nice pass from Jamie Benn, but what happened? Dan Hamhuis’s stick broke, the puck did not do anything interesting, and a chance was lost. We can take heart that at least the broken stick did not impale the leg of a Stars player and end up causing gangrene, as would surely have happened last month.
A late Stars power play (after a rough-looking boarding penalty on Hamhuis) failed to generate any deadly chances, and it felt very much like a squandered opportunity to take the game then and there. I suppose it felt like that because that is what it was.
Still, Dallas would get one more odd-man rush with thirty seconds left in regulation, only to see that turn into nothing more than a harmless Devin Shore pass into the crease. Given how overtime has been, it really hurt not to even see a shot out of that.
Dallas honored Vernon Fiddler with a nice little tribute and standing ovation tonight. Razor mentioned that Fiddler is the sort of player most deserving of such accolades, and again I was reminded that both he and Craig Ludwig are coming at things with the experience of being non-flashy hockey players for their NHL careers. I sometimes have trouble being patient with the new broadcast when certain plays or players get praised inordinately (in my mind), but that is the lens through which they are viewing things.
There is something refreshing about that sort of honesty, even if I would more talking about the unique virtues of the different goaltenders or defensemen. But they are learning, and we are all still learning to love them in these roles. Patience and gratitude are not bad things to have around this team right now, even when that’s the last thing on earth I want to exhibit after watching a ninth straight overtime loss for this danged bunch o’ hockey goofballs. Start winning games, you bunch of goofballs.