clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Game 9 Afterwords: It Is Somehow Only Game 9

New, comments

The Stars have may misunderstood Lindy Ruff’s imperative to get to the front of the net late in this one.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

“Hi, welcome to the Dallas Stars Restaurant! May I take your drink order?”

“Yes, I’d like a fresh ‘n frosty cola, please!”

“We only have poisoned vinegar served on the flat edge of a steak knife.”

“Pardon?”

“Nothing. I’ll have your drink right out in 59 minutes or so. Hope you enjoy your evening with us! Don’t forget to get your loser point delicious mint on the way out. They’re made in Plano!”

****

That Johnny Oduya penalty near the end of regulation was just foolish. A two-handed whack to the stick of a guy who is chasing a puck into the corner is all fine and dandy some of the time, but with a minute left in this game, a veteran defenseman needs to tie up his man. Oduya, instead, tied the hands of his teammates. That is inexcusable. That is just a needless penalty in that situation, and my fury was exacerbated when Criag Ludwig noted that Jordie Benn and Dan Hamhuis would begin the kill, with “Johnny Oduya on deck!” It’s nitpicking, but Oduya was sitting in the box at the time. When fans are frustrated and edgy, broadcast gaffes stick out a bit. Craig Ludwig is a nice man, even though I was terrified when he walked two feet away from me last Halloween with a face covered in barbed wire.

Ha, wow, that’s a lot of anger, Robert! Let’s chill out for a moment, son. Okay, sorry, let me back up.

****

It’s clear by now that Jim Nill is not a huge Jamie Oleksiak fan, right? Ruff apparently agrees, but when Jim Nill refused (or “gently declined,” if you prefer) to send Lindell down in order to get the Stars’ defense more collective ice time, the die was cast for Oleksiak. He’s played in only a couple of games to date, and it is clear that his future really doesn’t lie in Dallas. We’ve known that for a while in our heart of hearts, but these first nine games have solidified that point. Here is the Stars’ first-round pick from a few years ago: expendable, passed-by, and stuck. I wish only good things for Jamie Oleksiak. He is a talented young hockey player who deserves a chance to thrive, somewhere. You can blame Ruff or Nill for his lack of progress if you want. I’m not qualified to say whether it would have been worth it to the Stars to play him more in years past in order to help him grow, if that’s what it would have done. I only wish things were different, for his sake. For everyone’s sake.

The Stars, if we had our druthers, would have clear-cut labels: five defensemen (Klingberg, Hamhuis, Oduya, Johns and Lindell) and two rotating defensemen (Benn and Nemeth). Oleksiak or Nemeth might find himself on another team soonish. That’s unfortunate, but welcome to the 2016-17 season, my friend.

****

With all the talk of the Stars needing to get to the front of the net, their first period of play wasn’t exactly stimulating in its ultimate results. I get the idea of simplifying things; there is value in doing the little things, just like everyone’s online dating profiles always said. Generating quantity of shots instead of holding the puck longer hoping for “pretty” plays sounds nice and fundamental until you realize it is way too similar to what those weird Corsi Truthers say about teams or players just throwing useless pucks at the net in order to boost shot attempt numbers. The difference between the two is the traffic, of course, but that’s the rub: Dallas doubled up Columbus in shots on goal, but CBJ had more dangerous chances overall, in particular when they got a couple of good chances with no high Dallas shot-blocker as well as traffic down low.

It’s also sort of notable that both Dallas goals had nothing to do with shoot-first mentalities from the point or net-drive, but I’m not trying to cherry pick. The Stars had the puck more than Columbus, and while the Jackets had around four or five “almosts” that looked like slam dunks but for a bad bounce or slight mis-hit, everything was shaping up for a Gritty Road Win. And that’s what happened, of course! The Stars locked things down, and wait, we are in 2016 now, aren’t we? Aw, turnips.

****

The Stars are one of 13 teams yet to score an empty-net goal. This is the team (well, some of the team) who scored roughly eleventy-bajillion of those last year, the team who (if memory serves) also surrendered just one or two goals with the opposing net emptied all of last season. The Stars have already allowed two goals with the opposing netminder pulled this year, and with this nice, plodding start, the stench of 2014-15 is hard to ignore. But then, this is not 2014-15. I promise, you guys. I checked the paper calendar I have near my desk and everything. It is not two years ago.

In the second, the Stars stopped maintaining even low-quality shot volume for a bit, while the Jackets got considerably better quality. Eventually, former All Star Captain Nick Foligno scored from the low slot. We don’t any of us want to watch it again, but I believe that was Spezza’s man. Does any of us really want to get grumpy at the guy who broke the Stars’ six-game scoreless streak, though? I am estimating the length of that streak based on Twitter.

