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Afterwords: Seguin Finally Takes Bite out of Donut in a Very Expensive Win

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The Stars flirted with disaster in this one, but it was an unexpected bit of misfortune that makes this one hurt

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

John Klingberg is not replaceable. Miro Heiskanen is amazing, and he’s going to be even more amazing than we’ve seen him be. But these Dallas Stars cannot afford to subtract John Klingberg from this team right now, full stop.

***

This game, y’all.

Picture this: Joe Thornton, in his 1,500th career game, has a chance to tie the game on a miles-wide breakaway with the Sharks’ net empty and a minute left on the clock. *Record scratch* Thornton: “You’re probably wondering how I got here.”

That’s a simple and complicated question all the same. Yes, the Stars continued to benefit from iron like a dwarf in Middle-Earth; yes, Tyler Seguin finally snapped his goal drought. And yes, the Sharks made some hideous mistakes to gift the Stars chances.

But on the recent road trip, I don’t think the Stars let Thornton sneak behind them like that. I don’t think they’re even forechecking that hard to begin with. These Stars, even though the shots in the third were 11-5 San Jose, would have been turtling even harder in most of the last six games.

This game, y’all.

A track meet. A comedy of errors. Outstanding goaltending, you name it. This was wide-open in all of a coach’s least-favorite ways. But, as you can see from the chart up there, the Sharks were content to utilize their possession advantage in shots from distance, hoping for rebounds and deflections. Instead, they score their goals like this:

  1. Timo Meier, busting to the net, has his stick checked by Dillon Heatherington and Radek Faksa. Things seem Taken Care Of, Marginally, after a rough line change. But Kevin Labanc’s pass hits Meier’s tape regardless, and Meier gets his NHL-leading(!) 12th of the year with just a tiny flick of his not-quite-frozen stick. Maybe a stick lift would have been in order there, eh?
  2. Joe Pavelski, after a collision with Esa Lindell, tips a puck from one knee past Anton Khudobin. That’s the sort of Joe-to-Joe action you just have to kind of expect when you play the Sharks. You do not have to like it.
  3. An Evander Kane shot rode up and stung John Klingberg in the arm, somewhere. This is bad, as Taylor detailed in her recap. Then, shortly after that, Kane totally, comically fanned on a shot, except the comedy turned dark as the puck, barely moving, still trickled past a helpless Khudobin against the grain, with Dobby giving his right leg a couple of desperate spasms even as he knew there was no Space Jam-ing his limb out far enough.

So, are the Sharks an elite team this year? Yeah, I kind of think so, even with their warts. And, is it weird that Timo Meier was taken in the Mat Barzal/Denis Gurianov draft and is scoring eight thousand goals despite being named Timo? I am not sure. Names can mean many things, or nothing. My name means “bright fame,” for instance.

It’s almost absurd to discuss a game in which John Klingberg got injured for close to a month as if the result matters more than that. Wins are great and good and necessary, but you kind of want to get more than the nine Dallas has so far, and losing Klingberg is just about the biggest stake in the heart of that hope one could imagine.

It’s cruel, too, that Klingberg would get injured on such an innocent play. Klingberg isn’t going down to block a shot, and this wasn’t even an example of the heavy hits teams have brought to try to neutralize him (such as Brenden Dillon’s boarding penalty on Klingberg for the Stars’ only power play of the game back in the first). This was just a stupid, random accident. If you thought all the posts were proof that Dallas was beloved of the hockey gods, think again. All hockey gods are Chaos, wishing only for more fissures to widen in the expectations of you, foolish fans, from what reality will turn out to be. Washington won their Cup, yes. But who thinks D.C. is, like, the best place to live these days?

The Stars will need to call up some guy named Joel or Dan or Bill or what have you, because we’re now officially in the stage of testing a team’s depth that equates to when you haven’t done laundry for a month and you end up using your kid’s knee-high soccer socks as dress socks because dang it, you have a meeting in 40 minutes and the Tide Pods were all out last night. Joel Hanley is having a good season. The Stars cannot hope to keep eking out wins by asking Roman Polák, Julius Honka, and Guys Having Good AHL Seasons to lock down four NHL spots on the blue line in the Central Division while a 19-year-old and Esa Lindell do all the hard work. These things are why good starts are really important in the NHL.

Dallas’s PK was really, really clutch, with Anton Khudobin, of course, doing a lot of fabulous work. Martin Jones had to make more saves with the Sharks on the power play than he did shorthanded, which says a lot about both units tonight, but who really evaluates the power play when they only get one chance? Dallas earned two points by capitalizing on chances, and hey, this game could’ve been 6-3 with ten minutes left if half of the breakaways for either team had been put in.

This game, y’all.

The Stars were better in the neutral zone than they’ve been lately, but they got heavily outcycled in their own end quite a bit. Part of that is Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, and Erik Karlsson just doing what they do, which is torment you when they have the puck. Part of that is the Stars’ being a wild card team, playing a much better team.

Brenden Dillon has become a staple in San Jose since being traded to them four years ago. He’s had the good fortune to be paired with Karlsson for the last seven games or so, but if you’re one of those Karlsson Truthers who says his offense isn’t worth his defensive lapses, Dillon was a lot of that lapse, tonight. The pizza to Seguin was the most egregious, but the hit on Klingberg and some general positional issues and risky passing really showed why Dillon, for all his good (and he is a fine third-pairing guy), is probably about at his ceiling as a bottom-four guy who can complement a skilled defenseman.

Here is the part where I plug this old interview Brandon did with Brenden Dillon six years ago. I am happy this exists, still.

