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Game 44 Afterwords: Let’s Process Some Anger

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What’s not to be fan-angry (fangry?) about after that one?

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars
I’d hide my face after that game, too.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is a therapeutic practice called “processing” that you have probably heard of. In many of its depictions in entertainment, it coalesces into a Good Will Hunting-esque denouement in which a person punches the wall, screams out a truth, or sobs an admission of fear, hatred, regret, and so forth. Its manifold uses for actual PTSD suffers aside, we are going to attempt to employ it here, right now. We’re 44 games into this hot mess of a messy season, and it’s time to lay some things bare.

So get up onto the couch, criticize that weird middle-aged person in the sweater vest, and let’s try to follow our anger. For it is only by knowing where our anger is coming from that we can truly get past it. (The intelligent reader will here note that this seems a much more arduous sort of “getting past” than that employed by the puck in the defensive zone this season.)

***

Dallas Stars Offense, you are trying to kill us all. After listening to Lindy Ruff speak of how low-chance this game was supposed to be, you proceeded to spot Minnesota four goals before kicking into gear. You even hit a post off the stick of Radek Faksa, just to show that you could score more, but you simply prefer not to, most nights.

I feel a lot of pressure in my chest when I think about the Dallas Stars offense. It is as though I spent my junior year of high school pulling up in a sweet classic Mustang Fastback that revved when the appropriate girl was watching, only to come back for my senior year and find that the exhaust manifold is hanging by a thread, and there’s a piston misfiring somewhere. It still kind of “goes” in the strictest sense, but this is not why I have my goalies spend so much time repairing this car on the weekends. This analogy is breaking down, much like the offense.

You have failed us, Dallas Stars Offense. And then you put up four goals in the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable. (Admittedly, this is a sort of cosmic retribution, as you might recall.)

Having said this, the light of day streams in upon our tears of rage. Yes, you blessed us immensely for two years in a row. Yes, you brought us 3(!) 30-goal scorers last season, one of which was older than Old Eric Staal is now. But just because we did not cherish you last time doesn’t mean you have to go and do me like that.

And Antti Niemi, my dude. Here we’ve been, trying to be judiciously grateful for your amazing 5v5 performance this year, and you manage to post a negative save percentage? Sure, goal #1 was aided by your own Cup-winning Leadership Guy scoring on you (the “Trevor Daley Mantle,” as it were), but you were cheating a tad on goal #2, and Eric Staal put the jam in the frosted donut with ease. Then a defenseman whose name is Matt beat you with a wrister from kind of not super close.

If I didn’t know better, Antti, I’d say you’re just messing with all of us. Are you messing with all of us? It feels like you’re messing with us, and we’re sad about that. I am experiencing a lot of heavy sighing in my lungs lately, and I feel resigned when that happens. I feel resigned to the fact that there is no reason to expect any two parts of this team to function coherently on a given night. If you were going to be good, but only sometimes, couldn’t you at least have stolen one or two more? We’re dying here.

(And by the way, that “three goals on two shots” thing is bogus. There was obviously a SOG by Zucker right before the Oduya goal, so I don’t know who goofed.)

Oh, and let’s not forget Lindy Ruff, who insists upon giving me a twitch with his shoving any and all centermen aside in order for Cody Eakin. And let me be clear: I don’t care who takes faceoffs, if that’s all it is. But we’re talking about who plays in the middle of the ice in the defensive zone, and I cannot cannot cannot endure watching Eakin do this anymore. Move the man who seems every bit the Korpikoski of Yesteryear to wing, and let the All-Stars play center. I think Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza will do all right, if you let them. Eakin is not scoring—he’s still being outscored by Gemel Smith and Julius Honka—and he’s not preventing them. If his penalty killing and “skating ability” is worth $3+ million and a disgruntled star center winger or two, then I do not know what to say. And that is something, indeed.

Anyway, that’s enough about the coach, because hahahaha no, we’re just getting started. Adam Cracknell ate another scratch tonight because, you know, he’s, like, and AHLer or something. Sure, he plays hockey good and does stuff and yeah, okay, by every quantifiable measure he’s actually one of the best 12 forwards Dallas has, but we’re probably missing something. So, if you don’t mind...what is that thing? Is it chocolate snacks? Does Cracknell not make chocolate snacks for the team on road trips? Because we can all chip in to buy some snacks, if that will get him back in your good graces.

I feel frustrated, Lindy Ruff, because I look at the players, and I do not feel about them the same way that you seem to. And so my powerlessness haunts me as I watch the team whose love I have borne these many years struggle. I see a loved one begging for a life preserver, and I see, if not a full-on inner tube, at least a piece of driftwood being healthy-scratched. This is why I feel anger, I think.

