The Dallas Stars looked a little better in Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Wild, showing signs of a transition game and even picking up a little bit of offense in the crease against the stingy Wild defense.
But it wasn’t enough, as a bad break, a bad read and some bad tactics let the Wild get three goals against and continue to sink the Stars dim playoff hopes in a 3-1 loss.
While the Stars had the better of the play early in the first period, opening up an early 8-1 lead in shots, it was the Wild that opened the scoring on a power play drawn on an extremely soft goalie interference call on Curtis McKenzie. The Stars killed the first part of the penalty, but a lost faceoff by Jason Spezza and a hesitation from Radek Faksa allowed Ryan Suter to get off a rolling shot that beat Kari Lehtonen with 0.8 seconds left in the first.
It kind of summed up the Stars season. A bad break (the soft penalty call, where McKenzie tried to stop and was pushed into the goalie by the defense) led to a tactical breakdown and somewhat lucky goal against. With a puck rolling on its edge, it’s just as likely for Suter’s shot to go into the netting as it is just under the crossbar, and it’s nearly impossible to track those fluttering shots in flight.
Minnesota doubled their lead early in the second as their puck movement in transition cause confusion in the Stars defensive coverage, and John Klingberg never made his way over the open side to pick up Erik Haula on a centering feed.
Dallas cut the lead in half and got a break of its own in the third, when Cody Eakin found a rebound in the slot. The Wild challenged for goalie interference, and despite the soft definition early in the game, this goal was allowed to stand as Patrick Eaves’ meandering through the crease didn’t contact Darcy Kuemper during Eakin’s shot.
But what little hope there was was quickly dashed at 4-on-4 hockey, as Patrick Sharp and Jamie Oleksiak had a bad miscommunication at the blue line, and their double coverage allowed a 2-on-1 that Jared Spurgeon took advantage of.
Nino Niederreiter was kicked out of the game for a dirty, if somewhat inadvertent, hit on a non-puck-possessing Patrick Sharp in the final minutes, but the Stars were only afforded a two minutes of the major because of the game clock and did not pick up a goal.
Thoughts from my sofa:
- To start with that Niederreiter hit - it looked a ton worse live than it did on replay, where you can see that Niederreiter and Radek Faksa cross paths (who initiated what is a matter for debate) and clack legs, throwing Niederreiter off balance. As he spins, he takes himself into the path of Sharp and does lower his shoulder, flipping him up. The more I sit on it, the more I would still like to see a fine or one game off just to reiterate that you are responsible for your own positioning and can’t just take out players without the puck, but I would also understand the rationale if DoPS didn’t do anything. It’s a lot less of a malicious hit than it seemed at real speed.
- Along those lines, I joked during the game that Charlie Coyle’s goalie interference penalty, where he ran up the back of Kari Lehtonen behind the net, looked a lot like Cody Eakin’s hit on Henrik Lundqvist without the head sideswipe. Of course DoPS won’t care about it, but it does show how silly that suspension was and just how that play can occur without the large malicious intent they implied Eakin must have had.
- As for this game, Jamie Benn was extra cranky, culminating in an ill-advised cross-checking penalty that took away the potential power play from the Coyle goalie interference. He also was bumping Wild players on the way by and had a little stick work for the goalie. It’s nice to see him so invested, but he sometimes can let frustration get the better of him, so it’s a line he’ll have to walk carefully here at the end of this most frustrating of seasons.
- Perhaps the most interesting eye test result was the pairing of Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth, who played together with Stephen Johns out with an illness. Although they were somewhat sheltered, they looked quite competent together. Oleksiak was trying to channel Daryl Sydor’s style of play, and whatever you may think of that, it id help the Stars third and fourth lines maintain more offensive possession (and thus stay out of their own end). Nemeth had some really nice plays covering for Oleksiak when he was caught up ice or out of position cheating to offense. It is just one game and against a team that’s not particularly offensive-minded, but it was one both of them can build off of.
- John Klingberg, well, didn’t have as great of a night. He continues to struggle being the faster of the two players on his pairing because his defensive instincts aren’t great (and that’s fine - that’s not the type of player they expect him to be). Being the first back between him and Esa Lindell means he has to make the tough defensive plays. He made a great sliding block in the first period on an odd-man rush but struggled on other similar plays. It’s also just not the role you want him to be in to maximize what he brings to the table.
- Some of the Stars better players - Patrick Eaves and Jason Spezza - had great looks when the game was tied or close and just couldn’t put them away. It has to be more frustrating for them than it is for us as fans, and it’s enough to want to make you pull your hair out.
- For what to look forward too, well, Dave Strader is back on the broadcast for this five-game homestand. Let’s hope they give him and us some good memories to take to the bank.