In what is a pretty apt summary of the season thus far, the Dallas Stars got off to a slow start, kept trying and trying to keep things under control and yet couldn’t quite turn things around even though the underlying numbers looked promising in their late 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday to start off a three-game road trip.
The Stars opened the scoring after a great Jordie Benn breakout pass got Lauri Korpikoski in behind the Blues defense, but it was the Blues who really owned the game in the first period. They tied it up when Paul Stastny got to a weird bounce off the end boards first, beating Esa Lindell in a foot race to tie the game.
While the first goal was flukey, the second goal stemmed from a very poor dump-in attempt from Lindell, who trapped his forwards up-ice with a failed dump-in and forced Cody Eakin to take a hooking penalty to quash a dangerous 2-on-1. Vladimir Tarasenko got loose during a zone entry on the ensuing power play to put the Blues up heading into intermission.
The second period started out on a brighter note for Dallas as they got an early power play and were able to capitalize when Patrick Eaves found a rebound of a possible Eakin tip just in front of the net and quickly put it near post.
While there were a few other good calls in the period (the hook on Johnny Oduya as he yanked around an open Tarasenko comes to mind), it was a relatively weak one that gave the Blues the lead back, as John Klingberg was called for interference on the boards and Stastny got a tip from a wide-open Alex Steen point shot.
That goal, while it was a corner picker, chased Lehtonen from the game with about eight minutes gone in the second. None of the goals were really his fault - a weird bounce that became a defacto breakaway after his defense got beat, Tarasenko in the slot and a tip from an open point shot, but the Stars needed to change momentum as they only had nine shots to their credit at that point, about halfway through the game.
The move seemed to invigorate Dallas a bit, as they nearly doubled their shot total for the game in the next 10 minutes and tied it up on a beauty of an individual effort from John Klingberg, who kept a puck in at the blue line then worked the rolling puck through two defenders before squeaking it through Carter Hutton.
Dallas was the better team for much of the third period, though it is notable they couldn’t do anything with their power play attempt, but the Blues were the ones to finally break the tie when the overloaded the zone low and pulled all the Stars down, then took advantage of the resulting confusion for a quick one-timer from Patrik Berglund with just under two minutes left.
Notes from my sofa:
- I started off this game incredibly frustrated with Esa Lindell, who should never in a million years get outhustled like he did on the Blues tying goal, nor should he try to force the dump-in/turnover when he knows forwards are caught for the goal that gave the Blues the lead. But he also had bright spots in this one, including a great defensive play on a potential breakaway in the second and some good instincts in the offensive zone in the third. It’s an inexperience issue as much as anything, but when no one else on the defense save a couple middle pairing guys have played up to individual expectations, having to feature inexperience in big-minute roles ends up being a net negative most nights.
- On a more positive note, John Klingberg continues to look more like himself. The typing goal late in the second was extremely high caliber, and he had a few other plays late in the game as the Stars tried to find third period offense. January is a bit late in the season to get going, but given he’s tagged as the lynchpin for the next half-dozen seasons, it’s good to see him get back to himself.
- As in any game where the goalie gets pulled, there will be questions about whether or not Kari Lehtonen cost the Stars the opportunity to win. As I wrote above, I don’t really think that’s the case. None of the goals against stuck out as particularly problematic on a goaltending level, and the move really did seem to be to try and get the team in front of him going. Dallas had nine shots on goal with Lehtonen in net and 16 for Niemi. That’s a pretty significant response.
- As much as I think defense decided this game (the Blues had two goals directly from point shots while the Stars had noticable defensive errors lead to the first, second and fouth goals against), it’s worth noting that with Jamie Benn out with a foot injury, the Stars other high-talent, high-dollar forwards have been very quiet. That’s something the team can’t afford with their straw that stirs the drink sidelined.