I was thrilled to be settling in for Stars hockey after a week off, and I'm sure you were, too. Games against the Jets haven't exactly been relaxing so far, but still, hockey is hockey, eh? (That is a Canadian word that I employed to match the Stars' venue tonight.)
Jamie Oleksiak was making his first appearance after an eight-game conditioning stint in the AHL, and it's hard to say whether that stint had an immediate effect. Personally, I'm cutting Oleksiak some slack since he was probably doubly out of sync with his teammates, what with him playing in the AHL and them not having played at all. Unfortunately, Oleksiak was far from the only Star shaking off rust, as Jokipakka did little to help his buddy out. Still, the third pairing really wasn't markedly worse than the other folks for much of the night unless you're counting Corsi like some nerd blogger. It was a choppy game, as you saw (or tried to see).
Anyhow, Stars hockey is back, and that means it's time for me to chide you folks for being ungrateful for Ales Hemsky, who racked up about 28 scoring chances in the early going before drawing the Stars' first power play of the night on a rush chance. Hemsky accumulated 16:49 minutes of ice time tonight, which was 30 seconds more than his previous high this season. He certainly earned those minutes, generating three scoring chances (equaling Jamie Benn), which was only four behind Seguin.
Tyler Seguin had himself a wonderful evening in Winnipeg, and that was really the theme of the contest more than anything. (Well, you could also say laughably sloppy play and the zebras' annoyance at Winnipeg for overrunning the penalty threshold were themes, but let's stay on target here.) Seguin scored two goals, both of them with that lethal shot of his. The Stars have struggled in tandem with Benn and Seguin (and Klingberg) recently, so it was great to see #91 and #3 getting back on the score sheet tonight. Bodes well and all that, you know.
You also know that penalty calls are trending downwards, but the Demers tripping call was nonetheless a bit borderline, not to say sold and bought. You had a player jumping around a defenseman, and Demers stuck his thigh out enough to collide with the gamboling skater's, and the refs felt like making a call. For a game that surely could have been a penalty fest, it was odd that the stripey-types chose to call that one amid some other rather obvious non-calls (like a trip on Klingberg that would have led to a 5-on-3 later), but I could probably type that exact sentence about every game after December 15th and be not wildly inaccurate. State of the league, etc.
The Jets' first power play goal was demoralizing, if only because it was the same old penalty kill ineptitude that we've been talking about for a while now. A bread and butter screen plus a one-timer totally unblocked equals a goal, very often. Niemi could have gotten over better, but the Fiddler/Sceviour exchange up top was rather atrocious, so take your pick if you're slapping frowny face stickers on report cards.
As for Dallas's man-advantages, they rolled with a bit of a different look up top with Benn, Seguin, Eaves, Goligoski and Klingberg--yes, 3F and 2D--but with the same result (0G). They would eventually get one (or two depending on how you tally Seguin's just-as-it-expired goal), and the shot/scoring chance totals were impressive, so take from that what you will. Really, Seguin's one-timer early in the second period was what a power play goal should look like with this team when they're playing a team with size like Winnipeg. Don't bother with shots from distance and rebounds you might not get to if you can help it.
With all the talk about Dustin Byfuglien as a trade target, I'd warrant that Colton Sceviour is now not a fan of such a hypothetical move (or maybe he would be, just to avoid facing Byfuglien again). Byfuglien put a boarding hit on Sceviour that actually looked pretty clean to me at first, except for the whole "it was kind of a blindside hit and bashed Sceviour's head directly into the dasher" thing. Byfuglien was upset at the call, and you could sort of see why given the shoulder-to-shoulder contact, but that was a penalty, as it should be. Sceviour would take some scattered shifts in the second and third periods, but Dave Strader passed along official word on the (radio) broadcast that Sceviour was not going to return later in the game. Best wishes to Colton--here's hoping it was just wooziness and not a true conkie.
