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Afterwords: Jamie Benn Couldn’t Beat Mikko Koskinen, or Himself

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This game wasn’t Jamie Benn’s fault or anything, but it’s hard to look past what should have been a wonderful moment

NHL: Dallas Stars at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

A melancholy song for a melancholy couple of outcomes.

***

Let’s start at the end, which happens to be a very awful place to start.

Jason Dickinson was at the end of his shift, and a bit tired. Leon Draisaitl got half a step on him, and Dickinson was slow to hand off his man and pick up another. In Boston, we were amazed at how Dickinson had worked his way into getting overtime shifts after being eschewed by Future Hall of Fame Coach Ken Hitchcock every time Jim Nill called him up. In Edmonton, we must admit that, here, Dickinson needed to hand off his man a touch earlier. Lindell read Dickinson as beat, which he probably was, and he switched onto him because he couldn’t in good conscience allow a breakaway. If Dickinson had been able to recover enough to keep Draisaitl from cutting to the top of the crease, then Lindell would have make the wrong play here, but Dickinson, unfortunately, did seem to be too far gone to really take his man. As a result, he played this more like a 4-on-4 than a 3-on-3, and he wasn’t quick enough to switch off and cover Klefbom. Stupid games tend to end stupidly.

***

If there was a more fitting lineup for a game against Ken Hitchcock, I’m not sure what it was. Jason Spezza had been taken off the top power play in what I assume was some sort of homage, and Julius Honka was benched after a rough game in Colorado. The puck was sliced to ribbons along the boards for long stretches, and when the Stars did get great chances, they either missed the net or hit the shaft of Mikko Koskinen’s stick. After the rough first period, I thought the Stars had the better of this game, but the only shot that was really executed well off a good scoring chance was Miro Heiskanen’s shot when the Stars had numbers and a screen. But, just like the Stars hit some bad luck with Bishop’s injury last year, Heiskanen hit some goalie luck that was bad for Dallas: the shaft of Koskinen’s stick folied a sure goal, and it wouldn’t be until the final seconds of regulation that Dallas would have another chance that good.

Jamie Benn had the game on his stick three different times during the first 60. He missed the net on a great chance created by Alex Radulov, then missed the net again late in the second after a pass across the ice from Seguin. He absolutely had some jump in his game from the outset, but a giveaway in the third period that nearly led to a scoring chance for Edmonton was a bit disheartening.

But still, Benn looked like a player Looking to Do Something, and the first two chances he had were nothing compared to what he got handed with just seconds to go in regulation. After another turnover generated by Radulov—honestly, can you remember another Dallas Star as great at creating those on the forecheck? It’s no wonder Montgomery keeps asking Radulov to play extra shifts in the offensive zone—led to Jamie Benn right in front of Koskinen with the puck, all alone—and he couldn’t beat a goalie whose name I had to look up three times while writing this. Yeah, Seguin was wide open ten feet to his left, but this is an Art Ross Trophy winner here, so it’s not exactly a crime to pull the trigger. Benn elected to take the shot himself, after delaying a tick, and it’s the wrong choice (unless the pass goes awry, of course, in which case we blast Benn for deferring). For all that, the former king of the accuracy shooting contest should win the game right there, with that shot, no problem.

Let’s be clear: Benn isn’t The Problem or anything, but he set some lofty expectations for himself after dragging Dallas around the ice for the first few tough years of his career. Now that he’s leaving his athletic prime, it’s normal to expect a decline in production—we saw it from Modano, too—but you’d also like to see some warm and fuzzy moments to hold alongside the tough ones. I’m not sure what happens if this year ends up similar to the last two, but I don’t think Benn has miles and miles of the benefit of the doubt anymore, if that’s how measurements work. Sometimes, leaders gotta score. He did not score, tonight, and the Stars lost. It’s really too bad, for everyone. Benn had a rough time of it last year in a lot of ways, even if a too-late scoring surge prettied up his numbers a tad. He knows much is required, and he really does try to give it in the best ways he knows how. But it’s also up to the Stars to figure out how they can help Jamie Benn be the best Jamie Benn this year’s edition can be. Motivation is a good thing, and it’s a great thing if execution follows it.

***

I expected to be furious if the Stars lost to Ken Hitchcock, but instead this one just felt disheartening. Dallas worked really hard to play good defense and to out-system Hitch Hockey, and while they got lucky at times, they kept Connor McDavid largely contained after getting throttled in the first period (without result, mind). That’s a huge victory for Joel Hanley, Inc. It’s just too bad it couldn’t translate into actual victory.

Speaking of hard luck, let us repeat once more: where would the Stars be without Anton Khudobin?

Oh. Apparently, they would be letting down some other goalie who is trying his best. So, yeah. Thanks for shutting out the Oilers for 60+ minutes, Anton, but would it kill you to chip in a little offense? Come on, dude. (But for real: Khudobin is looking like a really good Jim Nill signing this summer, and maybe, dollar for dollar, the best goalie Nill has ever brought to Dallas. Low bars bring high praise.)

