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Game 72 Afterwords: Stars Win Game! (feat: Schlemko, Dillon, George)

The Stars’ fourth line scored, and Kari Lehtonen made sure no one else did.

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NHL: San Jose Sharks at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I went to the Vancouver game last week, but that’ll be its own post in a little bit, once I get a chance to do the experience justice. In the meantime, let’s talk about the hockey most recent, eh? (That was an affectation.)

So, the defensive pairing I noticed the most tonight was Brent Burns. The pairing I noticed the second-most was David Schlemko and Brenden Dillon, and only mostly because lol “Schlemko.” Also, do the Sharks have a better third pairing than Dallas thanks to two Dallas cast-offs? It’s quite possible that this is the case, and friend-of-the-site Dillon in particular was firing pucks at the net with reckless abandon (when he wasn’t being stripped of the puck by Ales Hemsky, that is).

A 1-0 game is always interesting in its own way, but I couldn’t help but sigh at the final score. Last year, the Stars were stuffing the opposing team’s empty-net like a frantic baker making jelly donuts for the morning rush. They led the NHL with an otherworldly 24(!) empty-net goals, whereas this year’s team has only 10 through 72 games. On its face, that’s not remarkable—a team that wins more (50 wins last year) will have more opportunities to score into the empty cage, after all. However, that was still essentially a goal in every other win, last season. This year, the Stars have only 10 ENG in 29 wins. Even when they’ve won this year, it has rarely been decisive.

By the way, Cody Eakin’s one-timer is still his best asset, and it was on display tonight, albeit while being foiled by Aaron Dell. I hope the Eakin/Hemsky line combo never disappears, because that is some juicy contrast in styles of play, right there. There were many representative moments of their disparate styles present in this game, but their respective empty-net looks were priceless: Hemsky ended up losing the puck back to Jamie Benn after dawdling along the blue line looking for a pass for a bit too long, while Cody Eakin shortly thereafter fired a long shot right on net, only to see Brent Burns, of all people, foil his bid for his first point in 12 games. It’s been that kind of season for Eakin (and that kind of career, in many fans’ minds, for Hemsky).

I wish for good things for both of those players, but since Eakin tends to get plenty of old-school love for his perceived defensive aptitude, you’ll forgive me if I try to extol Hemsky a bit disproportionately for the sake of balance. (There may be some fertile ground for psychoanalysis in there, but let’s plumb other depths for now.)

Or, let’s not. That Ales Hemsky breakout of the defensive zone that led to an off-side pass was reminiscent of last year’s sassy transition game. It’s tough, watching such a simple game as this one. I want to see Dallas busting up the ice with possession, passing their way into scoring chances with regularity. Instead, this is a Neutered Dallas Offense that has chosen safety over crafty—out of necessity, perhaps, but with little to show for it. Maybe Eakin has suffered as much as anyone, as his brand of play is a lot less valued by casual fans when there are fewer leads to defend in the first place. I am just theorizing (albeit not in advance of the facts).

Esa Lindell is really starting to show his rookie-ness on the top pairing, which is to say he has been showing it for a while. His propensity to throw the puck out of the zone is, to put it gently, hampering the Stars’ offense, as it means that John Klingberg is skating south without the puck a lot more often than he is skating north with it (collectively). One hopes that the new coaching regime will decide that having “abysmal possession stats” is grounds for re-evaluating the 23-3 pairing, but who knows?

Stephen Johns did not play hockey in this game, which puts him behind Greg, a dog, and Jiri Hudler in terms of ice time tonight. That is tough to do, is getting less ice than Greg, a dog, and Jiri Hudler. If Stephen Johns is exposed and taken in the expansion draft, I will calmly write a 4,000 word angry post in silver Sharpie on the back of a bunch of Corn Pops boxes taped together and ship them all to Jim Nill with a signature confirmation required.

Jamie Oleksiak had an iffy game, often displaying personal responsibility (tying up his man way up along the wall before the chance resulting in the 1st-period Kari toe-save, for instance) while not quite managing to really push play. Of course, given the Stars’ defensive lineup, he was still probably their second-best puck-mover. This is not an endorsement.

What is an endorsement is Adam Cracknell for the Dallas Stars, because Cracknell and Antoine Roussel are, for my money, the two bright spots of this season. Cracknell still manages to make smart plays in his limited ice time, and tonight’s puck-possession leading up to the sweet shot for McKenzie’s tip was a classic example. It’s great to see a good story about a nice guy, especially the one who controls the post-game locker room tunes. I hope it was Phil Collins tonight, because he is the best musician.

The Aaron Dell glove save on Ritchie was fantastic, full stop. Ritchie will pile up points over the course of a season, but it’s still hazy whether that will be in Dallas or Vegas. Personally, I’d bet on Ritchie, given his cost-controlled years remaining. You can’t lose those sorts of players for nothing if you can help it.

Kari was great, but you probably think that’s because the pressure was off or something. I’m just choosing to be grateful for a win and good goaltending. If beggars can’t be choosers, then Stars fans have to offer a burnt sacrifice to one of those fake Star Wars deities every time they get a shutout. (Maybe burn your boring old old black jerseys. Just a suggestion.)

And by the way, let’s all thank Razor for pointing out that Jiri Hudler sticks are stamped with “George.” He may be doing the PxP duty right now, but this is as colorful as color commentary gets, and I love that stuff. Please send Razor and Strader a thank-you card for enduring this season with us.