You may not have known the name Oliver Bjorkstrand before Tuesday, but he made sure Stars fans won’t soon forget it. The third-line forward for Columbus caught Dallas on the jaw with two quick punches, and the Stars couldn’t gather themselves to retaliate before the final bell.
That said, Bjorkstrand has eight goals on the season, which would tie him with Mattias Janmark for 5th on the Stars. This isn’t some rando from what still feels like an expansion team (despite the last year and a half of very solid hockey) who beat the Stars’ shiny new goalie twice with two chances that shouldn’t have happened, or gone in. It was someone who, by Stars’ standards, it a top goal-scorer. And he looked like it.
After the first goal, of course, Stephen Johns was furious. One camera caught him pounding his fist against the top of the bench kind of like I do right after I’ve spilled an entire bowl of cereal on myself at the end of a work day (or, probably more relatably for most of you folks, like Chewie on the dashboard of the Falcon). That whole sequence was brutal, cruel, and unseemly. The Stars were playing a “chessy” (as the broadcast aptly put it) game for two periods, got their lead, and then lost it on a couple of really dumb events.
I mean, really, how stupid is this?
Sure, in retrospect, Johns probably should have kept skating back and swatted at the puck with his free hand. But how many times do you think he’s done this play, caught the puck, and everything’s been fine? Like, almost all of the times? I am guessing almost all of the times. It was a horrible break, but somehow the Stars, this year, have found ways to get burned in really dumb ways. It’s what happens when your team doesn’t score a lot of goals: stupid things turn the tide a lot more easily. Stephen Johns in particular seems to get the short end of things like this, as you might recall from his ill-timed delay of game penalty last year that saw Lindy Ruff bench him for a good while thereafter.
In fact, the worst part of this whole night wasn’t that Johns was on the ice for both goals against (though he had nothing to do with goal #2), but the fact that Johns had a gorgeous one-timer labeled for the top corner stopped by the shaft of Bobrovsky’s stick just a few moments before the Stars lost the lead. I’m telling you, someone in the Fate Department did not like Stephen Johns. That went from a sterling game for him to an absolute dud of duds in a hurry.
As for the second goal:
Yeah, uh, it’s not a great turnover in the offensive zone, but whatever. Goals from that angle should not go in on the world’s tallest goalie, full stop. Had Kari Lehtonen allowed this goal, there would have been no end of people calling for Nill to waive him, trade, him, demote him, or re-assign him before the stroke of midnight.
Instead? It’s the Stars’ new franchise goalie, age 31, in the first year of his contract, letting a late lead evaporate on home ice while Officer Bob outduels a Stars netminder for the 74th time in a row or whatever. That’s disquieting, and it should be. Can you imagine how awful it would have felt to lose a playoff game like this? I don’t even want to think about that, especially because it means having to watch John Tortorella for a seven-game series. No one deserves that. (Though, I guess it would mean Dallas is in the Final, so that’s something.)
It’s only one game of course, and the Stars have been racking* up the points lately, as you know; but if Minnesota, Colorado(!) and Chicago all win their games in hand, the Stars are right back outside the playoff picture, tout de suite.
*well, if 5-3-2 in their last 10 games counts as “racking up,” that is
This season, folks. Like many games, the Stars seem content to chug along, hoping to gradually climb up the leaderboard. They’ve had a good run lately, but it’s only barely been enough to put them into the first wild card spot (by one point above Anaheim). Things could unravel fast if this January looks like all too many prior Dallas Januaries. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to this: Will Dallas find a way to win 1-0 games and the like, as Ken Hitchcock so badly wants them to do? Or will their scoring deficiencies continue to leave teams in the hunt just long enough for chance to have her fickle say?
I’m bloviating, I know. We’ve said so much of this before, and this one game doesn’t validate or invalidate any of it. I think I really just resent having to watch this slog-fest, without a single Stars power play (yeah, they deserved a couple, but clearly the officials wanted to stay out of things tonight, and this Stars team just cannot force the issue anymore), only to have the rug pulled out from under me so quickly. As fans, it feels like we deserve something for putting up with a low-event, not to say boring, hockey game. Tonight, we got a huge ol’ lump o’ whatsit in our 2018 stockings, and it smelled a little too much like 2017.
The Stars aren’t as good as they looked against San Jose, and they’re not as bad as they probably felt themselves to be at the final horn Tuesday. But we’re all still waiting for them to definitively tell us something more than that they’re just one of these middling teams, hanging out at the fringes of the playoffs. Tonight, they said nothing.
Devin Shore has two goals in two games, which is good. I’m not sure either goal really smacks of “oh wow, look out for Goals McGoalerson over here” just yet, but hey, you take what you can get with these Stars. (And Mattias Janmark and Alex Radulov really could have capitalized a bit more tonight on some glorious chances, let it be said.) A team determined to play Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn for a third of the game against Artemi Panarin’s line just isn’t going to be scoring a ton of goals. no matter how you slice it. That’s a punt, albeit a strategic one.
Finally: John Klingberg tried to do everything short of loading the t-shirt cannon tonight, and he once again showed just how lucky the Stars are to have him. A fifth-round pick has effectively become the entirety of the Stars’ offense in terms of the blue line. If the Stars make the playoffs this year, John Klingberg will be the number one reason why.