The Dallas Stars aren't just in a slump. It feels like a tailspin. Granted, such a word shouldn't be used lightly given where they're at in the standings but the past several games have been brutal.
At this point, they're officially last season's team, not getting the goaltending they need just to stay at sea level, and not winning the special teams battle that could offset things like bad goaltending. Their early season run was nice, and elements of that same team are still there. But they're beginning to go back to that whack-a-mole problem from the 2014-2015 season where one problem seemed to begat the next.
1. Russell Hustle
Kris Russell will make his debut with Dallas tonight. He warmed up on third pair with Jordie Benn. Lindy Ruff said he might juggle five.— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) March 2, 2016
The general consensus on Curtis McKenzie twin Kris Russell is that Dallas got fleeced. To his credit, he played well in the first period. Obviously, one period is not a counter argument to years of observable metrics, but for one period Russell was the best "possession" player on the team with an individual corsi of 4 and differential at +8. Things would change, but he played a subtle game.
Nashville would get on the board first after Dallas outplayed them (hello shades of almost every game ever) with a Craig Smith snap shot. The Antoine Roussel would answer right back within 10 seconds to tie it up off a soft goal given up by Pekka Rinne. If there's one player who never really waxes or wanes the way other players do, it's Antoine Roussel. You can see why coaches are such suckers for players like Roussel; goal scoring can be inconsistent. Determination and bust-assery generally are not.
3. Acoustic Assault
STOP THE FIGHT— J.R. Lind (@jrlind) March 2, 2016
A brilliant Calle Jarnkrok deflection just below the bar would start the bleeding. Nashville would draw a penalty which meant only one thing; Dallas on the PK. The words 'Dallas on the PK' is synonymous with 'really terrible things on the horizon'. Sure enough, Shea Weber would score thanks to Cody Eakin unable to play the Wedge formation correctly, not pressuring, and letting the shot get through uncontested. Yes, Roussel is just as much to blame if neither can communicate correctly but such a claim would betray my previous adoration of Roussel so I blame Eakin just because. In truth, Niemi played awful the entire time he was goalie so it's not like he's beyond criticism.
4. In the Valley of the Shadow of Doubt
Tonight is the eighth time this season that the Stars staring goaltender has been pulled. It's happened four times each to Kari and Niemi.— Josh Bogorad (@JoshBogorad) March 2, 2016
I'd be disappointed if Dallas wasn't in on James Reimer. Granted, there's no way they would have moved Niemi, which means Toronto would have likely needed to take Kari Lehtonen back. Would anyone, including Toronto have wanted Kari and his contract? Doubtful, but that's what assets are for. Sometimes they're not pieces on a chessboard. Sometimes they're two week old egg cartons used to fuel the Delorean's fusion reactor.
5. Apropro of Nothing
Kari would end up taking a Shea Weber shot to the pills, and Nashville would score fairly soon after. Vernon Fiddler cut the lead to within five or however they needed, and that was it. Another Dallas game in which bad mistakes, bad goaltending, and the lack of anything resembling a gameplan on special teams converged to help Dallas lose another stinker.
Well, bad goaltending deserves a special nod. Per War on Ice, Dallas' nondemulcent duo allowed 2 low danger area chances to go in, along with one medium area chance. Only 10 + million against the cap. Mike Valley and the gang haven't done much to groom, develop, and polish anyone of worth between the pipes in years. I think Niemi is fine, and one bad game won't erase his mostly ok play throughout the season, but it kind of sucks to think that Dallas has had to rely solely on the market for goaltending for what feels like an eternity.
6. Murder Stealth Thrill
At Dallas' current rate, Nashville could easily end up in Dallas' spot. Also of note:
This is who Benn is. It's simply part of his constitution. He wouldn't be the player he is if he wasn't prone to senseless acts of random violence. Anyway, on to some stray observations:
- With a two goalie system that isn't even all that, there was no reason to not start Kari Lehtonen to begin with, but that's what Ruff did. With the team on its backfoot, Ruff is probably feeling a sense of desperation, and Niemi on the whole has been the better goaltender. So there's certainly a logic to it. There just wasn't the desired result.
- Okay, let's go over this one more time for the cheap seats. What. Is. Up. With. The. Lack. Of. Zone. Exit. Awareness? Cody Eakin once again casually went up ice with a forward checking at his heels which resulted in action going the other way. And once again, he wasn't the only one. How is this even a thing in a hockey game at the NHL level?
- At even strength, the high danger chances were 13 to 4 in Nashville's favor. You wouldn't need to see the score or the game to know who ends up winning such a battle.
- The PK is still bad. And so is the Power Play lately (5 on 3 goal notwithstanding). As I talked about in my preliminary analysis of the Power Play, the first unit is still doing too much rushed perimeter work hoping to cash in on rebounds. Rebounds are coin flips, which makes this a terrible potential strategy. Not only is the play to Seguin predictable, but Seguin himself seems to be struggling with the type of shot he's looking for. Every second counts, so when the second unit comes on and dumps the puck in without having numbers in the opponent's zone, it's just wasted time for both units as now the first unit doesn't get something valuable like a faceoff in the offensive zone to maintain pressure.
- Losing sucks.