After a winning streak where things went right for the Stars often enough to keep moving forward, the Avalanche reminded them that the shoe does occasionally find itself on the other foot.
Semyon Varlamov was good when the Stars did their best Carolina impression in the final period, just like Ben Bishop was good against the Hurricanes the other night when they brought the house. The Canes hit the crossbar Saturday, and the Stars did that in the 3rd in Colorado, too. It was great when the Stars benefited from it, but it’s not so fun to be reminded that occasionally, your best isn’t good enough.
The Stars as a whole may not have brought their best tonight, either. The power play couldn’t find any rhythm (this is a kind way of putting it) on a double-minor, their only real power play of the game. Julius Honka had a forgettable night, as a turnover and a weak play in front of his net led to a goal, and Ben Bishop also had a poor play behind his net that led to a puck in said net. The penalty kill kept this game close, but that’s about as much as you can say.
Let me just get out in front of the Kari Lehtonen angle and—*checks the internet*—okay, well, too late. Still, if you watched this game and blamed Kari, you’re just supporting your own narrative. No, Lehtonen is not the Stars’ better goalie, and he may not even be a good one anymore. But that was a perfectly rotten bounce to Mark Barberio (*note to self: hire private investigator to find out if this guy is just another David Schlemko with a new haircut, a la The Prestige) and, well, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem fair somehow for Lehtonen to be on the hook for a debacle like this, is all I’m saying. He got over, he was square. It was a perfect one-timer setup by the end boards, and Barberio went full Babar-strength on the shot. It’s just not fair. Lehtonen was there, out to challenge the shot, but he wasn’t totally set (and how could you be, after that bounce behind you?) and the five-hole wasn’t quite closed. It’s just not fair.
It was a little odd that Ken Hitchcock pulled Ben Bishop when he did. Instead of doing it right after the third goal against (the aforementioned Honka misplay), Hitch waited until the TV timeout at the 13:38 mark to put Kari Lehtonen into the game. Looking back on it, that does seem like it was intended not to reflect direclty upon Bishop. Per the beat writers, Bishop was, erm, not pleased with the decision, as you have surely heard. It was surprising (though perhaps very little is ever surprising with Hitch) that Bishop didn’t get an explanation from Hitchcock clarifying that it was purely to give the team a wakeup call (and by the way, you should read Mike Heika’s great piece on the decision to pull Bishop and the goaltender’s ensuing comments), but then again, it’s the coach’s prerogative, and once it became clear that Bishop wasn’t injured, the old “wakey wakey, boys” hook seemed like a logical conclusion. It sort of worked, in that Colorado mirrored the Dallas Turtle from the other night. It did not work in the more important sense, which is winning.
Stephen Johns was knocked out of the game by Matt Duchene, and the team said he showed symptoms of a concussion. This is a miserable fate for anyone, but especially so for Johns, as it really did seem like he was just getting his game going, and now he’s been injured (on a hit that really could have been more than a two-minute minor, if the contact-to-the-head rules were more rigidly enforced). It didn’t seem like a dirty hit, per se, but I’m pretty sure Ryan Garbutt will have a hearing tomorrow with Player Safety just for having watched that hit on his phone over breakfast. Prior history, you know.
Alex Radulov, by the way, did not have his best game either, taking the Stars right back off the power play from the Duchene hit. One would really hope that he can find a way to contribute in games like these, but this game felt a bit too much like Benn, Seguin and Klingberg vs. the world. That’s a great group of three guys, and we love them all so very much, but the numbers aren’t really in your favor there (even against Colorado).
All told, this was easily the most head-hit-wall-and-repeat game of the young season. I suppose we should be grateful that Cody McCleod wasn’t out there trying to clock people on top of everything else, but for a Stars team that had finally built some good confidence, this game sure felt like a punch in the mouth all the same.
Yes, the officials seemed to miss some calls later on. Yes, the Stars would have loved to get a couple of power plays in their Score Effects Bonanza third period like the Hurricanes got, but you can’t count on the officials to do the work for you. And, given how the Avs’ PK was handling the Stars’ man-advantage, I’m not sure how much of a help another power play or two would have been.
Brett Ritchie scored, which is necessary. He got himself some good time up with Benn and Seguin and made the most of it, which is what the Stars’ secondary scorers need to be doing when they’re not playing on that line, too. I mean, the Avs got a hat trick from Matt Nieto, who scored seven goals last year. The Stars needed someone else to step up, and Semyon Varlamov kept pushing them back down.
Jason Spezza played 11:33 tonight, which is not ideal for anyone. The lines got juggled early, which meant that Radulov was playing with Mattias Janmark and Devin Shore, so Jason Spezza spent his night with Martin Hanzal and Remi Elie. That line does not appear to be very effective, to continue our kind streak of the night. Again, when we said this game felt like Benn, Seguin and Klingberg by themselves, we were not being all that hyperbolic. Yes, Spezza is not surrounded with talent. The Stars know what Spezza is; there is reason Hitch is sticking him on Hanzal’s right wing, but I’m not sure what that reason is yet.
A sobering moment for me came in the final minute of the game, when the Stars had what amounted to their final faceoff in the Avalanche end, trailing by a goal. They had Klingberg, Radulov, Seguin, Benn, Janmark and Hanzal on the ice. Jason Spezza was not there. This would have been unthinkable in the last couple of seasons when Spezza, Benn, Seguin and Klingberg were as dynamic a force as you were going to see from night to night. Maybe Hitch just wanted Hanzal’s work on the doorstep and Janmark’s energy and skating at that point, but for my part, I’ll say it again: I don’t know how Jason Spezza can help this team if the coaches don’t see him as a top-five scoring threat. It will be something to keep an eye on.
The nice thing about road games is that you expect to lose more of them, relatively speaking. I’m beginning to wonder if the Stars are really expecting to lose in Colorado nowadays, because woof, it sure feels like an inevitability out there in Pepsi Center lately. Maybe that’s the way you look at this. Shake your head, give a grim chuckle, and move on. The only problem is that Connor McDavid is waiting for you in your next game, and you maybe don’t want to show up with the same effort in that team’s barn, given how frustrated that squad is.
After nights like this, you know Jamie Benn has to be pretty displeased. As Hitch said in the postgame presser, the team is essentially asking a couple of guys to do everything. We’ve had glimpses of offense from other corners (and the Faksa line is still something to be positive about), but I’d be hard-pressed to say that we’ll see these same 12 forwards in this same configuration on Thursday. Games in Edmonton, even in a new barn, can easily get crazy. If the Stars show up to the next game on this road trip hoping for a different result, they might want to try a different plan. The defense will probably be jumbled regardless of how Johns’ health shakes out, though. You don’t surrender four goals to this team, in this fashion, and get away with a mulligan.
Finally, and I say this with full sobriety of heart and mind, they haven’t tried bribing the county clerk’s office to get Pepsi Center condemned and demolished, have they? That might be a good tactic. Gotta have some surprises in your old bag o’ tricks, hockey coaches. Hey, goodness knows Patrick Roy already did enough damage to the partition between the benches during his time there. Might as well start from scratch and just rebuild the whole danged building.