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Afterwords: Stars Win Moral Victory in Dominant Second Period, Lose Actual Game in Third

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The Dallas Stars now have a negative goal differential to go with a losing record

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

That was an uncharacteristically pitiful last push by Dallas in the final few minutes, eh?

***

The depth scoring showed up, if one goal counts. The team held Minnesota to two goals, which should be good enough to get at least a point in this league against mediocre teams. The penalty kill was perfect. Ben Bishop was really good.

But when your team is having a night like Dallas did on Friday, you can have all of those things clicking and walk out with a solidly unsatisfying 60 minutes of work.

That’s what happens when your team is having an off night. Dallas, while generating some good looks in close, once again let Minnesota fire far too many dangerous chances at Ben Bishop, who was largely up to the task, let it be said. Of course, that wouldn’t have been too much of an issue if the Stars had found a way to put more than a single biscuit in its respective basket.

This game really was about a few key defensemen, Jason Spezza, and the two goaltenders. Devan Dubnyk matched Ben Bishop in saving everything he could get to, and the Stars lost this game, fittingly, on a shot to the groin.

Yes, Alex Radulov and Val Nichushkin were both out with injuries, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. But you’re at home playing the Wild, who are not an amazing team, and you even get a goal from the snakebitten Jason Spezza (who continues to be the most dangerous Stars center at even strength for the third game in a row). The Stars couldn’t clear the zone with two clear opportunities, first from John Klingberg, and then even more egregiously, from Jamie Benn.

When your team is as gassed as Dallas looked in the second part of the third period, it’s little wonder that the big guys faltered. (And the final push with Bishop [eventually] out of the net for the extra attacker was clear evidence of this, as the Stars really had nothing to throw at Minnesota of significance.)

Why was the team gassed? Well, if you cotton to Montgomery’s rope-a-dope analogy, the Stars blew their savings on another fantastic second period, but forgot to buy goods that appreciate, which is to say to score a goal. And so it was that the third period, while opened quite nicely by an eminently deserving Jason Spezza (from a slick Miro Heiskanen shot), proved the Stars still not quite capable of going the distance. Or maybe you’d say they hung with Minny, but a couple of stupid breaks undid a tight game that only opened up in spurts.

In fact, both of the goals Bishop allowed were kind of stupid ones, but for different reasons. The first Minnesota goal comes after a Ryan Suter point shot deflects off Marc Methot (who is doing his job in front), then bounces right to a wide-open Matt Dumba. Why was Dumba so open? Well, here’s what I saw:

I saw the same forward who curled back to the blue line nearly every time he had the puck in the offensive zone lose his mark in his own. I saw an ineffective stick check and then nothing. If this is the veteran leadership free agency had to offer, the Stars so far seem to have been sold a bill of goods.

Now, this isn’t to dogpile on Comeau, who is struggling to find a groove on a new team itself finding its way in a new system. But if you’re Jim Montgomery, what can you say here? You’ve moved Comeau around a bit to see how he can help, and so far his strongest skill has been some good backchecking in transition. Any time you acquire that skill in free agency, you’re overpaying. Now you’re left with another huge chunk of the roster who all still can’t seem to score—actual second-line center Radek Faksa has just an empty-net goal through seven games—and a whole lot of frustration that’s done three games’ worth of accumulating.

Sure, let’s juggle the lines some more. Maybe it’s just about fit. And surely Montgomery will do just that when Radulov returns, as one would hope he will after another couple of days between now and the next game in which to rest. But right now, you have a team without a lot of primary point producers scrapping for secondary scoring with a whole lot of tertiary players. And when the big guys don’t show up, even in the defensive zone, the Stars still can’t overcome it. Little wonder this team struggles on the road, eh?

Honestly, I just want to move to the next game already. After such a promising start (such as it was) to the season, Dallas has been mind-numbed by Guy Boucher, John Hynes, and Bruce Boudreau Ryan Suter. The team feels a little shell-shocked right now, and even a resurgent Jason Spezza—five points in seven games, my dude—can’t play 60 minutes a night.

It’s only three games until it isn’t. I’m pretty optimistic about the long-term, but one has to be realistic here. The Stars cannot afford to lag behind the pack early. That’s not how this league works, and this team probably isn’t young enough to find fresh legs late in the season for a run if they need it. You need to be banking points now. The Stars still haven’t reached overtime in any of their four losses, but over half the league already has at least one loser point so far. The only other teams not to reach overtime so far this year? That would be Buffalo, the Isles, Nashville and New Jersey. I’ll let you decide which group the Stars will ultimately belong to this season.

Now, is it fair to blame all of this on Greg Pateryn? No, of course it’s not fair. But it’s also not fair for Ryan Suter to shoot a puck into Esa Lindell’s wedding vegetables from below the red line and get a goal in return after the Stars bathed Dubnyk in shots for 20 minutes without so much as a commemorative courgette. So, apologies to the very nice man who is named Greg, but we’re officially blaming him for this one. Look, someone’s gotta do it, man.

Finally, we should mention the defensemen in this one. Julius Honka and Miro Heiskanen both drew penalties (one on Greg Pateryn, in fact). John Klingberg had some really nice moments, and some really forgettable ones that his critics will probably remember a lot more vividly since he didn’t score. Honka also sat for two minutes for clearing the crease of some Minnesota rubbish (a just-fine call in its own right, but hey—Honka clearing the crease!) while Klingberg’s penalty was actually a rotten holding call from what I saw (and heard, as Klingberg was vociferously arguing the same). The defensemen were everywhere in this one, which is going to be the case when Minny is stacking the neutral zone and forcing your late guy to do a lot of zone entry work like they did tonight.

It’s a little surreal to go from watching Honka, Heiskanen and Klingberg taking the puck around the ice to seeing Marc Methot and Roman Polák defending the crease. If you believe in balancing through two extremes, then this defense was made for you. And also, just wait until Martin Hanzal comes back, if you love extremes.

I don’t know where to shoehorn this comment, but Jason Dickinson still seems like he has promise. You wonder what it’s going to take for him to really break out, but he really did seem to have the 4th-line jump you look for in a game like this. If line juggling is your means of finding peace after a loss, I wonder how he would look with some high-grade power play time? Just spitballing, since most of the other marginal folks haven’t been doing much with the (admittedly little) power play time the second unit has gotten.

But there is always more time. The Stars have time to figure things out. Now it just remains to be seen if they spend the time wisely. So far, they’re still in the red. Also, I hate watching this team lose to the Wild.