The sequence resulting in the 1-0 deficit also started with a questionable puck play by Niemi, who was rather curious with his decisions with the Turco stick tonight. Did that one reversal from his crease kind of make you choke on your pulled pork eggs benedict, too? I had soup tonight, actually. Just wishing for better things, sorry.

****

On a second period power play, after a(nother) needless shorthanded chance off a botched play in their own zone, Bobrovsky made a great save on Roussel, whose one-timer isn’t exactly Tyler Seguin’s, but still. The good part of that play was that Jason Spezza got sick of watching the power play’s anemia, and he went ahead and did what Jason Spezza does: beat a man in the neutral zone and skate to the right circle in order to rip a wrist shot that Bobrovsky just got clean beat on. Whatever injury was “hampering” Spezza’s skating appears to be less troublesome, now. That is good news! Enjoy that good news, is my advice. Okay, now back to the bad news.

****

Honestly though, the Stars have started doing what I thought impossible last season: get even more “Kablammo-into-our-own-feet” on the power play. So after weathering some serious weirdness up a man, Lindy Ruff naturally turned to the safest solution he knew when the Stars had a late “just don’t botch things” power play: Jordie Benn on the point.

Yes, Benn ending up getting back enough to prevent a breakaway. Yes, the pass from Klingberg was in his skates a bit. But I just can’t absolve Lindy Ruff of the nearly disastrous result of deciding to put a third-pairing defenseman despised by Lady Luck herself on the power play at that stage of the game. Again, I know this is an easy spot to pick on Jordie Benn, and he was not the problem tonight (he is almost never the problem!), but when things are as peak/nadir Dallas Stars as they’ve been lately, things like this really grate on me.

****

Okay, now that everyone’s ready to quibble about defense pairings again, let’s change gears. Jamie Benn hit the post clean with a nice shot late in the 2nd off a breakaway. I think it was the best shot I’ve seen him take in a while. Whether that was because he had the space to load up or because he’s just not been choosing to fire until now, it was good to see Jamie Benn shooting well-ish. He still did not have a great game tonight, in my stupid opinion, but he did not have an awful game either. He can do some Jamie Benn things, at least, and that’s not nothing. I am glad for that.

Two other things really jumped out to me tonight about possible changes in the Stars’ approach: An increased 2008-Detroit-ish emphasis on retaining the puck rather than dumping it during a line change, and more defensemen pinching aggressively to prevent easy clears by Columbus forwards along the boards. Those are much more substantive shifts (if shifts they be) than any rhetoric about “get to the net” that every hockey coach and player in the history of this great life our species has known has espoused.

And yes, right, Tyler Seguin is still cool. He scored, you know. The Stars’ forcheck pressured Cam Atkinson, who had the puck knocked away by Jamie Benn. A couple beats later, Atkinson would then poke the puck off Benn’s stick in what might have felt like momentary revenge but quickly soured when the puck went right to Seguin, whose quick shot found a hole through Bobrovsky at a pretty inexcusable angle. Not a great goal for the goalie, but the Stars are not going to be returning those sorts of tallies due to any cosmetic defects these days. They’re usin’ all parts of the buffalo around here.

Oh, and Antti Niemi made a wonderful stop in the third after Radek Faksa (who has been having some small struggles of his own admist the team’s larger issues lately) got spinning around and lost his man. The puck got sent out to a wide open Nick Foligno, who could not replicate his earlier feat to beat Niemi. It was a nice save to keep the game in hand, and that was great, because if the Stars had been tied earlier, than maybe we wouldn’t have gotten the fun drama that happened later. Gotta love Oh-Tee, am I right? This is my token paragraph to say, “don’t get mad at the goalies, dum-dum.”

This game was like the sword of Damocles combined with a Bond villain’s laser treadmill. Even as the clock ticked closer to victory, you just knew on some level that the title character would find a way to stay in character, and that he/they did! From a sad-sack tying goal with 15 seconds left to an overtime filled with flailing and inevitable calamity, this game was exactly what These Dallas Stars have led you to believe they are, so far.

****

Of course, you can disregard all of this when the Stars go on a 7-3-1 run and wind up 10-7-3 by Thanksgiving. That run will then prove that they have been successful in adapting to the talents of their healthy players and figuring it out and get Ruff another Jack Adams already and whatever, I don’t know. I’m just covering my butt here for the inevitability of the Dallas Stars continuing to prove me wrong at every turn. They like blindsiding us. At least they have something they enjoy.