The Stars are now 4-4-2, and we are celebrating. That is not where we expected to be come November 3rd, but joy in victory doesn’t always need a context. And besides, tonight’s context was much more about last spring than this fall.
You can affix your Wakeup Narrative to this game if you want. Certainly it’s there for the taking, the idea that the Stars needed to be reminded from whence they came. Yes, this team is very different from the one that lost Game 7 so many moons ago, but the biggest names on the team are the ones who are still here. And, coincidentally, they were also the ones who showed up tonight in a big way.
Tyler Seguin had four assists. He’s been just about the only consistent player for Dallas this season, but there was something poetic about his piling up the assists tonight instead of the glamorous goals. Seguin has been scoring when few other were, so tonight, he helped his buddies back up onto the beam. That’s what leaders do. That’s what elite players do. Seguin, for all his personality, is absolutely both of those things.
Jamie Benn also had three assists of his own, and while he still isn’t quite the one-man show we’ve seen so often in the past, he also very much kept the whole thing humming. Particularly when it comes to the third of the Big Three, who tonight shall be Klingberg instead of Spezza. I’m willing to interchange them depending on the game.
John Klingberg hadn’t scored in the regular season since Jyrki Jokipakka was on the team and Kris Russell was just some rando on the Flames. Tonight, Klingberg got two goals, and while the first one was quinessential Johnny K, the second was more emblematic of this game for this team. An empty-netter, a puck lofted out of the zone with a prayer and precision, capped things off. After a brutal game, the team could finally exhale. After a rough start to the season, we can finally, for the moment, breathe. This team looked like the Dallas Stars tonight.
The Stars politely waited until after their power play expired to give up a breakaway, as Tarasenko got inside position on Oduya as he received a pass in the neutral zone and found himself headed in alone on Niemi. Thankfully, Stephen Johns caught up enough, and his efforts combined with Oduya’s to somehow defuse the chance without taking a penalty, though Oduya certainly did have his stick in on Tarasenko’s hands. Radek Faksa later got a chance on a partial breakaway as well, but his attempt at Allen’s five hole was denied by the goal stick, continuing Faksa’s scoring drought (such as it is).
Side note: I hadn’t really noticed it before, but the new alternate logo at center ice looks fabulous. I love the circular nature of it. Just kind of ties everything together. A little NBA-ish, but the black in the ring is very nice.
Things finally got exciting in the second, and not in the bad sort of way. Jordie Benn turned a potential odd-man rush against into a pad-stack keep (that is exactly what it sounds like), and then Jason Spezza one-upped Benn with a gorgeous (and heart-stopping) toe drag. Those were but the pleasant cocktails before the roasted pig on a spit, however.
Tyler Seguin received a nice Jamie Benn slap pass, and his typically sizzling shot glanced off Eaves to beat Jake Allen. This was where the game finally started reminding me of the playoff series. That one goal felt like an enormous achievement, and not just because St. Louis is (usually) stingy. The Stars haven’t been so much “scoring goals” lately, so to get a lead against a similarly impotent club felt monumental. (But most critically of all, of course, it was a Taco Goal.)
The Jamie Benn slashing call after the goal really made me worry, but Antti Niemi ended a pretty good penalty kill with a nice kick save on Vladimir Tarasenko (though it was one tiny bounce from being a “bad rebound that was easily deposited for a goal”). It was one of those “must-have” sorts of penalty kills, but then again, when you’re scoring (i.e. not scoring) at Dallas’s rate, they all sorta fall into that category. Tonight, Dallas got a bunch of must-haves and some gravy.
Things were chippy in this one, as you would expect after last spring. Stephen Johns, Curtis McKenzie and Antoine Roussel all found themselves laying the body and/or the accompanying knuckles on the Blues, and Roussel in particular drew some extra ire. Unfortunately, Stephen Johns took a weird sort of penalty while carrying the puck that does not qualify as good physicality, but I’m not sure that really warranted a call. Yes, the Blues evened it up with some retaliation to put the game at 4-on-4, but since 4-on-4 is basically just a regulation version of 3-on-3, things took a predictably sour turn. Well, at first.
The Blues’ first goal was just silly. A bouncing puck on a 3-man rush saw Jason Spezza swing through it before accidentally kicking the puck off Niemi. That wasn’t a huge problem on its own, but Paul Stastny found the rebound out of the madness, and the game was tied on the most Bluesy goal of Bluesy goals you could imagine. In a playoff series, those goals make my heart murmur. Tonight, it wasn’t quite as bad, but you still hate seeing fluky things like that (“Go to the net!”) cancel out a nice sequence by Dallas.
