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Game 45 Afterwords: Stars Lose to Buffalo and Look Bad Doing It

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Personally, I would have preferred to just go for a nice walk today.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Here come the Dallas Stars, losing to Eastern Conference teams and giving up a host of power play goals. Look out for the Dallas Stars, everybody:

  • Through two periods today, Jason Spezza had played the fewest minutes of any Stars foward, and 2nd-fewest at 5v5. Cody Eakin had played the most.
  • Jiri Hudler got another assist today, which means he now has a few more points than Cody Eakin despite Hudler averaging 3 minutes fewer TOI and having a sci-fi novel disease for half the season.
  • The Buffalo Sabres are officially having a better season than the Dallas Stars. The Sabres are terrible this season.
  • Three of the Sabres’ four goals today were unassisted.
  • The Stars took three avoidable penalties and allowed two goals on the subsequent kills.
  • Adam Cracknell was scratched again, ostensibly because he is not as “complete” a player as Korpikoski or whoever else. 4th-liners matter, and scratching Cracknell despite his puck possession and production this season is maddening.
  • Julius Honka continues to watch Dallas struggle to move the puck up the ice from his place in Cedar Park.
  • Jack Eichel roasted both Lauri Korpikiski (whose speed is praised frequently by the broadcast) and Esa Lindell in this game. No shame in being slower than Eichel, but the Stars’ speed game being this bad is depressing.

Okay, that’s enough of a litany for now. Let’s pore over the remains.

John Klingberg was undoubtedly fantastic today, as he has been for a while now. To have the turnaround he’s had this season is encouraging. Dark times happen in spurts, but the best players weather them and rise up again. He has done that despite the many, many factors pushing against him.

The Stars’ penalty kill doesn’t allow a surfeit of scoring chances compared to the rest of the league. Corsica.hockey has them allowing the 10th fewest in the NHL, actually. They are also mid-pack in terms of shots allowed, so it’s not like the PK is just putting up a “free samples” sign or anything. However...

Kari Lehtonen has been abysmal at 4v5 this season, as you may have heard. And on high-danger (mostly netfront) shots, Kari is sporting a save percentage of 59%, nearly 10% worse than the next-worse goalie on the penalty kill.

That said, you watch those two goals today, and you can’t really pin them on Kari. This team is simply not good on the penalty kill, and when your power play is equally hapless—well, almost equally; nothing is as bad as this penalty kill—you’re going to lose a lot of games.

Tyler Ennis almost scored on the Michigan lacrosse goal move today. That’s how confident the Sabres were, and rightly so. The Stars looked bad, played badly, and lost dreadfully to one of the dregs of the Eastern Conference.

There was some talk of Esa Lindell giving up on the empty-netter with time expiring, but I have a hard time caring about that. The game was over, and while moral victories are nice (and all that Dallas really has left, barring a miraculous run in the final 37 games), a Lindell penalty there would still be called a goal with the net empty. If Lindy Ruff wants to scratch Lindell to make a point about “try,” then great. I look forward to Cody Eakin taking some more shifts alongside Klingberg to up the “try” on the blueline. Maybe that will set the example for how defenders need to take more penalties when the game is already lost to defend the vestiges of the Stars’ honor or whatever. If that helps the locker room feel better, then great. I just can’t see why it should matter. That Lindell let-up, while not good, is a symptom of this team’s sickness, not the cause of it.

The Stars have been awful on the road this season, awful at special teams, and even their improved 5v5 play (and best-in-three-years 5v5 goaltending!) hasn’t been much to celebrate. Today, you watched a bad team lose to a bad team, and that’s not a one-game descriptor.

Calls for coaching changes are moot, for now. Gallant or whoever else isn’t going to turn Johnny Oduya into Julius Honka, Korpikoski into Mattias Janmark, or Cody Eakin into Adam Cracknell (well, maybe a really objective coach would). Special teams’ play is bad, and a new system might well jump-start it, once it’s learned. But I’m resigned to the fact that this team’s coaching staff is going to see the same amount of games this season as its current goaltending tandem.

All in all, the two words that have caught my ears on the broadcast this season are “bash” and “chunk.” Razor has used those verbs a lot lately, and the Stars’ play kind of necessitates it. There has been little of glamor or glory about this team, and there is no one-stop fix for what ails it. Jim Nill owes Lindy Ruff at least a trade or two, but if a move hasn’t happened by now, then I’m not sure it’s going to matter if it ever does.

Finally, my cheerful optimism is beginning to wane. Even 2015 couldn’t do that, but somehow this season has found the magic formula to get my grumpy pants out of storage. Thanks a lot, Stars.

Good news, though. The Stars play again tomorrow, facing the Rangers. Make sure you set aside three hours of your life to watch it. I’m sure none of the Rangers will be upset at Cody Eakin at all.