When your top three skill players all spend over seven minutes on the power play apiece, you’d expect to rack up a point or two on the advantage. And, if they weren’t able to, you’d likewise expect your team to suffer for missing out on so many opportunities.
Dallas went 0-6 on the power play, and it didn’t matter, somehow. The Stars don’t care about missed opportunities. They don’t care about missed nets, either, as the posts behind Calvin Pickard took a beating tonight. In fact, just at even-strength tonight, the Stars generated 30 scoring chances to the Avs’ 14. By rights, the Stars should have doubled up the Avs’ in goals, and they did that, technically. They just did it in the most laborious possible way. Welcome to this season.
With Stephen Johns sitting, many of you were probably focusing on one defenseman or another who surely was less deserving of being in the lineup instead of Johns. A Jamie Oleksiak giveaway early on gave Matt Duchene a chance in alone, but it got put just over the far side on Lehtonen. So, if you wanted to point something out about Ruff’s evaluation of his d-corps, that may have been your target of choice. Of course, Oleksiak would go on to shut you up later on with a nice little goal, so don’t blame me if you spoke too soon.
The defense situation is a puzzling one, but it’s what we’ve got. And what we have got is Jamie Oleksiak leading the Stars’ blue line in goal scoring, with four. Lindell, Johns and Klingberg all have three. As a reminder, Dan Hamhuis is still the only Stars’ defenseman with a power play goal this season. But then, Dallas hasn’t been shooting much from the point at even-strength this season, either.
Others, less so. pic.twitter.com/Dz4zKnMzdm— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 29, 2016
The top line was devastating tonight, but they only managed a single goal, and that not even coming in the midst of their lights-out action to start the first. Jason Spezza just turns that line into a near-constant power play set, but until Jamie Benn figures out how to score goals at even-strength again, they won’t quite be a fully operational battle station.
That said, Jamie Benn had three assists, Jason Spezza had two, and Tyler Seguin had two goals and a helper. That’s a solid night from your top line, even if it feels like they could have amassed twice that number of points. They probably should have. Oh well. It’s the Avs.
Devin Shore, meanwhile, scored from like a foot away on a nice play to grab the clear by Patrick Eaves, followed by a great feed from Lauri Korpikoski. Devin Shore is now tied with Brett Ritchie and Eaves for the team-lead in even-strength goals, with six. How about Devin Shore? I don’t know what I mean by that, but yeah. Goal-scoring from lower lines is good, and that’s what Shore has managed to produce, whatever you think of his overall game.
Tim Peel was also patrolling this game, and you know that it is going to be an interesting one when that’s the case. I don’t generally like calling out an official considering how tough it is to ref a hockey game, but when you have a veteran like Peel with his reputation for befuddling calls, it’s almost too much to take when he confirms my prejudice against him with a game like tonight. He called Jiri Hudler for Tripping off a faceoff after Hudler’s stick kind of got caught up in the knee region, but it was a ways away from the puck, and fairly unintentional and inconsequential, so of course that meant the far official (Peel) would call it. The Stars would kill off that penalty, but we’ll get back to the officiating later.
Cody Eakin returned to the lineup (he played 11 minutes or so), spending most of the game with Cracknell and Hudler. He did get a great chance in the slot after it became 3-1, but because it is 2016, Eakin’s shot resulted in nothing of note. I miss Cody Eakin’s great shot. I’m sure he does, too.
The Stars’ big three did finally dice up the Avs to get Tyler Seguin a goal, and it was a nice one. It was a great bit of patience by Jamie Benn to draw two players before dishing off to the open Seguin, who made no mistake on his shot under Pickard’s arm. For all our confusion about what Jamie Benn is this season, he is still a player with fantastic vision with the puck.
Patrick Eaves got nailed in the head by Fedor Tyutin just as he shot a puck from the slot on the power play, but hey, no call was made. Eaves was eligible to be hit, but a blindside shoulder to the chin seems like something you’d want to discourage, in a vacuum. But the only facet of a vacuum on display tonight was probably how badly the power play sucked at scoring. This is a post-Christmas clearance sale joke.
The Avs’ first goal was a bit of horrible defense after a bad change, as Kari was only able to get a piece of the initial shot before Matt Duchene stuffed it in with the Stars’ defense fairly well at sea. Radek Faksa got a bit lost on the play at the end of a long-ish shift, and he was unable to get to Duchene before he picked the puck off the side of the net and put it home. He did put Duchene’s face into the crossbar after the goal for...posterity. I am so, so sorry. Seriously, 50% off all jokes.
Jamie Benn didn’t only pass tonight, though. He hit a post early in the second after a nice John Klingberg breakout pass, and while it wouldn’t find twine, Tyler Seguin would find Jamie Oleksiak later in the shift. Oleksiak then proceeded to go high short side on Calvin Pickard to restore the Stars’ two-goal lead, and yeah. Shore and Oleksiak scored in this game, but Jason Spezza and Jamie Benn couldn’t figure out Pickard. You’ll take it, but it’s not the best recipe for success when you generate tons of chances.
There appeared to be a mandate from Jared Bednar to “get to the net hard,” because the Avs took two rather needless goaltender interference penalties, the second of which saw Jarome Iginla butt-steamroll (hockey term) Kari Lehtonen. Antti Niemi would be forced to spell Lehtonen, who underwent concussion protocol after the hard collision. He would make it back to the bench just before the final whistle, however, and Ruff said he was okay after the game. There is another joke in here about the consistency of Iginla’s hindquarters, but we have standards here. Or at least we used to.
Tim Peel promptly cancelled out the “minor” penalty (imagine if Cody Eakin had committed that one) by ringing up John Klingberg for gently nicking the back of Blake Comeau’s helmet. Comeau hesitated, then grabbed his face to draw the call as players do—Seguin himself drew a nice Modano-esque slashing call with a violent hand shake in this one—and while the near official wasn’t fooled, Tim Peel wasn’t about to let such a horrible act go unpenalized from 150 feet away. It might well be a penalty by the letter of the law, but as Razor said, it just seems wrong that Iginla could potentially concuss Kari and get the same penalty for that play.
Mikhail Grigorenko scored just as the Tim Peel power play (I’m getting petty, but it’s almost a bit at this point) expired, and the game became much more interesting than a “Stars vs. Literally These Avs” game had any business being. Thankfully, Niemi wasn’t tested much after the second goal, as that would be the last real strife the Stars would endure. The third period would largely be a mundane one in the Stars’ zone until Tyler Seguin scored into the empty net, and that was just fine with Lindy Ruff, I’m sure. Fans like excitement, but coaches are boring old grumps who would like their subordinates to turn into effective and obedient robots on the ice. I mean, so do most managers in any workplace, to be fair.
The power play was bad, despite generating a few good chances that found either post or Pickard. (I would like to state that I am also forgoing a Star Trek “Jean-Luc Pickard” joke here as well. It’s still classy if you only mention the joke itself instead of telling it, right?) The Stars are, as Brad stated in the recap, getting points they need against teams that are lost for good this season. Dallas has clambered back into the playoff conversation for the moment, and now it just remains to be seen whether 2016 will continue to turn itself around in its final hours. Goodness knows we could all use a bit of a lift these days.
Oh, Adam Cracknell had a really great night, too. I didn’t know where to put that, but I always like mentioning Cracknell. I hope the Stars can find a way to keep him in the bottom six for a while. Considering how devasted this team’s winger depth is, that should be an easy bit of found money for Jim Nill in the midst of a season of far too much detritus, to date.