Now the question is, will Julius Honka be able to meet or surpass Dillon’s ceiling? These next few games, fraught as they’ll be if Radulov is still out, are going to be a showcase for Honka, probably in more than one way. I don’t think Jim Nill wants to lose another first-round pick for spare change. When the Stars get healthy (if they ever do), it’s going to be a time of reckoning for a lot of folks. Honka has the most to gain, and probably the most to lose. Good old hockey.

Oh yeah, speaking of that Seguin goal, did the monkey jump off his back, onto Benn’s back, then back onto Seguin’s back again before game’s end? Because you don’t have to be a speedrun aficionado at The Secret of Monkey Island to track the sort of snakebitten-ness that was going around tonight. Seguin and Benn aside, even Jason Spezza had a high-grade shot barely saved on a 3-on-2, though with Gurianov begging for it on the right side (tacitly). I liked Spezza going with his shot there, as I was expecting him to pass. Take the shot in the slot when you’re hot, boys. Always.

Timo Meier had a bushel of chances, but with only the one conversion. Jamie Benn offered only a weak five-hole attempt on his allotted breakaway, but he also did a halfhearted Patrik Stefan impression right before Thornton’s breakaway chance, which was stopped by Khudobin because wasn’t everything? Also, Khudobin was not one of the three stars of the game tonight, so please fax Mike Heika all of your complaints, then listen to his new podcast with Razor. It’s pretty good stuff.

Oh, right, the guy who scored the goals: Devin Shore was amazing, and you’ve watched his goals, right? Shore could’ve had even more points, as he had a beautiful forechecking turnover on Burns, but after a slightly delayed setup to Heiskanen from Val, Jones came up big early on. Nichushkin also had a better game tonight, but we’re talking about Shore, so skip it. Shore’s second goal was a lucky bounce that he made no bones about, and his first goal was a great decision himself to short instead of forcing a pass, and he caught Jones on the short side.

I’ll give the Stars credit: they did some good lock-picking of Martin Jones tonight, as they racked up four goals when they needed every one of them. Gemel Smith dunked a gorgeous Heiskanen/Dickinson exchange as Melker Karlsson did a pretty bad Brent Burns (STATUS: AWOL in the OZ) impression, and Tyler Seguin got some help from (what else) the posts and an enemy stick to get off the teetotal wagon. It’s not sustainable with everyone healthy, and even less so with the Stars meeting their insurance deductible for the season less than a month in.

The unsustainable things were, among others, a bad Gemel Smith play to give up a breakaway to ostensible yacht collector Rourke Chartier, but Khudobin continues to be, uh, kind of ridiculously good? I can’t remember being this confident (early days, albeit) in a backup since the Mike Smith days last decade (no comment on the current one). It said a lot that the Stars were willing to trust Khudobin’s history against San Jose, and he came up big. Can you imagine the Stars going with their backup in a game like this when they had the option in any of the last five years?

I loved the Tyler Seguin breakaway chance shorthanded, as I love all things Tyler Seguin Breakaway, in principle, but a shot from 30 feet (per Josh Bogorad’s on-air estimate) was saved by Jones. I’m not sure if this gets Seguin going or not, given how many chances were still unconverted, but just resetting the clock is big enough, and the Stars won anyway, so I doubt he’s going to lose sleep over it tonight. There are plenty of other, much worse things to lose sleep over. Hooray.

Celebrations are in order for New Top Defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who hit the afterburners to catch Logan Couture, who thought he was at least even with Julius Honka for a possible breakaway, only to have his pocket picked by Heiskanen, whose otherworldly skating and effort got him back with ages to spare.

This kid, y’all. We’re facing a teenager leading the Stars’ defense for a month, and we’re not absolutely terrified. I can’t express what this is like. It’s probably close to what Oilers’ fans felt two years ago than I would like to admit, so, uh, never mind.

***

Jason Dickinson gained the zone with Devin Shore thanks to a Grown Man Play along the boards, and it eventually resulted in Shore’s second of the game. Dickinson might be more comfortable at center (as Dowling after him), but I don’t know that there’s a person in the American Airlines Center tonight who looks at that team and says, “Yeah, but what if they had Hanzal playing those minutes instead?” Dickinson is making huge strides right now, and I can’t imagine the Stars are going to Kulikov submarine his confidence in a couple weeks through relegation if this play keeps up. They need all the help they can get from the kids, particularly the ones maturing the fastest.

Blake Comeau had a couple of nice moments without the puck or to get it, including a nice turnover in the offensive zone, and he almost put the Stars up 5-3 late thanks to a slick Benn/Seguin pass. He, however, just like every other Star including I think Ben Bishop and maybe Dan Jancevski in this game, because it was that kind of night, did not score on a beautiful chance. This has been your Blake Comeau Update.

Mattias Janmark also had a really great game tonight, but as another card-carrying member of the Top Sirloin Vegetarians when it came to chances on Jones, he’ll probably stay hungry. It’s good to see Janmark skating so well. Every game is a gift for every player, and even moreso for those who know how precarious their athletic prime can be.

I may not have made this clear, but the Sharks and Stars both surrendered a million chances they should not have surrendered tonight, and while the Stars’ moments of forgetfulness are familiar, I am also starting to get a sense for why the Sharks haven’t been quite as dominant in the Pacific as we were all expecting they would be out of the gate—and I say this after a game in which the Stars were badly outshot once again. They did win, though. And they did so despite losing Klingberg early in the third period. Patchwork though it was, their defense held up against a really good team. That’s not nothing.

The Sharks will probably still be very good, because they are. The Stars are now hoping they can continue finding ways just to be good enough, and that’s more than enough to worry about right now.