On the night set aside to honor Jere Lehtinen, the Stars on the ice had one of their most un-Lehtinen games of the year. It was fun, or dishonoring, or full of despair, or encouaraging, or sloppy, or exciting, or just perfectly cromulent. Things happened, is what we are saying, and the big sorts of things. This was like that crazy 7-5 game in 2014 against the Islanders in Nassau, except Dallas won this one. On the whole, I prefer this variety, even if it means the boys have to demoralize Glen Gulutzan a bit. Them’s the breaks, though. Not even Jagr could help Gulutzan outcoach a couple of bad Calgary turnovers tonight.
So, how did Dallas do it? Well, here’s a nice little overview:
We’ll come back to this monstrosity, but first: the Stars once again went dry on the power play. They are now in an official funk, enmired in a 1-for-20 streak on the man-advantage. That looked unlikely to continue tonight until a couple of absurd Mike Smith saves (what did Turco feed him for breakfast?!) off his block and stick shaft. Then it looked downright endangered when the Stars got 90 seconds of 5-on-3 time after Travis Hamonic continued his struggles this season, launching a souvenir at the worst of times for his team on the penalty kill.
Unfortunately for Dallas, they never got more than one sustained bit of pressure on the 5-on-3, as another couple of Smith stops and an Alexander Radulov fumble on a glorious Jason Spezza cross-crease pass (was Radulov’s hand still a bit sore from taking a puck a few minutes prior?) led to naught. I’m not ready to pull the five-on-three fire alarm yet, but I’m also not loving the regression the Stars are seeing on the power play, so my hand inched a little closer to the “BREAK GLASS WITH THIS” hammer tonight.
And when your penalty kill continues its promiscuous play, it makes things even tougher for your squad. Yes, the Flames’ power play goal came after a rather iffy call on Antoine Roussel for goalie interference. And yes, Mike Smith flopped a fair bit, as he has been known to do. But you can’t really complain about penalty calls too much when your team isn’t taking advantage of the chances they do get. The Stars got a few of them tonight.
Both goalies were a tad messy, with some rebounds off Ben Bishop we’re not used to seeing matched by a few close calls by Smith at the other end. But Bishop had a couple of stops when the Stars needed them, and the Stars got some timely scoring from their bottom six tonight. *exhales* Okay, now that we got the stock phrases out of the way, let’s proceed to the guts of the thing.
Martin Hanzal didn’t get an assist on Gemel Smith’s goal, but at this point, just having him see pucks go in the opposing net while he’s on the ice has to be helpful for his psyche. The Stars don’t need him to score 20 goals, but they do need his line to create offense of some sort, however they do it. After a gut-wrenching goal to put the Stars behind 4-3, Hanzal laid a hit on his man, then Brett Ritchie collected the loose pill and fed it out front. Gemel Smith used his above-average hands to get it past the Other Smith, and that felt like the goal of the game, in a lot of ways. Of course, when you keep coming back from 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3 leads, every single tying goal feels like a momentous occasion.
And this almost leaves out Antoine Roussel’s good work to cap his line’s latest bit of hard-won reward, but there’s more under the surface here. Hanzal’s line was, tonight, a definitive 4th line, as Roussel, Faksa and Pitlick were solidly above Hanzal, Ritchie and Smith in ice time. Each line tallied a goal, but the minutes speak for themselves, even if that’s a bit of an indictment on the Hanzal signing to date. Is the distribution of three or four extra minutes among the bottom six forwards that important? Probably not, but it sure feels like it is when the Hanzal line isn’t generating offense. It’s nice when goals are flowing, and the Stars got goals from every line tonight. That’s good. It is not common.
Yes, there were many, many goals. And, as you can see from that chart up there, Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn were on the ice for roughly 4,250% of them. I don’t even know what to say about that, other than “it was a crazy game.” Hamhuis had his pocket picked early for an embarrassing goal, and I’m not sure if Bishop or Pateryn ever said a word about it. Communication is important, and you’d like your team to help you out, but it was a quick play, and Hamhuis needed to be better there. In that vein, Pateryn’s questionable coverage to allow the Most Dangerous Pass to Sean Monahan on the rush smacked of less-than-ideal defensive fortitude. All told, both of the Stars’ steadier defensive defensemen in the last dozen games or so had a more eventful night than either would like, even if it did ultimately result in a “+1” night for the pairing on the scoresheet. This is why plus/minus is a marginal statistic at best.
