Sitting in the airport right now, but here are a few quick things that came to mind last night/this morning while watching Julius Honka treat the NHL like a speed bump.
1) Did anyone ever think we would really see Patrik Nemeth, Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak and Julius Honka in the lineup at the same time? Ever? Yes, John Klingberg’s iPhone had to die in order for it to happen, but the four Stars draft picks were on the blueline last night, and in an utterly shocking combination. Even more shocking was that the Stars looked...well, good, last night.
There were some hiccups, and they weren’t generating consistently dangerous chances (as Brad so cheerfully pointed out in the recap), but even Honka’s one risky move didn’t end up turning into anything bad, thanks to quick coverage by his mates. And given that Honka generated about flarfty-sliven ballion more shots for than he allowed chances against, I’ll take that every time.
2) Jamie Oleksiak still has that ability to show up and remind you of why his talent was (and can still be) so tantalizing. No, his goal wasn’t exactly of the Brent Burns variety, but he joined the rush at the right time, and he went to the right place and used his reach to put a rebound in. Oleksiak did the whole “throw the monkey off the back” gesture after that goal, and I have to say, I was really happy for him, too.
Oleksiak is, at this point, more of a Nemeth than a Honka or a Johns, and that means a lot of raised eyebrows when the Stars start rolling with eight available defensemen again. But Jamie Oleksiak can still play in this league, and he played very well last night.
3) Julius Honka actually had two great assists, although only his slick feed to Ritchie/Roussel found the score sheet. But that stretch pass to Radek Faksa looked so smooth that I almost thought it was accidental, at the time. It was not. Honka was cagey at first, unafraid to hinge it to Hamhuis, but he quickly realized that the Boudreau-coached Wild were about as aggressive as, well, most iterations of the Wild, and his confidence took over from there.
As the only right-handed defender last night, the comparisons to Klingberg’s debut were unavoidable. And while Honka is absolutely the faster skater, it was the confidence that seemed so fresh (and so missing from Klingberg’s game, lately). Honka made quick, sharp passes almost every time, except when he waited for a great breakout pass or stretch attempt. Klingberg, on the other hand, has grown more deliberate, and while that can be useful in its own way, I think we would all love to see #3 move the puck a little more quickly and confidently instead of running out of space and time, putting himself in a spot that his own skating has less frequently been able to extract him from oh my goodness is that a real sentence I just wrote.
*Note: “Hinge It to Hamhuis!” is my forthcoming biopic on a Civil War-era baseball player who hits home runs with a fence post. Keep your eyes peeled.
4) Antti Niemi was great. For most of this season, Kari Lehtonen’s style has inspired much more confidence (which isn’t to say he hasn’t let in a couple stinkers by any means). But last night, Niemi didn’t look hesitant or herky-jerky; he looked smart and ready. The two goals were in the same category as Kari’s the other night, which is to say he had no chance.
Speaking of, why did the good ol’ boys decide to let Pominville play D2 on the posts before Roussel and Haula combined to get the puck a-tricklin’ across the line? I dunno, but that might be a little bit less stout of a defense than they need (and put up for most of the night). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a goal after the double-post like that, because it is crazy.
5) Special teams were not awful, but they could have made this game a bit easier, which is a sentence that you could say quite a lot of the time. Hamhuis went down a bit early, and thus Mikael Granlund had time to lob a nice saucer to Nieddereiterieterider for a no-brainer of a goal.
Honka also looked very solid on the power play as well, and his shot is an asset back there, no doubt. If he stays in the lineup for a while, I’d really love to see him and Lindell on the blue line (assuming Klingberg comes back to the top unit). I have no idea why Lindell, whose power play scoring was, to my memory, fantastic in Cedar Park, has been given almost no looks on that front yet. I assume rookie trust and all that, but Jordie Benn is a nice fellow, but he is not a great-looking option on the power play. He is an okay-looking option. (Also, Jordie really did have an extremely solid game last night.)
It occurs to me that that last paragraph is greedy. So many kids, but I’m still not satisfied. Be happy, for once! We can be happy about Julius Honka, because he makes us happy about hockey in general. That’s a nice place to be again.