Thankfully, the Stars came back on that same 4v4 sequence to score a typically Starsian goal (or at least, last year’s Stars) on something that has become a rarity for Dallas lately: an odd-man rush. Well, it was actually a breakaway, but 1-0 still counts as odd in my book, and a scoring chance for Dallas is certainly odd, lately. Benn got partly caught by Jay Bouwmeester, but credit the captain for sticking with the play even after Jake Allen stopped him, as Benn retrieved the puck and found an eager John Klingberg (whose shirsey I wore today, so you’re welcome for all of his goals) coming down the right side for a goal reminiscent of Klingberg’s overtime winner against Minnesota such a very long time ago. If you put much stock in confidence and “it just takes one to get them going,” then that one sure counted. Klingberg’s first regular season goal since February? I’ll take it. We’ll all take it. We are greedy, and we gobbled up goals tonight like spoiled-but-starving children. There is a Willy Wonka image there if you care to conjure it.
Antti Niemi made another great stop late in the second when Paul Stastny wound up alone in the slot with the puck. It was pretty amusing (since the Blues didn’t score) to watch on television, because Razor and Craig Ludwig had just been talking about how great the Johns/Oduya pairing had been all night. On cue, Johns couldn’t hang on to the puck below the red line, and Stastny was fed for a grade A scoring chance. It’s good to see Niemi bailing out his defense every now and then, because as much as I don’t think I will ever understand the Stephen Johns scratches, there’s no denying that he has made some errors. Of course, everyone makes errors, but cataloging humanity’s foibles is not going to help me make sense of the defense pairings this season.
Speaking of which, the Lindell/Klingberg experiment really seems to be trending up, wouldn’t you say? Early days yet, but Ruff’s scratch of Hamhuis really seemed to indicate that the Ham-Berger combo is not going to come together like we have all been planning. And really, if things go like they did tonight, we’ll all be just fine with that. Lindell just looks and feels (very quantifiable measurements, Robert) “controlled” out there, and when John Klingberg is scoring goals across the point from you, calm and controlled is just the ticket. I voted for Lindell as the Stars’ top defense prospect in the summer of 2015, and while Honka probably has the higher ceiling, I think Lindell’s continued growth might be equally critical to Dallas’s success, in its own way. I’ll fight with David about that later on.
LINE JUMBLE ALERT: Jason Spezza and Brett Ritchie switched places, with Spezza moving down to play on Shore’s wing opposite Lauri Korpikoski. It’s still weird to see Spezza playing wing beside much younger players, but Ruff seems to like it so far. Hey, whatever man. I just work here.
The power play found a good mix of simplicity and productivity tonight, generating more than a couple good shots from point through traffic. Still, the man-advantage tally they would get later on was one of the skilled variety, though it wasn’t technically a power play goal. With two delayed penalties (a slash and Modano-esque hand-shake from Benn along with the scary Joel Edmundson blindside hit on Oduya), Tyler Seguin found Stephen Johns low at the Stamkos circle for a gorgeous one-timer. Wait, what did you say? This is what I said:
Johns had an absolutely wonderful game tonight. He skated fantastically, used his physicality to great effect (even drawing a penalty against Kevin Shattenkirk after a crowd-thrilling sequence of body checks), and scored a one-timer worthy of Tyler Seguin himself. Yes, we can get all hot and bothered about him being scratched, but let’s remember that he also was fighting some sort of virus before, and Jiri Hudler is back on the shelf fighting some sort of bug of his own. If health played into it even the tiniest bit (which, admittedly, Ruff did not reveal), then I can be okay with that. Anyway, it’s in the past. Johns has to have earned himself a longer leash after tonight, right? I don’t know either.
Scottie Upshall got a nasty rake in the nose from Jamie Benn later in the third. It was from a really aggressive stick-lift gone wrong, so when you combine that with the stopped breakaway and wonderful assist to Klingberg, it seems clear to me that late-career Mike Modano was very present with Jamie Benn tonight. I loved watching late-career Mike Modano, because he was Mike Modano, but we are all hoping that Jamie Benn will soon become now-career Jamie Benn very soon. Tonight, he was closer.
Tyler Seguin called Jason Spezza’s goal “karma,” and amen to that, Tyler. The Stars haven’t been generating a huge amount of chances these first 10 games, but they were due a couple bounces, and they got them tonight.
