Brad’s recap is great, and you should read it. You probably did. And if if you did, then you probably don’t want to read another chunk of words telling you about how the Stars played well but lost because they aren’t scoring enough enough. I can’t blame you for that. You’re stressed out enough as it is, what with all of your (our) seasonal consumerism to indulge.
At the end of the game, I was reminded of a Texas Hold ‘Em player who fails to play a strong hand with big bets early. She lets the other, weaker hands hang around, and they get to see a free card or two that changes the game enough to let them take down the pot at the end. Well, the Stars were letting an inferior team hang around to see what scraps they could gather, and two short breakdowns by the green-garbed goblins of gaffe negated all of the great work they’d done up to that point.
Then a third breakdown happened because, well, the Stars are like 1-11 in their last 12 overtimes, and breakdowns have been characteristic. That is a lot of points to have lost in overtime. I know we talk about systems and prospects and defensive rotations a lot, but it’s hard to argue that any of those would have had much more of a standings impact than just playing like an average team at 3v3.
If you watched the Blues, they generally kept all three players close, almost like an elastic triangle. (Yes, every group of three players is a triangle of some kind, but shut up, nerd.) That created a lot of 2-on-1 passes for the Blues to use to move down the ice, and they had a good scoring chance after winning a boards battle. It’s not pretty or flashy, but Ken Hitchcock made the Stars look like a really skilled paper boy fighting a dump truck last night.
First: Esa Lindell didn’t play well in 3-on-3, absolutely. He turned the puck over on a breakout, and Faksa had to take a penalty just to prevent immediate disaster. He and Faksa were on their own 2v2 in their zone as Roussel was out for the stretch pass, and one mistake turned into two. Lindell lost his puck and then lost his man, and that same man scored. This goal was on Lindell, and you can’t really argue that.
More to the point, the Stars continued being just downright miserable in overtime. They didn’t touch the puck for 80 seconds, which isn’t that unusual for overtime, but it hurts to see the top three playing 100% defense for their 3v3 shift. Then Lindell finally did corral the puck, and the Stars methodically worked their way up the ice for a shot-tip chance. Lindell had backed off too far to get the rebound (which I would call another mistake), and while he would eventually regain the puck thanks to work by Faksa, the Stars never regained anything resembling a plan.
I’ve been meaning to find an afternoon to go back and watch every overtime so far to confirm this, but the Stars have surely been out-possessed to a gross degree at 3v3. And while that’s never good, it’s the Stars inability to have sustained possession and recovered rebounds that is really troubling. You need to be able to create either a grade A scoring chance before shooting, or to create a chance that has a relatively high probability of recovering the rebound if the goalie stops it. My memory says the Stars have been trying much more of both the rush variety chances or the “cross-ice through traffic” attempts that can get turned over fairly easily. But as I’ve already admitted I haven’t done my homework, we’ll skip it for now.
Incidentally, Esa Lindell probably shouldn’t be option #2 for the Dallas defenseman in 3v3. Klingberg is absolutely number 1, but you really miss Goligoski, Demers (though I can’t recall him playing too much 3v3 at the moment), and Honka in those situations. I would even have preferred Stephen Johns or Oduya over Lindell there, but it’s possible they both were banged up. As much as I do love Lindell’s game, his skating is not his top asset, and that is what 3v3 is about, as much as (or more than) anything. If only the Stars had a speedy defenseman who could create offense, but alas; where are they going to find one of those in the middle of a season?
There were other things that happened, too.
After Vladimir Tarasenko took an accidental double-minor for high-sticking Jiri Hudler, the Stars had a prime opportunity to grab the game, and they did. The power play and penalty kill were good in this game!
When a power play drop pass—hey, guess what percentage of those resulted in controlled possession in the offensive zone for the Stars tonight—was overplayed by St. Louis, Spezza got it up quickly, and Patrick Eaves beat Jake Allen short side. It wasn’t picture-perfect—especially for Allen—but it was a great example of how the drop pass can get you possession in the zone, and how good things can happen from there. I suspect that adaptation was a coached one, and the Stars executed it well to get the puck up the ice and out of danger.
Bad things can also happen with carry-ins, but mainly if you’re the defending team. And when the Stars’ forwards allowed a Blues transition to turn into a weird, broken 3v2, Jordie Benn found himself caught between two players, and Jaden Schwartz stashed an unfortunately directed blocked shot past a helpless Niemi.
The Stars had a couple of great chances in the middle frame where the shooters continued doing too much of what they’ve done/not done this year. First, Jamie Benn picked up a Jordie Benn clearance and found himself on a two-on-one early in the second, but he found a way to bury the puck under Allen’s skate instead of finding the five hole while looking him off. Later, Brett Ritchie pulled off a nice toe-drag on a 2-on-1 with Faksa, but Ritchie went full Niklas Hagman and rang it wide off the glass instead of testing Allen.
Klingberg and Benn were both looking dominant early, too. The broadcast was giving Klingberg due credit for his aggressive and productive play last night, and that was well-earned. When the team is finishing their chances, you start to really appreciate everything John Klingberg does to create those chances in the first place. When they aren’t scoring, you start to doubt him, and I suspect he was doubting himself as well for some of this year. Score the danged goals, Dallas Stars.
In two games, it’s hard to say that the Stars look like they’re missing Cody Eakin. They have only surrendered three goals in six regulation periods, and you should win games when you’re giving up only 1.5 goals per game. Antti Niemi, of course, has been good in both of those games, but even Lindy Ruff knows that Eakin hasn’t been himself this year. And if there’s one thing more painful that not impacting the game when you’re in the lineup, it is not being missed when you’re out of it. Hopefully Eakin can find himself again in his final two press box days.
Stephen Johns turned hard into a backing-up Brett Ritchie just across the offensive blue line, and Johns looked hurt getting up after the collision. But just like Oduya a few days ago, Johns returned for the third period. Dallas really needs to protect their right-handed defenders better.
Jiri Hudler chose a winding path to where he shot the puck, and it was maddening, at first. Is Hudler determined to be the new Czech winger who turns down shots in crowd-maddening ways? I wouldn’t put it past him, but Jason Spezza did put it past Allen. The rebound, that is.
I’ve really liked Tyler Seguin’s game in the defensive zone this season, but he lost his man on the Blues’ second goal, and there’s not really much else to be said. Patrik Berglund should not have been open. There wasn’t clear interference (despite the long review), and the Stars’ chose to spend their timeout watching a lot of replays of the goal. Maybe that was a bit of Ruff having his goalie’s back, or maybe it was just a “I doubt we’ll need this timeout given how anemic the Blues look.” Oh well. Timeouts really aren’t that important, if we’re honest. I’d challenge almost any potential interference.
The game was much more boring in the final third of regulation, and that was the most maddening thing of all. The Blues were determined to strangle the game and get a road point, and that meant a tight game with tons of icing, high flips (or “flippers”), and dumped-in pucks at the end of a shift. But the Stars still exposed the Blues a couple of times, and Johnny Oduya matched his defense partner’s crossbar from earlier in the game. The Stars could have won this game, but they did not do that.
I still can’t play the Blues (vicariously) without feeling them after the playoffs. And this really felt like how the Stars would lose a playoff game this year, if they be so lucky as to get there. The offense isn’t scoring enough, even if the Blues were playing a defense-first game tonight. Dallas had their chances, and they limited those of the Blues. But St. Louis capitalized on a greater percentage of theirs, and that meant that Dallas had to take that long, ominous march back out onto the ice for overtime. It’s like the new version of the Green Mile. Hey, that was a great movie, if you don’t count the regular instances of immense grief and loss. Now, what does that remind you of?