The Chicago Blackhawks have a league-worst penalty killing rate of 64.3%. The next-worst team (Calgary) is at 73%. The Dallas Stars received three power play opportunities against the Blackhawks and did not score. The Stars lost by one goal.
That alone could be your mantra if you wanted to throw a criticism grenade at this game and move on. It would be understandable, especially if you had the misfortune to be at the AAC tonight, where tales of offensive traveling fans flowed like the salmon of Capistrano. Tonight was thoroughly forgettable, but the Stars cannot afford to forget it, since they have to do this all again on Sunday.
I’ll throw out a few narratives here for your choosing. Think of this as the Hometown Buffet of “Wha Happened?” pieces. Take what you like, and leave what you don’t! We are all things to all people over here, or at least we are right this second.
1. BLAME THE OFFICIALS BECAUSE THEY ARE DUNDERHEADS
The first goal was so quickly catastrophic that it was hard to be mad, but that’s okay, let’s be mad anyway. Niemi gave up a needless rebound from a bad angle, but goodness me, what the officials were doing tonight is beyond my ken.
From the “well, yes, we whistled, but it’s cool” (which was the right call, even though it was ridiculous and it stinks) on the first goal to the Stephen Johns penalty for touching Jonathan Toews to the Jamie Benn penalty late in the third for, again, just sort of getting involved, and finally to the last early whistle on the Stars’ last gasp, things were silly tonight. Justin StPierre (yes, that’s how it’s written) has never topped my personal list of favorite officials, but he’s no Brad Watson or Rob Schick. Kendrick Nicholson is still getting his sea legs as well.
All that resulted in the Hawks getting a 6-3 advantage in power plays, and while the Stars killed off five of them, that was still 12 minutes’ worth of killing time the Stars had to muster. That’s going to wear on you.
As always, you can point to a few things that could have gone the Stars’ way when it came to the whistles. But then again, referees used to use handkerchiefs and police forces used rattles before whistles were invented, so I guess we can at least be thankful that we’ve moved beyond that. Fascinating things, whistles. Would you all like to talk about whistles some more instead of this game? Feel free to commandeer this comment thread with intelligent dialogue about whistle mechanics. They are really quite cool.
2. Not so much “Any Scoring” from the top guys
The Stars won the “hits” battle 30 to 5. Great job, Stars! However, the Stars’ top guns scored zero points tonight, and that is less of a great job. The Stars got depth scoring from Ritchie and McKenzie, but the Hawks got contributions from Toews, Kane and Panarin tonight. In these tough divisional matchups, you are usually going to need to either shut down the other team’s top hotshots or out-do them with your own. The Stars, tonight chose to do neither, and that hurt.
Tyler Seguin has been doing his part lately (which is to say he has been more or less carrying the team himself), so it’s hard to throw any shade his way. He’s got 12 points in 10 games, with five goals to lead the team. Jason Spezza has continued his weirdly goal-centric scoring with 4-1-5 so far this year, and Jamie Benn is a 2-6-8 thus far. In fact, despite missing a few games, Spezza is still two biscuits up on the team’s third-place goal scorer, who you might know as Ritchie/Johns/Cracknell(!)/Benn/Eaves/Klingberg.
The Stars really did look fancy and fun at times tonight, but it’s tough to be happy about slick Benn/Seguin/Klingberg moves when they don’t have anything to show for them.
Fun facts illustrating how odd things have been through 11 games of the season:
-Adam Cracknell has scored as many goals as Jamie Benn, ha ha don’t worry guys this is just a fun anomaly everything will be just fine ha ha ha hey can you use Crisco for breathing instead of oxygen let me just try that right now.
-Devin Shore has one more point than Jason Spezza so far. Shore has only one goal though, so maybe he’s just the mirror-dimension version of Spezza or something. Hopefully that doesn’t mean Shore gets stronger each time Spezza gets hurt.
-Lauri Korpikoski is outscoring Radek Faksa.
-Ales Hemsky has played in fewer games than Jamie Oleksiak
-I found a way to work an Ales Hemsky fact into this
3. Bounces, Bounces, Bounces
Luck is stupid and the Stars didn’t get much of it tonight. This does not require much discussion, but you can use this point if you find it helpful.
Also, let’s put the Jason Spezza Mystery Injury in this category as well, because OKAY, UNIVERSE, THIS IS NOT FUNNY ANYMORE. This is not funny anymore.
4. Special Teams Should Be Illegal
I went out to get the paper yesterday, but I didn’t watch where I was going when I stepped out the door, and next thing I knew, I had bumped into the car, set off the car alarm, and scored a power play goal against the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are 8-3-1, which is impressive considering that they have surrendered power play goals to 34 different teams so far this season, including Las Vegas, Atlanta, Kansas City, the state of Kansas itself, and Cairo Necropolis. The Stars couldn’t manage anything against them.
Dallas is bottom-ten in power play and penalty-killing so far this year. Yes, yes, I know you’re all excited that that investment you made in laminated #firefraser signs is finally seeing some justification, but just keep in mind that the Stars scored 58 power play goals last year. That’s .7 PPG per game. This year, the Stars are at 6 goals through 11 games, or .55 PPG per game. The Stars’ biggest power play contributors last year? Jamie Benn (17G), Seguin (9G), Spezza (7G) and Sharp (7G). Benn and Seguin’s two goals apiece this year on the job are fine, and Spezza (1G) has his Independent Contractor tally as well, while Sharp (writing this stat just pushed back his recovery another two weeks) is still out indefinitely. Get well soon, Patrick Sharp. Please.
I guess my only point (hockey joke) there is that the Stars aren’t so much lacking scoring from their main guys on the job as they are lacking the timing and consistency we all want and crave. We would like the Stars to score exactly .7 power play goals each night, just so we can know that it will happen. Instead, they have scored less, and sometimes more, than that. It is tough to be okay with inconsistency when your team is losing.
The penalty kill, meanwhile, has had some rotten luck and bad bounces of its own. The goal tonight was a good example of the former, as there’s really no reason the puck should have wound up Kane’s tape, but that sort of broken-play-alchemy will happen. Or at least it will happen when you feel like the original penalty call was a bad one. That is not confirmation bias, just science. I will link to the research right here.
5. Hockey is just the worst, right now.
This is my pet theory. The Stars had a fun game against St. Louis, and tonight’s game was really pretty fun, too. But it’s not fun to lose, and it’s really not fun to lose to the division-leading team, and it’s really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really (I did not copy/paste any of those) not fun to lose to the Blackhawks in the AAC, with their coterie screaming the sorts of nasty, vicious things that no other team’s fan has ever said, goodness no.
This game was painful, and that makes us angry, because denial isn’t really an option after the horn sounds and bargaining is useless*.
*(Unless any hockey spirits are reading this, in which case, please WUPHF me before Sunday night’s game. I have some bottles of green potion and hot spring water to trade you in exchange for some wins.)