John Klingberg, meanwhile, played almost half the game (27+ minutes) and looked confident, dropping a couple of toe drags on Calgary and nearly setting up a couple of glorious goals. Chances are a many-splendored thing, however, and Klingberg’s pairing also saw its own share of “Thanks, Ben” moments. It’s always nice to see your friends performing well at their jobs. Klingberg and Esa Lindell were called upon to do a whole lot of everything tonight, and they weathered the storm. It’s hard to know if Hitchcock would really throw that pairing away in a month or two when Marc Methot returns, but it’s best not to bother speculating until we have more data, I suppose.
The broadcast was fairly up front about the fact that it was Tyler Seguin who was questionable for last game, necessitating the transaction to bring Curtis McKenzie up for warmups (though Honka stayed in Dallas even though he was “sent down”), and so to see Seguin come out and score two big goals and an empty-netter while still (presumably) recovering from said ailment is pretty gutty and all that. All else aside, it’s been wonderful to see Tyler Seguin find another layer in his game, even if it’s just been the coach allowing him to kill penalties and stay at center. As much as the fanbase is right to be concerned about whether Seguin will re-sign if the Stars have a rough season this year, there’s probably some good will that comes from issuing a challenge to a player and seeing him rise to meet it. I mean, I still secretly want to see 50-goal Tyler firing one-timers on the power play forever, don’t get me wrong; it’s just cool to see a player get some new opportunities and run with them.
Besides, Seguin has 12 goals in 23 games, so it’s not exactly like he’s not scoring anymore. Here is where I really, really want to throw out some small sample size stats about how Seguin has been great since being given offensively talented linemates again (and Spezza has been better as well), but it’s a bit early in that phase to toot any horns. Besides, coaches tend to juggle lines again the minute things get rough, so it’s best not to set our hearts on anything just yet. Still, the metamorphosis might be contagious; Jason Spezza blocked a Calgary blast that stung him, and John Klingberg took a big hit in an effort to get into the low slot, and that turned into a Shore shot and a Radulov rebound goal. The Stars are willing to do the greasy things, you know.
(ASIDE: Uh, this isn’t really good journalism or whatever, but I just feel like admitting that I had five different Grease allusions in this piece earlier, and then I took them all out because I wanted to save them for a “greasier” sort of win later in the season. I might forget by the time that happens though, so I guess, you’re welcome? I suppose I’m more of a beauty school dropout than a serious journalist when it comes right down to it.)
Stephen Johns was having a good game beside Julius Honka (who had some good and some bad in his night) until Johns hit a groove or something near the bench and fell awkwardly into the boards, rapping the back of his head against them. It was a scary fall, and with Johns’s concussion earlier this year, it was probably a good thing the team played it safe. Here’s hoping he’s back to 100% soon. That Johns-Honka patrol on the second power play was intriguing, and I would not mind exploring their mutual potential for one-timers a bit more, should the opportunity arise.
In the interim though, the Stars are going to have to decide what to do with Jamie Oleksiak and Julius Honka. After Johns left the game with 13:18 remaining in the 2nd period, I expected Honka to get a few more minutes than he had thus far, but that didn’t happen. Honka ended the night with just over 11 minutes, as Hitch heavily leaned on his other two pairings. That’s not altogether surprising, but given that the Stars’coaches seem to have trust issues with Jamie Oleksiak, it’s tough to read the tea leaves on this one. Prior usage would suggest that Dallas would roll with the same top four and Oleksiak-Honka on the third pairing, but can those top four really continue to absorb heavy minutes while Hitch shelters a third pair with two players he doesn’t seem to trust all that much? The top pair might just be able to play 25 a night, but it’s fairly rational to have doubts that Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn can shut down elite teams and move the puck up the ice consistently for 19 minutes or more every night.
There’s also this quote from Hitch after tonight’s game, so read into it what you will:
“[Honka] was okay. Tough go because he comes in the game playing with a right shot on the left side. Which means you’re not passing the puck to a person in an area, you’re actually spending the whole game passing the puck to a person behind him. It was difficult transition at times. There was a little bit of hesitation, not his fault, but I thought he was okay. The way the league is right now we are going to have to find more mobility back there. Whether it is by moving the puck quicker or by skating more. For us to get to another level we will have to look at playing him a little bit.”
As always, there’s no reason to get worked up about coach speak—and besides, what player wouldn’t want to be someone “we have to look at playing a little bit”? Dreams do come true, kids!—but I can’t help but wonder what the end game is here. Maybe you’ll be able to solve it, you smart hockey detective of a reader, you.
In any case, the Stars are now headed to Vegas, so I’d highly recommend that you relish this win. The Stars are going on the road to Vegas, which means they are not at home, so again, I’d recommend that you really enjoy this win. One never knows, of course. Maybe this time, the house won’t win. Maybe this time. Maybe.