When anything that can go wrong goes wrong, you can either develop a martyr complex or just shake your head. Today, the Stars chose the latter. They surrendered five even-strength goals, couldn’t generate consistent scoring chances, and decided to give up an ugly goal on the PK to boot. It is nice to know some things don’t change, right away.
Stars/Bruins has been a fun bill for a while, if not always for positive reasons. From the debacle with Ott and S*** A**** to the Tyler Seguin hat trick, there’s always been a fun little thread running through this otherwise inconsequential East/West matchup. So it was fitting that Jamie Benn fought David Backes off the opening draw, reminding us all that these two players do not care for each other.
I assume Benn would say that he was trying to get his team going in an early game, but the only ones who benefited from the fight were the Bruins, who scored two goals in quick succession that Kari Lehtonen had no chance on. If I were a cynical, data-driven person, I would say that fights have no discernible effect on a team’s play, and that it was kind of a selfish move by Benn. However, I am not saying that, explicitly.
Johnny Oduya also returned to the lineup, but again, it’s hard not to be cynical about his presence, given that it is almost surely just to give him some trade value. It’s hard not to be cynical about a lot of things, this year.
As for the goals, they were pretty, for one team. Cody Eakin and Stephen Johns were quite easily circumvented as they camped by the net, and a tic-tac-toe pass to the back door left you wondering whom exactly these two Stars were covering, because it certainly didn’t appear to have been any of the three Bruins who moved the puck there.
Then, right afterwards, a silky tip from David Krejci (who wasn’t quite tied up enough by Jordie Benn) thoroughly beat Kari Lehtonen, who again, really didn’t have a prayer on it. I am sure many folks blamed him for the goal anyway. Reputations aren’t always fair, but they aren’t always undeserved, either.
Late in the first, Tyler Seguin moved up to Jamie Benn’s line in place of Cody Eakin, which is probably a pretty good strategy when you are trailing by two goals and have generated about -2 scoring chances in the entire game. But lest you think this a new approach by the coach, the start of the second period saw your same “top line” as usual, which is to say Brett Ritchie and Cody Eakin playing with Jamie Benn.
John Klingberg would cut the lead in half off a Devin Shore faceoff win (much to Razor’s delight), and it might well have been the Stars’ first legitimate scoring chance of the game—and only that because Rask was totally screened, as it wasn’t the most inherently lethal of shots you’re likely to see. Still, 10 goals for John Klingberg is a reason for happiness.
After a rather iffy penalty call on Torey Krug, I was genuinely thrilled to see Jiri Hudler score a power play goal to tie things up. I’ve said it a lot, but Hudler was a great value signing when he was acquired, and then things went to Suck City in a hurry, both in health and in misfortune. If there’s anyone on the Stars who deserves a little bump of goodness down the stretch, it is Ales Hemsky. I mean Hudler. Also, Hudler was totally off-balance when he shot, and it looked super goofy. Gotta love goofy.
Still, as nice as that moment was, these are still the Dallas Stars, and you know this tune. Frank Vatrano was all alone in the slot, and he was able to put a wonderful knee-height tip on a point shot that went over Lehtonen’s shoulder. Razor commented that Kari “made himself small,” but I’m not sure what else he’s supposed to do there. If you’re not in the butterfly, you leave tons of space down low for a tip to get by. It’s a percentage play for any goalie, and it’s hardly Kari’s fault that the Stars’ defensive zone coverage in this game had a wee bit too many peach Schnapps the night before.
And just to make sure you knew this was the same team we’ve known, a fourth goal was instantly piled on as Jordie Benn couldn’t quite tie up Patrice Bergeron’s stick on the doorstep, and a perfect tip again made Kari look worse than he probably deserved to.
Conversely, Tukka Rask looked much better than you’d have expect at the other end, making an absurd diving post-to-post save on Patrick Sharp late in the second period. Coming right after Seguin missed a gaping net wide on a Sharp feed moments before, the save was crippling.
Honestly, the Stars just looked slow and indecisive for far too much of this game. Boston’s defensive system was much better, and the Stars were constantly under forechecking duress in their own zone. When you have a good, structured team playing a scrambly mess of a team in the midst of a garage sale, you give up four even-strength goals in two periods. It’s just science.
When I think of Jason Spezza’s struggles this season, I can’t help but also think of lines like today’s, wherein Spezza was playing on Faksa’s wing opposite Lauri Korpikoski. No offense to either of those fellows—and Korpikoski had some good moments today--but that’s trying to squeeze blood from a stone. While Spezza hasn’t exactly earned top-line ice time with his play this season, we certainly know that scoring production isn’t a foundational prerequisite for Ruff’s top line, so go figure. What a horrible loss of a season this has been.
The Bruins’ first power play of the game came after a Seguin-Mckenzie-Sharp(?) line couldn’t get the puck out of their half of the ice, and so McKenzie found himself in the box again, but this time without anyone to shout at. I didn’t mention that McKenzie had a fight earlier in the game, and that is because it really was not worth mentioning.
Did you see John Klingberg generate a gorgeous shot after threading his way up the slot? did you see Patrice Bergeron beat Cody Eakin to the other end of the ice and score a goal immediately afterwards? Well, that’s what happened, and man, do the Stars give up five goals to Boston like every other game, because it sure feels like it.
Two things were interesting to me after the fifth Boston goal. First, that Antti Niemi wasn’t brought in just to get some work. We all know he has lost the faith of Ruff at this point, but it’s weird to see the team riding Kari Lehtonen like this. You’d think, if anything, that they’d want to spell Kari if they’re still pretending to be “in it.” And the second thing was that the lines were mixed up, but not in the way you’d think. Jason Spezza was moved up to the right wing of the Benn-Eakin line, while Seguin remained down below. Even with the last change at home, Lindy Ruff chose not to load up a line with offense with the Stars trailing. Again, I just can’t understand what Benn and Seguin did together to make Ruff so hesitant to reunite them for any extended stretch. That said, line combinations are just a nice point to locate criticism, as you’d still hope the players could make something of themselves regardless of which NHL-caliber mates they’re out there with.
Certainly Tyler Seguin has still been able to score this season, anyhow, though the fact that his goal to cut the lead to 5-3 came with Sharp and Benn out there isn’t great evidence of linemate irrelevance. Still, Seguin goals against Boston are worth double in my book, so that’s something.
The Stars’ penalty kill is also something, as a Stephen Johns delay of game penalty (look for Johns to play again next season) led to an all-out assault, and even a fabulous Kari Lehtonen save on Pastrnak couldn’t stem the overwhelming tide, as Ryan Spooner eventually got a dunk in front of the net. Special teams and overtime are my personal top culprits for the Stars’ failures this season, by the way. The stars have allowed 60+ goals on the PK or in overtime this season. That seems suboptimal.
All in all, this game was exactly what it should have been, given the teams playing. The Bruins are fighting for their playoff lives, and the Stars have been a mess for most of the season. That played out the way it ought to, today. It wasn’t very enjoyable, at least there weren’t too many Stars fans there who had to endure it. Be thankful for the little things.