It's funny how things work out. The Dallas Stars are in a fight for their lives not just for the playoffs, but for home field advantage against a brutally unforgiving Central. And in that span, no John Klingberg. No Jason Demers. No Patrick Sharp. No problem, apparently.
Ruff went the Hanson Brother route, icing up a roster that looks more like the San Antonio Spurs (born and raised in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but yes I've defected; just too much respect for Popovich and crew). For a night at least, it worked against the defending Stanley Cup champs.
1. The Early Molecular Cloud Gets the Hawk to Squirm
The team to score first has won all three meetings this year between the Stars and Hawks.— Josh Bogorad (@JoshBogorad) March 12, 2016
Thanks to Jason Spezza. I feel like every other 'Tweetdown', I'm raving about Spezza's play even when he doesn't figure into the scoresheet. And it's because of stuff like this: Spezza has only scored 3 even strength points with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the ice. Ruff has tossed him a rotating rag tag group of forwards, most of whom still sleep with a mobile above their beds, and yet Jason just continues to possess, produce, and profit.
2. Suicide Squad Stars
Special teams key so far. Stars kill off two Chicago power plays and then score on their first chance with PP.— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) March 12, 2016
When I broke down what was wrong with Dallas' Penalty Kill, my main takeaway was that Ruff was playing the right system (sometimes called the 'Czech Press' for those that love hockey minutiae). He just didn't have the personnel. Dallas ices a fairly small group of players (as does Chicago, who also have an awful PK); a small group without a Lidstrom antennae at that. However, with Nemeth, Oleksiak, Johns, and Faksa in the mix, Ruff is allowed to tinker with new formations. I haven't had the chance to go back and watch the tape, but it looked to me Ruff had the big guys playing a diamond formation. Which experts like Arik Parnass favor. Just don't quote me on that. Whatever the case, the PK unit actually looked good against a great Power Play.
3. Quantum Ruff-Panics
No lie, before this game I saw Lindy's lines and was like "this is going to be a mess, but I can't tell if it's a genius mess."— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) March 12, 2016
We'll talk more about Ruff in the stray observations, but Antoine Roussel-Radek Faksa-Ales Hemsky was a thing last night in the best way possible. Even when Faksa was scratched, it has always been clear that Ruff trusts him. He's put him in a 5 on 3 situation. He's stuck him out there at the last minute to close out the game. And against Chicago he gave him his toughest assignment yet: go head to head with the Jonathan Toews line. How did he do despite the early score effects?
Roussel and Hemsky weren't exactly silent partners either. Roussel scored what probably should have been the game winning goal. He loves playing the Blackhawks. His contract is worth its weight in games against them alone.
4. Black Hawk Frown
Tyler Seguin would get off the scoring snide, and then Jamie Benn would go to work on the Hawks already wounded PK with some fortuitous blade placement. The second period was another good one for the Stars who treated this one very much like a playoff game. I see Hawks fans (not all, obviously) gloating about how meaningless this game was, making fun of Stars fans who act like they won the Cup last night. Habits are like masks; wear them long enough and you become who you pretend to be. Chicago is a great team. They are the defending champs. But the road to this year's Cup is looking brutal, with no room for the error of taking nights off to end up in a tougher bracket. Right now they'd play the Blues in the 1st round without home ice, then Dallas barring a massive collapse on the Stars' part, and one of LA or Anaheim just to get to the Big Daddy Caps with the most motivated Ovechkin you'll ever see.
5. Statutory Stonewall
Patrick Kane has one shot attempt today. It missed the net. #Blackhawks— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) March 12, 2016
Dallas was beat on the Corsi chart, but one player who didn't make much noise was Patrick Kane. Nobody's gonna keep him down like that consistently, but Dallas' forward core did a good job of keeping the defensemen from dealing with Hawks entering the zone with full speed by poking and prodding them with solid backchecking, and communication.
6. The Kids Are Able to Smite
What a night. What a win. Couldn't have asked for a better way to make my dream come true. Thank you everyone, esp my family and hometown!!— Stephen Johns (@stjohns28) March 12, 2016
Amusingly, Stephen Johns had the worst "possession" night out of all the skaters, but you could tell that his miscues were from a little bit of stagefright. The few soft passes he made in the corner were not the kind he's made in Cedar Park, so expect a livelier Johns against a team like the Blues tonight that are well within his barbarian wheelhouse. All in all, given the score effects (Johns' ice time didn't really increase until Dallas had a comfortable lead when Chicago began to feel more desperate), he looked the way I thought he'd look.
Now on to those pesky stray observations...
- What Blackhawk skater/staff member does Ales Hemsky have uncompromising snapchats of? Boy did the Hawks enjoy giving him the Ivan Drago treatment...
- Lindy Ruff's line shuffling is its own field of study for Stars fans. They won after one of Ruff's more bizarre Ruffles in recent memory. So naturally some will construe this as evidence in favor of Ruffling. In truth, both sides have merit. Cody Eakin should be tried at wing like every other natural center that has been moved to wing besides Cody Eakin. And Janmark clearly did not mesh well with Brett Ritchie (who had some trouble exiting the zone) and Vernon Fiddler (who had some trouble, period). But...
- One thing he does do that I consider far more important than who the odd man out is on the forward trio, is disperse ice time efficiently. Radek Faksa played one minute less than Cody Eakin, and when it was clear that Johns showed more poise than Nemeth and Oleksiak, got more ice time. Getting time on both special teams likely put his mind and body at ease as well. If there's one thing Ruff hasn't allowed critics to do, it's complain about having a defensemen tied for 4th in even strength assists, and top 10 in primary assists, and then give him ice time that ranks him 98th in the league among defenders. Like Alain Vigneault has inexplicably done with Keith Yandle. Who knows. Maybe being 5th on the NHL's all time wins list is reflective of something.
- Dallas' work isn't done. Tonight they play the St. Louis Blues, who have won 5 in a row, including a win over the Hawks, and the Ducks just last night.