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Game 68 Afterwords: Take a Point, Lose a Point Man

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The Stars' blue line attrition continued on the most polite of injury-causing plays. Personally, I blame Justin Trudeau.

~tableau~
~tableau~
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

You really notice the Dallas Stars' unique playing style in games like these.  With the score tied for the entire third period, Dallas continued going up-and-down, even in the waning minutes of regulation.  Most teams in that situation get coy and cagey--such as, for instance, the Canadiens, who generated a measly three scoring chances the entire period--but Dallas kept pushing the pace, kept trying to grab the victory any time opportunity nosed into the doorjamb. It almost backfired, but it almost worked, too.

That's our high-event team, and when you look at their record of 40-20-8, it's tough to say unequivocally that they need to start playing a different way.  Of course, they do need to start playing a different way than they've played since January 1st, since everything in 2016 has been frustrating compared to the glorious Win Three of Four beginning to the year, but even a depleted Stars team still wants to provide value for money.  That's impressive in Bell Centre, where obtaining tickets usually requires loss of limb as an initial deposit.

So the game started, and after a couple of high-grade Kari Lehtonen saves on quality Montreal chances, you just knew the Stars were going to score, right?  Well, I mean, you knew they were going to score after they did.  Ben Scrivens probably will be getting some helpful tips from Jenny after allowing that stinker of a goal on a shot from below the goal line, but Cody Eakin wasn't going to complain, given his particularly dry 2016 to date.  Would you have guessed that this same goaltender would end up stopping Seguin and Benn for the rest of the game?  Well, probably, if you have been watching Benn and Seguin lately.

That high-event style looks a bit different with half the defense comprising Nemeth, Oleksiak and Russell, as messy d-zone play reared its head a couple of times early on.  The first scary moment came after Nemeth buried his guy like a treasure saved for later, but the following Hab got to the loose puck and nicked the crossbar.  Razor did say bonne chance this morning, after all, and oh, oh that his words would have rung as true in overtime as that puck did off the crossbar.

Cody Eakin and Antoine Roussel had a nice little sequence in the first that created a beautiful chance for Ales Hemsky, and these are the words I am typing these days.  Eakin did a nice bit of drop-and-set-a-pick to Hemsky, who then found himself a clear path to the front of the net and took the puck straight there, because he knew you all never would have guessed he would do that.  He was stopped by Scrivens, but Roussel's presence at said netmouth occupied the Montreal defender enough for Hemsky to get a sweet backhand try off.  It may have been the prettiest sequence by that line I had ever seen up to that point.

Faceoffs are overrated until they lead to a goal, in which case they are the most important thing in the universe.  Vernon Fiddler got the puck tangled with the linesman's skates on a faceoff in his zone, and the Canadiens proceeded to grab the puck and sort themselves out more quickly than Dallas did.  Pacioretty did well to get to the front of the net, and Markov did well to shoot wide (either on purpose, or because he has marvelously terrible aim), but that's a bit of a tough break for Dallas. That would have been a good sentence to record on your Talkboy for future use, as it turned out.

One of those "well, this is confusing for the work friend I happened to bring to this one game" moments showed up when Dallas spent almost a minute on a delayed penalty call just trying to get the puck out of their zone for a potential rush.  (Have you ever tried to calm an alarmed new hockey fan when the goaltender just casually bolts to the bench in the middle of a play, only to have them look at you as though you are rationalizing execution for sport?) If the vacated net hadn't been spooking me, I'd say good on Dallas for practicing some interesting new entries and failing at them a few times before finally generating a not-awful chance during bonus time.  I've always wondered what the goaltender on the bench must be saying to himself every time the puck goes near his net during those situations, though.  I can't imagine it's decent.

Demers drew two penalties in the first period, so of course things were bound to sour after that nice turn of events.  The Pacioretty penalty was pretty un-captainly, to say the least.  I think he assumed the puck had gotten through, and so he was just being a little #pesky to Demers by grabbing his stick.  (I did appreciate "Patches" trying to explain to the official that he was just keeping the puck away from his throat, though.)  Is there irony in the fact that Demers drew two calls, absorbed some seriously silly hits, but got injured on an ostensibly benign play?  I don't think so, but I just wanted to make sure since no one really knows what irony is anymore.

In fact, the Jason Demers injury really felt like that scene in every movie where the hapless sidekick finally does something really praiseworthy, only to get bumped off at his moment of triumph.  (Think, like, Boris from Goldeneye.)  With Demers out for at least the regular season, this opens up all sorts of questions.  Stephen Johns seems like an obvious call-up, but are you really comfortable with him in the playoffs?  Does this affect the Stars' decision to re-sign Demers over the summer at all?  Lots of questions without obvious answers right now.

Razor mentioned that Spezza has scored five of the last seven Stars power play goals, and while that's not exactly the best way to get your power play humming again, the Stars will take that every day and twice on Sundays.  With Klingberg out and the Wondertwins cursed, I will have zero problem with Jason Spezza firing away for the next three years.

