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Game 28 Afterwords: Stars’ Best Players Best Perds

Three goals from the Big Three was just what the doctor ordered. (Dr. Goals, M.D.)

Nashville Predators v Dallas Stars
Proof!
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Earlier today, I was ruminating on how Jason Spezza has hardly been paired with much goal-scoring talent this year. His linemates have been of the Faksa/Roussel/Korpikoski/Sharp variety, so it’s been, to some extent, little wonder that he’s not scored at the same pace as last year.

Cut to tonight, and voila! Goals, goals, goals. Not only did Spezza score a 5v5 goal for the first time since November 1st, but he added two assists as well. There’s something about playing your best players with the best players, even if it means your other lines look a little thin.

However, those other lines did quite well. In fact, the Faksa/Roussel/Ritchie line was downright dominant, earning two goals (sort of) while racking up puck possession aplenty. Adam Cracknell also continued to hog the puck all night (in a good way) alongside Shore and McKenzie too, so yeah. Things were all right in Dallas, for once.

I don’t know what to make of the Eakin and Jordie Benn scratches. It did seem like it was Benn’s “turn” to sit, whatever that means, but the Cody Eakin scratch came out of nowhere, relative to expectations. I’ve been a vocal critic of Eakin’s choices at times, but a healthy scratch seemed like a drastic bit of coach’s prerogative. You’d think he’d at least have played 4LW or something, but we don’t know everything that’s going on behind the scenes.

The absences of those two players made room in two areas that I noticed: the second power play, where Esa Lindell was utilized (much to my great joy), and the third line, where Jason Dickinson slotted in. True, lines were a bit created anew with the Superline being reunited, but Dickinson/Eaves/Korpikoski was an interesting choice to welcome Jason back into the NHL again. He blocked some shots and touched the puck occasionally, but it was otherwise a relatively quiet night for Dickinson, which is fine. Five goals is plenty of noise for a whole team—even the Stars.

Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth also found their way back into the lineup, and I think it’s safe to say that Oleksiak has the higher value at this point in time. He opened with a four-hit shift reminiscent of a stickless Erik Cole, and he even found himself on the power play briefly as well. Oleksiak also felt bold enough to make some moves in the offensive zone that I appreciated, so whether that earns him more ice time or simply more trade value, it was fun to watch.

Patrik Nemeth, meanwhile, stumbled to allow a Calle Jarnkrok chance off the rush to make it 5-2, but it wasn’t as though Nemeth allowed an outright breakaway. No, this was, instead, a glimpse of the one bit of weakness this team showed tonight (along with faceoffs): Kari Lehtonen’s glove side. Both goals really, really shouldn’t have beaten Lehtonen, but since the Stars decided to actually score more than one or two goals tonight, it didn’t end up mattering. You can be worried if you want, but Antti Niemi’s decently average Sv% is waiting for you when you’re done worrying, so chin up, I guess?

The first goal, by the way, was a bit of bad luck on both ends, starting with a broken stick and ending with a glove “save” that just didn’t quite get the job done. John Klingberg had the misfortune to have a one-timer blow up his stick, which is eerily reminiscent of Tyler Seguin’s broken stick that led to a rush against on Tuesday. But because it was John Klingberg and 2016-17, it turned into a goal against tonight.

Five goals, four of them at evens, and none of them with an empty net? That’s, like, so last season, dude. And this game really felt like last season, too. Dallas outscored their problems, which were few, and their best players scored on some nice plays. That is how the Stars need to win games with this lineup.

The Jamie Benn goal was wonderful, coming after successive nice plays by Oleksiak (to keep the puck in), Spezza (to find Seguin in the slot), and Seguin (to, we’ll assume, set Benn’s table on purpose). Benn ripped his patented wrister, and before we were even done celebrating, the Stars were reminded that they weren’t the only team with an older Finnish goalie with some holes in his game.

Brett Ritchie has a great shot. We’ve always known that, and Antoine Roussel’s takeaway/pass set Ritchie’s table something fierce. Still, Pekka Rinne looked to have stopped the puck, until he moved a little more and more or less nudged the puck back towards his own net while his defenders watched in ineffective horror.

