The Vancouver Canucks are in a pretty miserable spot right now. They’re outside the playoffs, desperately in need of a rebuild that may never come, in need of a goaltender like Cory Schneider or Roberto Luongo, and helmed by a GM (and owners?) in denial of the situation. Vancouver is 21-19-6, and they are not going to make the playoffs. They are also two points ahead of the Stars.
Dallas is 3-6-1 in their last 10 games, or 1-3-0 in their last four, if you prefer recent history. This is not a team pushing to make a case for a playoff spot. This is a team that won but one game on the New York trip, and it was the game in which they surrendered six goals.
More context: before that New York debacle, the Stars had not beaten a team currently in the playoffs since December 13th (Anaheim). They just lost three games to a team that thinks it is in the actual US Army, a team that has spent the last few years actively learning how to lose, and team that brought in Doug Weight for the home stretch of the season, “but this time, he’s the coach!”
Certainly we know the season is closer to the bottom of the hourglass than the top, and certainly we know that Dallas hasn’t even won its 20th game of the season yet as February rears its foreshortened head.
Shutouts are bad, because it means a loss. But shutouts are especially bad because it gives fans not even a moment to celebrate, and this game deserved some sort of celebration, if only to venerate Kari Lehtonen for his heroic evening manning the bilge pumps.
The Stars’ penalty kill also managed to defy their demonstrated aptitude and kill off seven penalties, although given the fact that the team surrendered 18 shots on goal during those different advantages, it’s not as though the hatches were battened. Kari Lehtonen was playing whack-a-mole with scoring chances and breakaways tonight.
In fact, the Islanders did eventually score a goal during a power play; it just happened to be the Stars’ power play. If this game could be distilled down to a single exchange, it would be—inhales—the Islanders’ 3-on-1 shorthanded breakaway which started in the most harmless fashion you could imagine: with the Stars’ second power play unit. I mean, talk about harmless. Anyway, here’s how that break started, and I still can’t figure it out:
Everyone got beneath the puck except for Devin Shore, and Dan Hamhuis fell as the battle was lost while Faksa and Hudler looked on in horror. But that rush was somehow foiled by a diving
Dan Hamhuis Devin Shore, which led to a 2-on-1 break with Sharp and Hudler which was, ahem, unsuccessful, which led to a Tavares breakaway just barely not foiled by a diving Dan Hamhuis, which led to a stricken Kari Lehtonen, which led to the Stars’ absolutely, completely and utterly deserved loss. Even the mighty Hector could not outrun Achilles forever, after all. [Spoiler alert, by the way.]
It was the second of two John Tavares shorthanded breakaways, and it was the second of two John Tavares goals. Of course, the first breakaway was started by Jamie Benn’s skate and stopped by the shaft of Kari Lehtonen’s goal stick, which calmly decided that giving up a goal on the opposition’s first shot four games in a row might not be great for the Stars’ advertising opportunities. No, it wasn’t a breakaway but rather a breakdown that led to the Islanders’ first goal.
Esa Lindell went back to a corral a dump-in, and as he trapped the puck with a skate, he opted to try a quick chip off the glass and out, or at least up to where Faksa and Tavares were heading further up along the ice.
Unfortunately, Anders Lee knocked the puck down, fed Tavares, and watched John Tavares discard John Klingberg like last summer’s L.L. Bean catalog and beat Lehtonen. It was an embarrassing play for John Klingberg, who chose to stare at the puck and found himself staring at nothing as his man scored, but it was all started by Lindell just trying to defuse the pressure with a chip that would probably have turned the puck over anyway instead of making a better play. Lindell is great in the offensive zone, by the way. Tonight, the Stars were not in the offensive zone very often at all. That puck probably needs to be sent back around the net for Klingberg, but then again, we are talking about a rookie defenseman. It’s easy to forget that.
Stephen Johns gave a puck away to Josh Bailey that you can’t give away, but Kari came up huge. This was a night of Kari Lehtonen and the Dallas Stars showing what they are both capable of, but in very different ways.
Offensively, things were bad, which you might have already guessed, given the lack of offense. Tyler Seguin had five shots on goal tonight, and that’s not counting the post-destroying laser on the Stars’ final power play of the evening. Tyler Seguin may not be scoring, but you can’t say he isn’t trying, either. Thing about trying is that, while it’s great and all, it actually isn’t what matters at the end of the game. Seguin put two one-timers toward a rather vacated net late in the third, and both of them missed the goal mouth. If we can’t rely on Tyler Seguin’s one-timer anymore, what are we even doing here? (Note: this is what the second power play unit says every time they get on the ice this season.)
I didn’t like the Radek Faksa fight sticking up for Devin Shore, to be honest. I know hockey players are always trying to “get going” with things like that, but even the chance of the arbitrary enforcement of a player roughing up another for a clean hit should deter players from that nonsense. Still, I get it, and you can’t really blame the players for taking out their frustration on the other team. I mean, you can blame them, but why?
Finally, Jamie Benn is one soft Lundqvist five hole from the most dismal stretch I can remember in some time. From the double minor high sticking call that killed Dallas’s second power play to the initial Tavares breakaway to another play that created the Prince breakaway to missing the net completely on a brilliant Seguin feed at the end of the second, it became all-too-clear that things are terribly wrong. Jamie Benn is in a bad place right now. The team is in a bad place right now. Those two tend to go together for this team.
To be clear: I don’t see a coaching change happening before summer, but only because it probably wouldn’t save anything. This is absolutely the sort of stretch and absolutely the sort of play that can get coaches fired. I’m not saying it should, because again, even Mike Babcock can’t hold Seguin and Benn’s hands and help them hit the net there. Confidence is a tricky thing to get back when it’s been lost.
Lindy Ruff put Faksa on the second power play tonight in place of Eakin. He’s split up Seguin and Benn. He played Nemeth on the right side instead of moving Jordie Benn over, as he has done frequently in the past. Ruff is trying new things, but again, trying only does so much. Unfortunately for coaches, it is all they can ever do.