***

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a team full of game-breaking talent look so non-threatening since, uh, last year. I’d love for someone to explain to me why Hitchcock is supposed to get credit for all of the Stars’ defensive improvements without any of the blame for their offensive struggles (19th in goals last year, 25th this one). Then again, I think we all know how this sort of thing works in Dallas. You kiss the ring from the past because you know it’ll be a while before you see another one. I hear the local football team is in a similar sort of pickle with the tension between old and the new and the unknown, but let’s not get distracted. The Stars aren’t going to bury Hitch outside of the quiet moving-on that happened this summer, so it’s fruitless to get too worked up about the autohagiographies we’ll be subjected to this season.

Mattias Janmark was one of the few Stars who was skating well early, and he almost created a goal to start the second period, and nearly put one away again right after the Stars’ second power play in the middle frame. He and Val Nichushkin both looked like Players in this one, and that’s all you can ask from your depth, sometimes. But eventually, you need the goals. 25 games into the season, Dallas’s depth scoring is present, but only insofar as it was able to ameliorate the disaster that was the Benn and Seguin scoring droughts coinciding with the Radulov injury. Things could be really ugly in Dallas, and in some more process-oriented ways, they are. But Dallas is just on the right side of the coin flip this morning, and hey, this was around the time Hitch’s Stars put together a nice run, too. Maybe he could give the Stars some great advice to help them do it again!

***

Razor had a nice stat on the broadcast: Dallas has now scored two or fewer goals in 10 of 13 road games this season. Somehow, they have still gotten points in six of those games (4-7-2) which, coupled with their 8-3-1 home record, has kept them hanging where they need to hang until things turn, if they ever do. We know Dallas is getting outshot too consistently to make noise long term, but if they can just not blow a hole in the side of the submarine until Klingberg comes back and the power play mysteriously starts being good again, they might be able to pile up a few more points than they have so far. Things are always bleak after a loss, but they aren’t worse than yesterday, or at least not markedly so. They aren’t better, either. But a point is a good point, even if Benn had two of them on his stick at one point. It’s not like anyone else scored, after all.

This game featured an uncalled high stick on, once again, Tyler Seguin. Here is My Great Idea:

A) start wearing some false teeth or something that can fall out to accentuate the contact next time, or

B) at least doing whatever it was Connor McDavid did to draw a penalty (on Mattias Janmark) by grabbing his arm and stepping on an invisible banana peel. How long until the NHL starts fining this (increasingly common) move, you think? I give it 50 years, max. This is a league that responds to its issues, and often within the same lifetime of the players who did it for their whole career. Hey, remember that one time Connor McDavid boarded Demers and didn’t even get penalized? It’s fun to be petty, and even cathartic, sometimes.

Now, for whatever the opposite of catharsis is (which I think is masochism, maybe, but who knows): if we praise Todd Nelson when the Stars’ power play was humming to start the season, then we probably would be remiss if we didn’t question his methods in this grisly slump Dallas is in now. Alex Radulov stayed out for the whole thing, and Jason Spezza was switched with Devin Shore. But to these eyes, it looks like the power play is just lost at this point without a quarterback to guide it. The Power By Committee Play© is about effective as any team that has ever talked about Scoring By Committee, which is to say it isn’t. The Stars don’t even seem able to decide right now what sort of chance they are trying to create, and that sort of ambiguity is blood in the water to a penalty kill. The Ruff Drop Pass may have been predictable, but it was also largely repeatable, when the Stars varied it enough to keep teams honest. The Stars’ entries were abysmal in Edmonton, and if they aren’t going to let Honka ply his trade there (as they haven’t for a good while now), I don’t see things magically changing before Klingberg returns if, well, nothing else changes. But Jason Spezza is great at entering the zone with possession on the power play, and I think the top unit is in some trouble if they can’t find anyone else to fill his shoes. Assuming they voluntarily continue to keep him on the second unit.

Blake Comeau created a great Heiskanen chance shorthanded by taking the puck away from Klefbom. This has been your Blake Comeau Update.

As the 0-0 game crept towards overtime, both teams seemed to get more skittish even as they started playing it safer. It felt a bit like a really ugly playoff game, or at least the distant cousin of an ugly playoff game who Heard About Playoffs And Tries To Convince You It Is Also Playoffs, Sort Of. It’s not like they would know anway, though. Would anyone like to guess how many players on the team tonight were in the Stars’ last playoff game lineup? Here’s a hint: zero of them were defensemen or goaltenders.

If I’m thankful for anything other than a loser point in a game in which Dallas never scored, it is one of the following:

-that McDavid didn’t score

-that Gavin Bayreuther’s defensive game has developed so strongly in the Stars’ system

-that Taylor Fedun gets paid to play hockey, must be nice to get paid to play hockey

-that Razor and Josh make games so much more interesting and enjoyable these days

-that we didn’t have to see a dumb shootout

Oh, and as for that no-goal call on that breakaway attempt that Radulov almost accidentally poked into the Stars’ net before Bayreuther saved his bacon? Well, I don’t think we can completely demonize Edmonton fans for throwing some of their detritus on the ice after the overtime chance was ruled no goal. I’d be trying to give Hitch better options than Lucic, too.

Finally, one thought: it’s my first game this year watching all of Jesse Puljujarvi’s shifts, but I saw a whole lot of Not Enough from him in this one. Obviously there’s something there, but it definitely seems to be in the nascent stages, as he lost some puck battles like he wasn’t there tonight. For those of you with a trade itch, maybe games like this one can lower his price in a future trade, or at least it might until you realize he still got 4 minutes more ice time than Jason Spezza, so what is anything, really. I don’t understand hockey sometimes.