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Afterwords: When You’re Tired and Hurt, Things Don’t Always End Well

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The Stars scored a goal, but because they weren’t playing Boston, it wasn’t enough to get them any points.

Dallas Stars v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Tyler Seguin scoring a goal is nice. The Dallas Stars scoring more than one goal would have been nicer.

***

Remember last year, when Ben Bishop’s injury late in the season ended up spelling doom* for the Stars? Well, I don’t think this is that. “Day-to-day” and “soft-tissue” are hopeful things, and Anton Khudobin has been the better goalie anyway, this season. There is no need to panic in Dallas—or at least, no need to panic specifically because of the Bishop injury.

The team as a whole? Well, after a season-worst 17-shot performance that saw Dallas more or less wilt in the bright lights of Madison Square Garden over the final two periods, they looked, as Josh said on the broadcast, like a team who was playing its second in two days.

Both teams did, at times. It was a really messy game, filled with pucks slipping off sticks, dropped gloves, unsightly giveaways by all sorts of players, and injuries. Jason Dickinson took a puck or stick up high at one point, and of course Bishop ended up pulling his groin (my standard guess for goaltender injuries) or something. This wasn’t a game Dallas deserved to win, but after scraping a goal out of their haphazard power play off a Seguin “well, I guess I’ll see if this works” shot, it looked like a point Dallas could at least manage to hang onto. This wasn’t exactly Toronto leaning on the Stars, here, after all.

*As a reminder, the Stars’ offense also cratered during that fateful stretch. It wasn’t like Kari Lehtonen was giving up five every night or anything. The team just didn’t have Bishop to steal them as many points anymore, and Lehtonen finished his Dallas regular season career the way he finished his Dallas playoff career, which is to say ignominiously.

***

But the long and the short of it is, Dallas didn’t generate enough, and they weren’t tidy enough to squeeze blood from the stone hands that were playing this game. Jamie Benn had a careless entry attempt on the power play (that he drew), and that led to a 2-on-1. The pass from Vesey nutmegged Esa Lindell, but Ben Bishop somehow got over to stop Howden on what looked for all the world like a shorthanded goal. And of course, right after that, Tyler Seguin sent a fairly pedestrian wrister into the net from the circle that went in. That sounds a lot like a team on the ride side of luck, but we all know how luck works. Bishop got hurt last year making an otherworldly save. Trust no luck dragon if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.

Brett Howden got stopped by Bishop on the 2-on-1, and he would also be foiled later by Radek Faksa, whose stick got back just in time to foul up an empty-net putback by Hard-luck Howdy, as I have come to refer to him in these many years I have been following his career. He did get a secondary assist amid the argy-bargy that led to the Vesey goal, though. I guess he probably slept well after a win.

That play by Faksa came on this sequence, when Bishop may have hurt himself:

Colton Point and Landon Bow are neither of them NHL options outside of an extremity, but I’d bet on Bow to wear the ballcap if things get to that point.

Jamie Benn also had some good backchecking in this one earlier on, by the way. Just in the interest of evenhandedness and all. That image of Benn, paralyzed for a couple of seconds at the end of the game with the puck, is probably one that sticks in your mind. But just like soccer, sometimes holding onto the pill is the best thing you can do. Trying to force things might feel good for an instant, but I’m inclined to trust Benn’s vision in that situation. Admittedly, I am less inclined to do so lately than I have been at other times.

***

Yeah, so that Jimmy Vesey blind backhand as he was falling down (thanks to a cross check from Roman Polák) to beat Ben Bishop five-hole. It leveled the game right after a good kill by Dallas, and it almost felt like the Stars were playing scared from that point on (though they had been lackluster for most of the period to that point anyhow). The Rangers have been getting points lately, but you saw this game, right? That isn’t a juggernaut over there. It’s a team with an all-world goalie (aging division) and some bright spots without much of an identity or immediate hope to contend for serious things. In a lot of ways, that is the ideal opponent for Dallas to scrape some Eastern Conference points out of on a travel day on the road. But they got nothing.

I’m wary of using games in which a team is tired and icing a less-than-ideal lineup to critique it too much, but you certainly have to feel annoyed that the Stars couldn’t outplay the Rangers, regardless of how you’re seeing things. Dallas is the better team, and they things tied going into the third period. You need to cash in those chips for at least a point on the road, and it felt like two were sitting there if Dallas could’ve made it to overtime. Again, as Miro Heiskanen whistled some pucks in on (or wide of) the net in the final minutes, I was reminded of how dearly this team needs John Klingberg. Yes, that selfsame 19-year-old has helped Dallas miss Klingberg less than in times past, but he is to the team as a whole what Radulov is to the top six. The Dallas’ Stars identity, whatever it may be, is almost unrecognizable without Klingberg in the lineup. Come quickly, John Klingberg.

Val Nichushkin was aggressive and assertive, and he was strong on the puck tonight. He reminded me a bit of Jason Dickinson earlier this season, when he started waking up and showing us Dickinson 2.0 a bit. Time will tell if Val has another gear he can ride for a while, but I’m seeing hopeful signs, albeit of the tempered variety. Still, wouldn’t it be great if he and Denis Gurianov could turn into solid NHL players on the same team before too much longer? This is the same thing Alex Radulov is surely DMing Jim Nill every day when he checks his Snapchats.