Onto the resulting third power play, then: Seguin hit the post on another great chance (he had seven, remember), then just as the power play expired, the Jets created one of the more embarrassing goals you'll see as Spezza, Hemsky and Jokipakka combined to form a triad of ineptitude. Spezza compounded his initial error of failing to get back by accidentally burping the puck back into the crease off Hemsky's skate for Adam Lowry to gleefully poke home, and it was almost comical, except we are talking about the Stars and the horrible, very bad Jets, so it's like dark, sad comedy or something. Spezza was gassed at the end of a long power play shift, but he didn't have a great night for most of the game for what it's worth. I forgive him, and you should, too.
The 'Peg almost scored again right afterwards when Stafford got in behind the defense for a breakaway, but Niemi stayed with him as he tried to go backhand shelf. Goligoski and Klingberg weren't satisfied with allowing just one breakaway pass through their midst, however, as Copp found himself heading in alone just a couple of minutes later. Once again, Niemi held his ground. While we're on the subject, it was more of the same as the second period passed the midway point when Brian Little got another chance on Niemi by his lonesome after a Jokipakka bobble. It's boring to repeat myself, but Niemi, like a CVS clerk who knows you ate half the Skittles and just taped the bag shut, denied them again.
Jason Demers would get banished to the box again for (stop me if you've heard this one) a rather iffy call, but the Stars would find their special teams, finally. Mattias Janmark would get a glorious 2-on-0 chance that Hellebuyck calmly stopped, but almost right on the heels of that chance, Cody Eakin jumped a point pass, and after having his stick hacked out of his hands for a penalty, he was joined by Jason Demers and John Klingberg for a 3-on-0 rush. Here is what I mean:
John Klingberg would get the (rather telegraphed, not that it mattered) feed from Demers, and the defenseman-to-defenseman breakaway combo rush would end up tucked underneath the bar for the tying goal, just as you all expected when you began watching NHL hockey again tonight. It was one of those moments where you shook your head, grinned, and threw your hands up in simultaneous celebration and exasperation. (As for me, I was already halfway done mentally writing a certain Moment of the Night, but then the Stars had to go and ruin it by scoring.)
Proving that the universe does indeed operate under inertia, the Stars would finally get the lead right after tying it, as a gorgeous Nichushkin saucer pass across the ice to Hemsky was dropped back for Fiddler, who beat Hellebuyck five-hole. It was a sequence as improbable in its success as it was satisfying in its completion. This was Dallas doing Dallas things, and they worked, just like in the old days! When Nichushkin, Fiddler and Hemsky are all successfully making high-grade plays and scoring, Dallas is in good shape.
It is my understanding that the Stars scored a fourth goal on a power play shot by Tyler Seguin from the high slot early in the third period, but I was unable to watch it thanks to the rather fraught NHL.TV rollout. Everything had been working fine until the end of the second period, when every game I tried to load via my phone or my computer would either freeze instantly or only stream for a few seconds before dying again. Thankfully it's February, so I can be patient until the nice folks at MLBAM fix my precious hockey service again, but it was still frustrating to be relegated to the radio version of the app for the entire third period of the first game in some time. Anyway, the replay seems to show a broken play after Eaves fumbled a nice pass and the Jets couldn't clear. Seguin whacked the puck at the net, and Hellebuyck didn't pick it up in time. Here is the highlight:
Dustin Byfuglien cut the lead (and added to the trade narrative) with a goal to make it 4-3 down the stretch. From (again) the replay, it looks like a pretty clear case of a lost puck battle and slow recovery by the forwards, but again, I couldn't tell you from personal experience. See for yourself:
The final highlight from the third period that I wanted to share is this Niemi save, because Antti Niemi was really the reason Dallas won tonight. As much as the Jets managed to embarrass themselves with shorthanded breakaways against, Dallas easily could have been the team giving up five (or more) tonight if not for Niemi, and that's no mere platitude. The man was hung out to dry far, far too often tonight:
So really, when all was said and done, the Stars won a game that was a toss-up. Yes, both teams were coming out of a long break, and that means rust, so you can write it off if you want. If you're more inclined to say that the Stars have flaws that rest alone can't cure, then you probably watched the below sequence.
Hey, hockey's back. I'll take this over not hockey any day. Also, please don't get used to a ton of pasted highlights. If that's all I put, then you wouldn't need anyone to tell you about them, ha ha ha...wait.