We can talk about Rinne’s temper tantrum, but Roussel really did play fantastically tonight, and I don’t want to overlook that. If the Stars are going to try overloading one line in order to get the big guys going, then that’s fine with me, so long as the other players can hold their own. Roussel did mountains more than that tonight.

In fact, Roussel almost scored another goal on a breakaway (after another takeaway up high in the defensive zone), but his five-hole attempt was stopped by the relief pitcher Mazanec, and Faksa’s eventual dunk would be wiped out after a Nashville challenge. It was an odd play: Brett Ritchie was hooked by Adam Pardy for a delayed penalty on his way to the net, but Ritchie’s contact with Mazanec was, post-challenge, called “goaltender interference,” thus voiding the goal. The only thing I can conclude is that the hook on Ritchie came long before whatever caused Ritchie to hit the goalie, and the review revealed that the goaltender contact was as unrelated to the hook as it was instrumental to the goal. It was a weird bit of replay revelation, but, I mean, you watched the Calgary game, right? This was at least based in reality, so I’m not complaining.

But yes, Rinne earlier decided he could cry because it was his party, or so he thought, and Adam Cracknell was the unfortunate recipient of Rinne’s punchy party favor shortly thereafter, putting Dallas on the power play. Was Rinne mad about the contact with Faksa that happened long after the puck went behind him? Was he frustrated with his own players for kind of playing like bad hockey players? We may never know.

Kari also dealt with some crease invasion tonight, but Rinne wouldn’t end up sticking around to defend the blue paint. In fact, it would actually be Tyler Seguin who would end up dealing similar “get outta here” damage for Dallas, as Tyler ruined his Lady Byng chances with an “I guess you could call that” roughing penalty. Que sera, sera.

Jason Spezza doesn’t need to score 30 goals to be important to his team, and that’s a good thing considering his current pace. But tonight reminded you just how much the Stars need a player like Spezza in addition to Benn and Seguin, and Spezza’s bit of dangling-derring-do to restore the two-goal lead was absolutely crucial. Sometimes you just need someone to go, “Hey, wait a minute, we’re really good at hockey, aren’t we? Let’s score.”

Two things about that Spezza goal: First, the lovely Jamie Benn interception-keep was just another example of the top line being a Top Line. Benn made a choice to pinch there, and Nashville wasn’t ready for it. Second, Tyler Seguin did a great job of tying up P.K. Subban’s stick and turning him away from the net as soon as the puck went to Spezza down low, opening up the lane to the front of the net. It’s in that grey area of legality, but given what goes on in front of the net most nights, it was perfectly sapient.

The Roussel goal from Korpikoski was a beautiful example of patience by both players, but don’t forget it all started with a gorgeous breakout pass by John Klingberg. That’s one of the things most defenseman can’t do on this team (especially without Honka, for now), and it was a welcome sight. Korpikoski made the right decision, and Roussel put away a goal that he unquestionably deserved. We are 28 games in, and Roussel and Spezza have the same amount of goals. That amount is five. Spezza could get on a second-half tear like he did last year, and that would really help out just a whole super a lot very much if Dallas is to go anywhere.

Finally, the red light triumvirate was completed when Seguin scored a power play goal, proving that the Stars could also put the puck in the proper net when up a man. Good reminder, Stars! It was a nice bit of distance to establish at the end of the second period, especially given the little push Nashville had sustained for much of the middle frame. That goal started with another slick play by Spezza along the wall, was continued by a vintage Jamie Benn “I know where you are” laser pass, and capped by a lethal Seguin snipe. (All of those terms are trademarked by me, probably.) Power play goals are nice, even if the power play could have made this game a lot sillier than it did.

Ultimately, this game was one struggling Central team knocking down another. Still, despite their even point totals, Dallas has played two more games than Nashville, and regulation wins like this can end up being huge. More than that, the Stars really have no choice but to get on a roll during this stretch at home, and this was a much better means of starting such a roll than Tuesday.

Everything is not fixed. The Stars are still a ways back of where they need to be. But tonight, they got to throw themselves a party of their own, and it didn’t feel totally disingenuous. That’s enough, for now. Five goals will usually be enough.