I guess Hitch just wanted to challenge the Spezza goal because he could. One viewing was plenty to tell you that there was no cause for taking the goal away, but I’m of a mind that Hitch is just subtly commenting on how inconsistent Hockey Ops has been with its goal reviews thus far. Good man, Hitch.
Antti Niemi, yes. Antti made a few high-quality saves as the third period progressed, and the Alex Steen “goal” was, again, a Bluesy sort of misfortune. Forty-six players were screening him before the shot bounced perfectly to the weak-sider Steen. Patrik Berglund’s skate definitely clipped Niemi’s on his way through the crease, however, so Lindy Ruff challenged Hitch right back. And hey, when it’s your night, it’s your night: the call was overturned.
I’m not convinced Niemi really had much chance at that puck even without the interference, personally. The bounce was that bad. But there’s no question Niemi’s skate was taken from him by an opposing player skating into him, and so you can understand why the goal was taken away. Even if that only results in a 1% better chance Niemi would have had to stop the puck, it’s illegal. And, unlike a lot of the slashes late in the third, it was appropriately punished. It’s like fan interference in baseball. If you reach out when the ball’s over the field, it’s an out, even if the fielder is having to dive or might not even get there. Black and white is helpful in those situations, and it evens out eventually. Besides, the Blues are very much deserving of some bad luck. They have been getting a lot of it so far this year.
The Blues’ defense was taken out of its cryogenic cabinet and Activated in the third period, and an aggressive Alex Pietrangelo would finally get a “real” goal after Antti Niemi got a bit out of sorts when a shot hit the boards behind him. It’s always tough to track pucks at 180 degrees, but Niemi’s great game up to that point really did sag a bit at that point. Thankfully, Antti rebounded on a couple other chances, and this game never got too terribly interesting.
Gemel Smith hit a goalpost on a 3-on-1 after a nice McKenzie saucer pass. Jake Allen poke checked Smith well, but it would have been wonderful to see one of the kids get rewarded in the midst of the Stars’ injury parade. I guess that means Smith will stay hungry, so that’s something? I mean, Smith is going to give 100% no matter what, but I’m just trying to rationalize not being really bummed for him there. (It’s not working.)
Jordie Benn’s big hit on Upshall drew a big ol’ mess o’ folks, unsurprisingly, but I really did hate that the Blues’ vengeance resulted in a 4v4. It’s an old argument, but you really shouldn’t be letting a trailing team open up the ice just because they are angry about a clean check. Granted, everyone (including Dallas) does the same thing, but still. I’d love to see the league look at cracking down on unwarranted retribution like that.
I’m curious if anyone listening on the radio can confirm, but I don’t think Razor or Ludwig ever mentioned that the Blues pulled their goalie after Lindell iced the puck with about 3:45 remaining. As a result, it must have been very interesting to hear the broadcast describe Klingberg’s lofted backhand down the ice before saying, ”and it goes in!” Again, calling a hockey game is insanely difficult, and we would all be awful at it, but the calling is part of the fan experience, and it is still a work in progress at times. We experience that together, and it is okay to kindly observe thing about it.
Jordie Benn scored. Devin Shore was in front of the net, but he did not tip the puck. Devin Shore is an enigma, but he probably isn’t going anywhere (especially with Hudler and his case of lupus or whatever). In a way, Shore is getting the sort of look you wish Oleksiak could have gotten a few years ago: plugged in towards the bottom of a struggling lineup without too many expectations. I’ll be curious to see what Shore turns into when Jason Dickinson is ready for the show, but it seems like the coaching staff likes him at 3C now (which is 4C on a healthy Stars team).
The Blues are struggling. The Predators are struggling. The Stars have been struggling, but they woke up tonight. The Central Division looks all weird right now, and there’s no telling how long it’s going to take before it self-corrects, or if it will ever do so. But The Stars’ big guys did what they needed to do tonight, taking two points from St. Louis. Three of the Stars’ four wins so far are regulation wins against the Central. The losses to Columbus and Los Angeles sting, but Dallas is still in all right position, assuming they continue to wake up.
I wrote too much about this game, but eight goals will do that. Five of those goals were scored by defensemen. That is crazy! This game was crazy, and nowadays, the word “crazy” can actually mean good things. We aren’t throwing Old Maurice in the asylum anymore just because we’re annoyed with him. Tonight was crazy, and we can celebrate that.