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Afterwords: Stars Give Chicago a Bloody Nose but Fall Face-First as Things Grow Dire

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There are issues.

Chicago Blackhawks v Dallas Stars Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Like in this game, there’s still time left in the season for the Stars to turn it around. If they can find out how to use it.

***

Losing to Chicago is always a maddening experience, made even moreso when it’s done at home. Throngs of insufferable acolytes lord the team’s dominance over the home crowd, and the battling chants sting even more acutely when your team is losing. (This awful paragraph is a good bellwether for this whole piece, if that’s helpful for you.)

So, yeah. Losing sucks. But losing this way, to this team? That’s something else entirely different. And all-too-familiar.

“They played a little bit differently than teams we’ve played recently,” said Fedun. “They stretched us out a lot. They were blowing the d-zone even before they had the puck, especially early on. We struggled with that a little bit. Then at the end of the game, when we are trying to create a little bit more, they are very opportunistic offensively on that team. You have to give them credit.”

Empty-net goals aplenty, flying the zone at first opportunity to expand the neutral zone, and killing a team for its mistakes to establish enough of a lead to overcome a struggling goaltender? Yep, that’s right. Chicago just racked up five goals on Dallas by playing Lindy Ruff Hockey.

It’s disingenuous of me to boil down any team’s issues into one major problem, just as it’s fruitless to say Dallas Is Bad Because Drafting. But as you watched the track meet that was much of this game, it became clear that Dallas was playing Chicago’s game, and not the other way around.

Ideally, you can dictate play for stretches of a hockey game. That’s definitely happened for Dallas this year, but can you even be sure about when that’s been the case since the first five matches of the season? Calgary was a good sign, but there’s no denying that the Flames were a team in name only in that game. Dallas dominated the Flames, yes; but they also barely managed two goals. Chicago and Dallas fought it out in this one, and the Stars managed two goals.

I miss the Lindy Ruff years, sometimes (all but the last season, that is). The system wasn’t perfect, and there were some ugly moments indeed, but boy howdy, was it ever nice to have a team that said, “When we put it together, the game is gonna look like this, and good luck keeping up.” When the Stars had the defensive corps to handle the inevitable rush chances against, they weathered storms well enough to outscore teams, Jason Spezza scored 33 goals, Jamie Benn won an Art Ross Trophy, and John Klingberg more or less did what he wanted. The depth players had some great showings, too; Colton Sceviour and Vernon Fiddler (at 35 years old!) scored 23 goals between themselves. Keep that number in mind: 23.

Last year, the Stars also had a system that dictated things, but not in any really active sense. If Ruff’s system dared teams to keep up, Ken Hitchcock’s system dared teams to outwait Dallas. When the power play was good and players were healthy and productive, Dallas could win a lot of coin flips. But when they hit a stretch of bad luck and exhaustion on the road last year, their team ultimately failed to enforce the system, and their season wilted like a gingerbread house that hadn’t been baked long enough. Dallas just couldn’t be the 2012 Los Angeles Kings no matter how many Marcs, Martins and McGregs were brought into the fold.

So here we are, with Jamie Benn staring down 30 and really hoping to win a second playoff series in his career someday. The Stars are in 10th place in the West, six points behind Anaheim, for crying out loud. The Stars might not get 23 goals from four regulars combined at this rate (Janmark, Nichushkin, Pitlick and Comeau), and even the strong goaltending is regressing enough to reveal that this team is what it is: mediocre until proven otherwise.

If your team doesn’t know its identity, then your team’s record will more than happily identify your team for you, as some football coach once said. Dallas is a team that can’t dictate play (even that third period against Calgary was sobering) enough to control games consistently, and they are no longer built quickly enough to be able to play Lindy Ruff hockey against teams like Chicago even if they wanted to.

Put more succinctly: Taylor Fedun being solidly mid-pack on the Stars team in goal-scoring is indicative of some individual good (Fedun is a great story) and some team-wide trouble. If the Stars don’t know what they are, they’re going to have an awfully tough time learning to live with it. Which means we will all die from watching it, as usual. Good to keep traditions alive.

***

Right, the game.