Sven Andrighetto got free enough from Demers to nutmeg an aggressive Cody Eakin for a beautiful assist on the Canadiens' second goal.  You can probably hang a cone of shame on the young center or the less-young defender there, but you have to admit that it was a pretty odd play.  It's not often that a player sets up a one-timer from his belly with one hand.  It's even less often that the player who does so is named "Sven."

Then, as if to complete the wacky goal trifecta, Kari Lehtonen got a bit jobbed by the Montreal glass.  He got a piece of the initial slapshot with the outside of his glove, which you'd have thought would send the puck out of harm's way.  You thought wrong, though, and Kari was as mystified by the too-perfect rebound for the Habs as all of us were watching it.  In retrospect, this was just the latest hint dropped by The Universe that things were going to end badly.

I was shocked Spezza didn't get a penalty for flinging a remnant of his broken stick at the puck after he got out of the box in the second period, by the way.  I think if that's anyone other than the guy who was just in the bin, you'd see the refs happily make that rare call.  But then again, let's just consider it karmic justice for this little non-call, shall we?

(Sorry about that.)

Kris Russell's recovery and beautiful poke check on Byron's breakaway chance were absolutely huge, especially at that point in the game.  This probably wasn't the way Ruff wanted to go about rolling five defensemen, but if they're going to give him efforts like that, it's tough to complain* too much.  Russell really did have a great game, and he had two particularly timely shot blocks to go along with a drawn penalty in the third.  His shot block in overtime, of course, proved to be rather unfortunate when his stick broke, but what can you do?  I mean besides "not the thing that happened," what can you do.  That's bad luck in a bad luck game, and I'm not sure I don't blame Ken Dryden most of all for letting Ben Scrivens channel him every time Jamie Benn was shooting.

*Actually, let's complain a little bit more.  What was Lucas Lessio doing with that half-can-opener move on Demers that ended so badly?  I'll trust the general wisdom that said no malice was there, but can you imagine if that was, say, Antoine Roussel doing that to Kris Letang with a similar result?  I don't really blame Lessio there, but it's tough not to be bitter about the tragedy befalling the Stars' blue line, especially with the huge games on the docket this week.

With a tied game in the third period, Radek Faksa continued doing his best to make Most Radek Faksa Play of the Game an official thing, too.  Vernon Fiddler forechecked the heck out of a play, and his feed back to the slot from behind the net found and open Faksa just slightly unprepared to grab the lead.  Possibly that just shows where Faksa's mind is at right now, in that he is more concerned with positioning and responsibility than with scoring.  That's not really a bad thing, but it's the sort of mindset that is going to see you stuck on the fourth line in Dallas if you can't adjust, and I think a lot of folks would be happy to see Faksa grab himself more ice time by capitalizing on chances when they present themselves.

And again with the third line (which got third line minutes tonight): Ales Hemsky doesn't have a stick that lends itself to wrap-around goals, but he still managed a beauty after Eakin fought hard to kick the puck to him on another Roussel-aided rush at the end of the second period.  Is that Actual Line Chemistry forming before our eyes?  It just might be.

Fortunately for all of us, Ales Hemsky did manage his MAHPOTG in overtime, when he gave Cody Eakin an enormous amount of credit on the forecheck by staying in the neutral zone waiting for the puck to pop loose, leading to a 2-on-1 chance for Pacioretty the other way that Kari shot out his pad to stop.  I was furious when Hemsky didn't curl back to cover his man, and while the Stars would eventually clear the puck to center, that line of Eakin, Hemsky and Russell would never make it off for a change.  I guess Hemsky is figuring that the Stars have a 2-on-1 there if he's hovering and Eakin wins the puck, but goodness gracious, did he ever get caught in no-man's land at a terrible time.  (The other explanation, of course, is they he just plumb forgot there was only one defender back there.  He hasn't played a ton of overtime minutes lately.)

The Most Montreal Goal was their final one, because it featured them pounding the puck into the Stars' shinpads, setting up basically the same shot, then just trying it again and hoping it would work. This is Michel Therrien Approach embodied by his players.

Kari Lehtonen didn't get over to the post, yes, which I suppose you'd love to see him do there.  Then again, given what it cost Cory Schneider to make a similar save in Jersey, I'm not horribly mad about only getting one point out of the game. It's less about how mediocre the Stars have been in 2016 at this point than it is about making sure they do enough to lock up the playoffs in good standing.

For example: The 2008 WCF team finished the season on a pretty big run of "meh," as you'll recall, losing 10 of 14 games to end the season.  Prior to that, you may also recall, they had put up a great run of 13 wins in 15 games.  Teams can be streaky, and the Dallas Stars have been especially so.  But I'm not convinced that the recent history is terribly more indicative of what the playoffs will look like than November was.

The Stars have issues, and they have strengths.  Their strengths have already put them at first in the Western Conference as of March 8th, so I'm going to do my best to remain even-keeled amid their issues right now, even when they result in an overtime loss to the bad Canadiens.  Maybe I'm just a shipwrecked dude floating in the ocean grabbing at the first piece of jetsam I find for consolation, but it happens to be better consolation than any other team in the conference has.  That's pretty okay, really.