Stephen Johns takes a bad penalty and gets scratched until someone gets injured. This same Johns without whom the Patrick Sharp trade wouldn’t have been made; this same Johns who, despite having struggles of his own, is hardly in a lower tier than Lindell. Yes, the blue line isn’t all on you by any stretch, but what you do with the blue line you do have is, absolutely.

Hey, guess what? Dallas’s penalty kill showed up, and hooray and huzzah for the coaches. Add a power play goal to that, and what do you have? One good night. this is something that is blunting the edge of my anger, and so I want to unsay it, but there it is. Hooray for one wrister from the point getting a lucky bounce. Hooray for luck.

Now, Minnesota’s PK was clearly skewing high against the power play, and fairly effectively for much of the night, but that’s not really enraging me yet, so we’ll skip Special Teams Tactics 23: Revenge of Hey, They’re Still Bad for now.

Kari Lehtonen is to blame for much of the anger I am feeling, but for a different reason. For it is only because Kari stood on his head for much of the second period that this even became a game again. Dallas had no business getting me invested in this laugher after falling face-first out of the gate, and then Lehtonen showed up and made a ton of saves on 12 odd-man rushes (estimated) and we all felt like, hey, this could really happen! They could tie it up! And then they did, and then they didn’t, and now we’re left feeling much worse than if Kari had just done his best January 14 Niemi impression and let us go about our business.

In fact, the second period was itself a source of rage, as its dynamism and enchanting back-and-forth (read: sloppy) play drew me back into a game I started to seek to escape.

John Klingberg, you sly, maddening devil. Your game has found itself as of late, and tonight you seemed just about the only defenseman worthy of admiration through 40 minutes. Then you went and plopped a big ol’ yucky on the carpet when Chris Stewart picked your pocket, and we started wondering if it was November all over again. Instead, you employed your usual wizardry, but insufficiently. Share the fairy dust with the bros, man.

Jordie Benn likewise undid his goodwill after, well, kind of doing that thing where he made the critical mistake that lost the game. Is that bad? My Jordie Benn Meter is so un-tuned that I just can’t tell anymore. I am going to assume that his game deserved a crocodile sticker and a frowny llama face for surrendering two prime scoring chances in the third period, one of which lost the game. I feel detached when I think about this event, because criticizing Jordie Benn with vehemence feels a bit like saying, “You know what, I agree! Art really is pointless in all its forms!”

Officiating is a catalyst for expressed anger, I have noticed. Tonight, two penalties were called when gentlemen trod upon hockey sticks, and there were two distinct incidents where it seemed like Minnesota Wild players temporarily seized up and fell to the ice with an alacrity far surpassing the expected force transferred from a stick tapping into the midsection.

Jim Nill, what are you waiting for? Yes, it’s been quiet, and GMs aren’t moving. Sure, the expansion draft casts a pall over proceedings; we get that. But my goodness, what do you expect this team to do, aside from devalue its actual NHL assets while your actual NHL star rots in the minors as Johnny Oduya and Jordie Benn play Lefty-Lefty-This-Team’s-Berefty all the live-long day? You traded Brenden Dillon because a well-constructed team was playing below their heads. Now, you have a team playing below their ruptured Achilles tendons, and you have done nothing but short-circuit Patrik Nemeth’s one conditioning assignment for the season.

I’d love to know what actual prices are for Dillon-for-Demers moves these days. Because if there’s one thing Dallas can afford to move right now, it’s a modestly useful young player with potential and term for another player with more immediate contributions ready to be had.

I am angry at this team for losing to every other team’s backup goalie. I am angry at myself for getting so invested in a team that clearly will be lucky to make the playoffs as the “Aw, you found out about this party? Well, isn’t that nice of you to stop by” contestant. I am angry that Stephen Johns got this crowd roaring at the end of a clutch PK, only to see hapless teammates go spendthrift at the other end and send the faithful fans home empty-handed.

Jamie Benn smashed a stick at the end of this game, and with good reason. He has played too far below his normal level this season and in this game. I say this not to pile on, because we all know that Benn is going to say that it is all on his shoulders, but to point out how dire these straits really are. Dallas isn’t going to get goalie help, it looks like. They don’t seem to have room for an immediate defense addition, either. So that leaves the forwards, and do you really think Jim Nill can’t find a Kris Russell on forward if he wants to drive me over the edge for good? I have no doubt that he can do that. It would probably look a lot like Korpikoski, actually.

So, to finish this venting session—the hour is up, anyway—I will add only that my ideas are, ultimately, only just that. But when you see someone else trying to parallel park a bus for ten minutes in a row, just horribly scraping all the cars on the entire block and never getting any closer to parking, you just kind of want to jump up, grab the wheel, and give it a whirl, you know?

So, be angry. Be vocal. And, having done that, be at peace. For this is all you can do, for now.