Pop a 40 and check your goalie, eh Captain?
This game was slanted in the Stars' favor as soon as word came down that Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be sitting out due to illness. And while OEL is certainly as ill as it gets when he has the puck, this was more of a "gross" sort of ill. Specifically, Nicklas Grossmannn. OEL for the OG deuce is a good trade for the opposing team pretty much every time.
You might have thought before the season that all three games against Zona would be schedule marshmallows, as the Auston Matthews lottery seemed to beckon the former Jets to Tank City with every bit of temptation it could muster. Nonetheless, the Coyotes somehow made it to the last day of March before being eliminated, and that is really something. Maybe not good long-term, but it is something nonetheless.
Of course, things got even easier for Dallas when Hanzal went down before the contest got too far along. For the Stars to hold the Hotness to only a single goal is a major accomplishment this season, and sure enough, the 'Yotes were hopeless after Hanzal left.
That's not to say that it was easy, because there were some tough stretches. Antti Niemi reiterated that he is, in fact, back to being an NHL goalie once again, and the series of spiffy stops he made in the middle frame were as reassuring as Niemi's performance in San Jose. The Stars might--might--have a 1A and a 1B again. That is either great timing or terrible timing depending on whether you want to see a clear-cut starter emerge, but having options is usually a good thing, so we shall be happy about it.
This was a surprisingly physical game considering that Arizona was more or less playing out the string. Johns blasted Max Domi early on, and it was one of those hits you can't help but smile about. There was head contact, to be sure, but Johns's arms were down, and I'm not sure what else you want a guy to do when he's hitting a suddenly bent-over forward six inches shorter than him. And like most hard and good hits, it drew a penalty thanks to whatever stupid code NHL players operate by in response to big hits.
Thankfully, the Stars didn't have to worry about any such nonsense when Johns was later crunched into the boards to precipitate the Domi goal. I get that Johns is a big boy, but he seemed to be pretty miffed about the no-call there as he skated back by his net after the goal. That said, Johns maybe could have chosen not to step up in the zone there in the first place, so that's just going to be a learning experience as far as we're concerned.
The hitting continued when Jamie Benn was whistled for boarding on Michalek, but you can see he got his arm in underneath of Michalek to get parallel, even if the momentum did come a bit from the south side. I think that hit is a lot worse if you're from Arizona than it looks if you're from Dallas, so take that as you will.
Maybe that hit addled Michalek, because he ended up eating ice on Patrick Eaves's goal, which was both a great Answer Goal and a Horrible Goal To Allow if You Are Mike Smith. But given that Smith had just allowed a Patrick Sharp shot from the blue line to hit the post, I doubt anyone was terribly surprised by the sharp-angle goal off the rush.
Ales Hemsky is in the midst of perhaps his best stretch as a Star, and it could hardly have come at a better time with Tyler Seguin on the shelf. Ales Hemsky decided to fix things right off the bat in the second with a feed from behind the net that found Faksa, who vigorously put it past an obscured Mike Smith. All three Coyotes were caught puck-watching there, and you can't imagine Smith will be terribly pleased with his compatriots for their efforts there. (And Niemi could surely sympathize on the Hanzal tally.) Good on Faksa to bury the chance, too.
But as great as it is to see a checking center rack up points, Radek Faksa is more beloved for what he does before getting the puck, and the next goal was a great example of that. Faksa came in hard with a bit of heavy forechecking, which was followed by some well-placed Hemsky support and marvelous (but standard, for him) Jamie Benn puck-protection, which led to number 40.
Forty goals for Benn through 78 games. That is more than a goal every other game, and the Stars have not seen such a season since their media guides looked like this. Is it nice to attend a hockey game knowing you have a better-than-even chance of seeing your captain score a goal? I imagine it must be. In fact, I'll be at both games this weekend in California, so I will confirm just how nice that is after the fact.
Don't stop appreciating what we're seeing from Jamie Benn. Last season and this are scary-elite in terms of scoring (not to mention what else Benn brings to the table), and we're almost to game 82. Jamie Benn is the hockey player you built in EA Sports with almost all his stats jacked up to 97. Normally that's the player you name after yourself, because it is a video game. To Jamie Benn, it may well feel like a video game some of the time, given how easily he scored 40 goals this year. What a special player, and what a special year. Just because we're excited about the playoffs doesn't mean we have to ignore the remarkable season it's been. /PSA
My Ales Hemsky Is From Krypton theory continued to amass evidence as the checking line RW amassed two more assists and, more importantly, the Most Ales Hemsky Play of the Game. Here he had a wide, wide open breakaway--we're talking "Benn against Rinne" wide open--before unleashing a shot that slid off his stick like too-warm butter off a steak knife. This is a hockey player determined to help the Good Guys while simultaneously covering his otherworldly tracks with "oh, gee, look how human and fallible I am" moments. I suspect he uses the tiny hockey stick as a personal challenge in order to make things fair for everyone else, much like how your dad plays ping pong against you left-handed just to give you a chance to get a point every now and then.
Colton Sceviour and Jordie Benn are not enforcers, but tonight they both felt compelled to answer the bell. Sceviour's scrap was a bit more noble (if you call the Code noble) in its origin being a response to the flyby on John Klingberg, but Jordie Benn's fight was just one of those fights that happens, and you kind of don't know what to do about that player fighting late in a game that seems all but over with. It is entertaining, briefly, but then you are mostly just praying that no one gets hurt with just four games left until the second season comes around.
Finally, the Coyotes were led in ice time by none other than Kevin Connauton, who racked up 22:59 on the frozen surface. Can you believe the Stars let a number one defenseman get nabbed on waivers last year? *looks at Stars roster* Yes. Yes, I can believe that.