The Dallas Stars can finally say that they've been wounded. Sure they still lead the series 2-1, but they did not look like the better team last night. Instead they looked like a team bereft of structure at every level, be it at a system level, or cognitive level.
It's the playoffs, so doom and gloom is more readily available for our attitudes. However, a loss in and of itself is acceptable. Bad play, zero urgency, and immobile legs? That's quite different.
1. Viking Landing
Patrick Sharp opened up the scoring in the first period like a man possessed. Correlation is not causation. Jamie Benn and Cody Eakin had virtually nothing to do with these goals. They were just great individual efforts by Sharp using his expert marksmanship. Radek Faksa nearly made it three with an absolute gimmie in the low slot but he didn't have much of an angle. It wasn't a great first half of the period, despite the score, and that seemed to be the narrative.
2. Resting Easy
Wild are 5-27-6 when the opponent scores first this season. Five wins are fewest in the NHL.— Dan Myers (@1DanMyers) April 19, 2016
While Minnesota wasn't generating a ton, they were the team pressuring more often than not. And very early on, they made it clear what their strategy was: looking across the ice, and selecting deflections as their shot of choice. When you're the underdog, you might as well stick Murphy's Law on your side. Chris Porter would cut the lead in half before the end of the first period because Dallas is good at being generous to first timers.
3. Misery Rising
Five minutes into the second period, Alex Goligoski would pinch at Minnesota's blueline like this:
Why? Yes, Klingberg is back and ready to defend but this seems like such a high risk, low reward play. If you're pinching to a loose puck that's one thing. But here Goose is pinching toward a one on one battle. If he wins, he's stuck on the boards with two Wild on him. If he loses...well...we saw what happened if he loses.
4. Sasquatch's Sink (Copyright Daryl Reaugh, 2016)
The Minnesota Wild. pic.twitter.com/j3jUPlqR08— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) April 19, 2016
With less than a minute left for the second period in a row, Dallas would let in another. Because I'm in "reptilian brain" mode, I would like to blame someone. Anybody. Kari Lehtonen for no logical reason except that he's the goaltender. John Klingberg for kung fu'ing Kari as a form of defense. Or maybe Cody Eakin for not splitting in half to cover for the 4th man who wasn't there. But alas, it's just Dallas doing 4 on 4 things. In the regular season Dallas was the worst team in the league in total high danger chances against with 23. It hasn't ended well on any other night. It wasn't going to last night.
5. Stanley Cup #Starsing
The Stars overcoming a 2-goal deficit in the same game they blew a 2-goal lead would be the most Stars game ever. So it's going to happen.— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) April 19, 2016
Colton Sceviour would give Dallas fans the illusion of hope by having a punch bounce off of him. But that was it. Even with Dallas down, score effects weren't their friend, and they seemed to generate little to nothing except puck turnovers.
6. Spate of Hockey
The Stars 17 shots on goal matched the fewest they had in any game during the regular season. That came March 26 in a win at San Jose.— Josh Bogorad (@JoshBogorad) April 19, 2016
Oddly enough, 17 shots on goal seems generous by the scorekeepers. Dallas going up so early should have been ideal. It's the playoffs. You've got energy to burn, and patterns to discern from your opponent. The idea that scoring goals so early hindered them in some metaphysical way might make sense for a team like the Stars, but shouldn't make logical sense to the rest of the world. A two goal lead, regardless of when it happens, should be more than enough. Somebody has to play the role of the angry "just shoot!" fan, so I'll do my best in the stray observations:
- Jamie Benn, despite a very nice 5 points in 3 games, has a 49 Percent Corsi For differential. Those are not his career numbers. They are, however, better than Cody Eakin's 46 Perent Corsi For through 3 games. I could accept the concept of a small sample size, except Eakin was Dallas' worst possession forward through the regular season with at least 200 minutes of ice time. The fact that some good things have happened with that line on the ice is not the same as saying that line has made good things happen. Eakin's bank pass to spring Benn in Game 2, and Sharp's goals in Game 3 were the result of the line's parts. Not it's sum. Contrast their line with the Fak'Em trio where you can see how each player is critical and plays their role, and it's night and day. I realize Eakin has seniority. No way does Ruff bump him down to the 4th line. But that's where Eakin belongs. His play during the game where he had a 2 on 1, but opted to shoot into the Wild's shinpads from the blueline was proof positive of everything that's wrong with Eakin at "1C".
- John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski had a tough outing, to be sure but the bulk of their issue came down to some really questionable decisions. Part of it, at least in my amateur opinion, is that both want the puck, and so their aggressive plays aren't always communicated to one another. Because these are their instincts, at their worst, they look like independent contractors. I'm not gonna throw them under the bus after one poor game, but a lot of tape watching should be in order for these two.
- Speaking of defense, one of the biggest surprises is the noticeable lack of offense by the blueline. Between all blueliners with Playoff ice time, only 2 (!) points are accounted for among them. Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski have an assist each. It's not on the blueline to score points, but it's still interesting so far.
- You're 6'4 Val. There's no reason for 5'10, 174 lb Jason Zucker to be glued to you in the clinch with excessive facewashing. Dust him off, and move on.
- Hot take time: I don't think Kari Lehtonen was bad, but I would like to see Antti Niemi start for game 4. Both goalies have earned a virtual equal number of wins in the regular season. It displays faith in the two goalie system, and indirectly demands accountability from the team for their performance. It's also the only series Dallas will ever have to be able to comfortably play Niemi as some sort of 'trial run'. There's nothing "doom and gloom" about starting the better even strength goaltender and trying out the other half of your ten million dollar investment in net. Just saying.