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Game 40 Afterwords: Stars Still Hold Commanding Lead over Coyotes, Avs, No One Else

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This is not where this team was supposed to be after 40 games.

NHL: JAN 07 Stars at Blues Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A pretty good thermometer of the season is how frustrated fans get by inconsequential things. When the team is rolling, arguments tend to center around lower-line forwards, short special teams slumps, or how the team is structured for the future.

But when a good team is playing like an awful team—and make no mistake, that is what has been happening too often this season—you get fans who are rather enfuriated because still doesn’t have extended highlights packages up the morning after a game. However, we do have great video of a surly Lindy Ruff, if that’s your thing. (It is not my thing.)

In his postgame comments, Lindy Ruff once again focused on how the Stars missed opportunities to score more in this game, both early and late. Of particular note (because I didn’t see it at first blush) was how Jamie Oleksiak’s rebound chance early in the third was actually not saved by Carter Hutton, but was in fact saved by Jamie Oleksiak himself, who knocked the puck back from the goal after trying to poke it past a sprawled Carter Hutton’s glove.

Ruff’s mention of it was reminiscent of when he pointed out how Patrick Sharp failed to pot a rebound in the dying seconds of regulation against Montreal. And while Ruff also mentioned wanting to change momentum with the goalie swap, he also pointed out the bad line change (by Spezza and Korpikoski) that opened up space of Tarasenko.

Lindy Ruff’s comments are interesting because, well, he has to be exasperated more than most of us. His job is to have things go the opposite way than they have gone. That’s maddening. And as much as the Stars’ 5v5 play is trending upwards lately, and as much as their goaltending is at its best in three years, they’re still finding ways to lose games. You don’t wind up third-last in your conference without some creative haplessness.

Did I mention the Stars scored a 4v4 goal? All it took was John Klingberg strapping on a jet pack and casting a few spells (and getting a rather lucky bounce on a hampered shot), and suddenly Dallas had goals from Eaves, Korpikoski and Klingberg. Again, this is not where we expected most of the goals to be coming from this season. Tyler Seguin hasn’t missed a game, and he’s tied with a Civil War colonel at 14 goals, while Lauri Korpikoski is outscoring Jamie Benn at even-strength, and Devin Shore is keeping pace with Jason Spezza.

The Stars managed to once again surrender a couple of goals on the penalty kill, which is going to happen when your PK spends the season looking like an exterminator assigned to clear a house of roaches with nothing but a waffle iron and a sack of dead batteries.

Dallas lost the special teams battle, and they couldn’t score enough when they got chances. I agree with Erin in that Kari really didn’t do anything wrong on the goals surrendered, but if you want to establish a narrative for this game, you can talk about “that save” and junk. But personally, I’m more apt to cast aspersions towards the offense, which (apart from John Klingberg) couldn’t make Carter Hutton look like a backup goalie at all.

These games can’t be lost when you’re as far back as Dallas is. The Stars have played three backup goalies in a row now—they even got to miss Carey Price, for goodness’ sake—and they did not win those games. So as much as defensive structure hasn’t been all that great at times, you really have to explain to your team that they are five-putting on every hole at this point.

We’ve talked so, so much about the defense, and how it seems unfair to have Stephen Johns and Jamie Oleksiak on this sort of thin-ice yo-yo. And yeah, I’d love to see both of them in the lineup over some of the older guys at times, too. But if you’re Lindy Ruff after this game, what are you supposed to do? (I mean, aside from wipe the entire special teams’ units’ memories and start from scratch.) Jamie Oleksiak had a gift-wrapped rebound that he managed to defend out of the Blues’ net, while Jordie Benn had a stretch pass to Korpikoski to start the scoring. Esa Lindell botched a race to the puck to give up a goal, but do you really want to pull any sort of comfort blanket away from your best defenseman right now? And as much as folks bring up the whole “give the vets some rest” thing, that’s not how NHL players work. These guys are world-class athletes, and they take pride in going out there night after night. For a coach to healthy-scratch an Oduya or Hamhuis when they’re playing well would be a tough sell even if the team were rolling; and this team is doing anything but, right now.

The Stars had a successful homestand when they absolutely needed one, and now they just collected 1 of 6 points while their penalty kill tried to put out a bonfire with a wet piece of Kleenex. The penalty kill has killed only 2 of their last 8 penalties. So yeah, it’s a small sample size, but when you realize that Dallas is now 29th on the PK this season and has been passed up by Chicago, who was basically just intentionally-walking other team’s power plays for the first 20 games of the season, it’s tough not to say there is one big, overriding issue here.

In the past, Dallas has been an extremes team, one who could cover up for so-so areas with other elite ones. This season, the cruelest of ironies is that Dallas has finally been getting elite (or at least top-ten) goaltending everywhere except special teams, only to have every other facet of the team sit back and take a few months off.

I’d be fine with going back to outscoring the problems, personally.