Roope Hintz and Gavin Bayreuther were both in that “perfectly all right” boat for me, too. I guess I am handing out report cards or something here? I don’t know. You watched the same game I did. It’s nice to know the Stars have some players here already and not yet, even if they didn’t scream to be adored in this one. Jason Robertson lurks.

***

I appreciated the Stars’ broadcast showing a replay and chuckling at the fact that Roman Polák can make foolishly risky plays, too. Imagine how Honka would have been pilloried for that cute between-his-legs pass attempt Polák turned over to nearly tee up a 3-1 lead late in the third, eh?

Oh, speaking of, there was one point where Julius Honka made a nice move to lose his forechecker in the defensive zone, and he then proceeded to carry the puck up ice and attempt a deke, which failed. The puck was turned over.

There was another instance where Honka got a great drop pass in the zone and he sizzled a puck to Radulov for a back-door tap-in, but Radulov couldn’t handle the pass. On the broadcast, Razor thought Honka fired the puck a bit too hard, but whether it was that or just some of the bad ice afflicting both teams in this one, it was a bit of Hard-luck Honka tonight. (No offense, Brett.)

I could talk at length about how these plays are emblematic of the good and bad in Honka’s game, and how the good is not rendered moot just because there is sometimes also some bad, but how the bad also isn’t meaningless if there is enough good, and how player evaluation is tough and all, and how Honka probably has earned more trust in terms of defensive responsibilities while losing almost all trust as any sort of offensive wunderkind, and....well, a whole lot. But thankfully, I don’t have to do my job in this respect, because some big sucker named Josh Lile summed up my feelings for free really well in his recent blog post, so listen to him and read the whole piece:

If you watch Honka play you see good flashes and bad flashes. You see the inconsistency in his game that holds him back. We’ve seen Honka do magical things with the puck that make him believe he can do anything with it, but we’ve then seen those same situations bite him in the ass enough that it is going to naturally make him question his ability as a hockey player while minimizing the amount of skill he puts on display.

Honka, at his best, skates the puck out of the zone and springs the offense with crisp outlet passes. He gets into the offensive zone and sets up goals with quality vision. At his worst Honka is passive defensively for fear of making a mistake, gets pushed around physically, and turns the puck over because in his mind he feels like he can make plays that to this point sometimes lead to turnovers.

***

Marc Methot’s absence is really troubling, the more you look at it. Klingberg has a freak injury, and Stephen Johns is just trying to get back to normal, let alone in game shape. But Methot is a player the Stars paid handsomely—a 2nd-rounder and a random goalie who will probably shut them out in two years—to acquire, and he’s been unable to fill the gap. It’s a loss of Veteran Leadershipness© and all, but it’s also a loss of defensive ability, no matter how you slice it. Methot’s knee issues (certainly no fault of his own, we must say) have forced the Stars to rely on players like Ben Gleason, Dillon Heatherington, Gavin Bayreuther, and Joel Hanley, who unfortunately had a tough moment on Monday.

After the Stars lost track of an Esa Lindell clear in the neutral zone and Brendan Smith smacked it back midair to turn play back at the Stars’ net, the Rangers’ kid, Filip Chytil, beat Khudobin’s glove hand (his fourth goal in as many games) thanks to a bad gap from Hanley. No, it wasn’t the best play from any of the six Stars on the ice, but I think Methot gets his stick on that puck and closes it down. Hanley, unfortunately, couldn’t do that. Sure, you’ve love to see Khudobin save his team’s chances there, but the Stars kind of deserved what they got on that one.

As for the other Rangers goal, I’m inclined to put that more on the Stars’ issues breaking up the cycle lately. Bishop was clearly mystified as to how the puck was going to be shot, and he ended up overplaying things and getting too twitchy, allowing the weak backhand to trickle five-hole. Forgivable, I suppose, but it really stunk to get scored on like that, given the absurd stops Bishop made at other times.

Further, on Bishop: Will his injury make the Stars more reticent to start him in back-to-back games in the future? I have no reason to think Bishop got hurt because he was tired or anything, but still, soft tissue injuries can linger for a long time if you’re not careful. Personally, I would be surprised if the Stars ride Bishop like this again during the regular season, especially with how Khudobin has been playing. As for what happens after the regular season, we’ll worry about playoffs when we get to that point. I would love to be able to worry about playoff roster decisions again, though. I still remember exactly where I was when game one against Minnesota started in 2016, and how I was listening to a hockey radio program previewing the game as I was frantically driving over to watch the game with my brother and his wife. That season coincided with a lot of other things in my life that I’ll never forget, even if the playoff run ended way too soon.

It hurts to remember these things, but it’s the good kind of hurt, I think. Like reading a letter from a friend in the military, and choosing to hope that they’ll come home eventually, even if neither of you can guarantee that. Sports are nothing, really. They are also part of us, and part of so much else. Everything can be found in sports, even if they don’t contain anything in its entirety. What can?

Anywho, I just wanted everyone to know that Blake Comeau was the only player to record a -2 in this game, and I don’t think he was remotely to blame for either goal against. This has been a Blake Comeau Update. I know what you’re really here for.

Finally, I present Esa Lindell, Protector of His Friends. I am choosing not to make any comparisons to Jamie Oleksiak here, and you should be proud of me for that. We should all be more proud of each other.