  • John Klingberg was looking a bit like he did during his rookie year, to my eyes. Fifteen seconds in, and It’s Cam Ward appeared, as Klingberg’s shot dribbled through the aging netminder, but it was scraped off the line. Klingberg created some really great chances in this game, even as his play without the puck was rusty here and there. But honestly, I don’t care that Klingberg didn’t throw his surgically repaired hand in front of an empty net, and I don’t care that he partly got beat here and there. The good that Klingberg brings was, just like in his rookie year, so clearly vital that the Stars ought to be rejoicing in the streets at his return instead of bemoaning (as some still do) his lack of Being Young Shea Weber.
  • The Hawks’ coach is Jeremy Colliton, who is basically my age. I ate a frozen quesadilla for lunch.
  • Seems weird to me that the Stars didn’t give Nichushkin a longer look in the third when he was the only Stars player to draw a penalty in the game (and really, he drew two, but This Game’s Officiating and all that, blargh). He had something with Denis Gurianov, and I’d love to see them play together more if Gurianov isn’t on the top line permanently (which he probably should be).
  • Razor compared Gurianov to a Cheetah, and that seemed apt, especially with a great burst of the turbos to catch Forsling on the backcheck. Dude’s a player, and he deserves a long look in the top six.
  • Also, does anyone even know who the top six are anymore? If one goes by average ice time, the Stars’ six most-played forwards are, in descending order: Seguin, Radulov, Benn (who had been first in years past), Faksa...then Comeau and Janmark. As much as Jim Montgomery can preach the virtues of Comeau’s game off the scoresheet, you need him and Janmark to either find the net more than once every 17 games or cede some ice time to players who will. Of course, that’s assuming the Stars have such players, which is a whole other discussion right now. If you’re blaming Janmark or Comeau or even Hanzal for anything right now, you’re severely misguided. They are clearly trying hard to do what they are told to do, and succeeding in many of those areas. Just, you know, not the one area that makes all the lights and sirens go off.
  • And hey, how about Alex DeBrincat scoring on a screened Ben Bishop while Riley Tufte continues to develop, we hope? This has been your Dallas Drafting, Time To Gripe! Moment. Also, Bishop was (I think) screened by his own guy on the play, which happens off faceoffs. Honestly, I didn’t find much fault with Bishop in this game, but I tend to be a bit more charitable towards goaltenders, so take that for what it’s worth.
  • Taylor Fedun let a Blackhawks forward get past him twice early, but Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop were there to cover up for him. Razor mentioned that a couple defensemen seemed to sag with Klingberg back in the lineup, and I was reminded of Justin Bourne’s piece about the Leafs dropping a stinker of an effort when William Nylander came back into the lineup. Roman Polák also had himself some issues in this one, and I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss the psychological effect of Klingberg’s return upon the lesser blueliners at all.
  • Miro Heiskanen was largely still amazing, of course.
  • Erik Gustafsson really stuck a knife into the Stars with his one-timer when Radek Faksa went to get a new stick. Roman Polák had offered a somehwhat foolhardy clearing attempt up the middle that was recycled into a goal, but the Stars’ PK has been leaking goals lately, as one might have predicted it would eventually after being so stingy for such an improbable period of time.
  • That third goal against was a train wreck that I really wanted to GIF, but there’s no great angle that shows the bench the whole time it happened. Still, let’s try it:
  • The Stars made a sloppy change that didn’t have to be this bad, but the real issue is the team’s lack of awareness on Kane.
  • Lindell changes well before Seguin, whom you can see at the start of this clip, but Bayreuther still gets on slightly behind Shore, somehow. I wonder if there was some confusion on the bench about next ups, or if this was a lack of awareness by Bayreuther. Either way, it wouldn’t shock me to see Honka draw back in up in Minnesota, but who even knows. This might not have been totally on Bayreuther, but it really isn’t something Klingberg should have been all alone defending, either. Nichushkin gamely tried to sweep back to break things up on the strong side. Klingberg effectively got surprised with a 2-on-1 that he didn’t anticipate perfectly enough in order to stop one of the best goal-scorers of our generation.
  • Still, that backhand from Kane was not his best one, and that’s probably the one I’d ask Bishop to stop, of the three allowed.
  • After cleverly avoiding a minus on the third goal against (<—joke), Gurianov gets the puck deep, makes it there in time to fight for it, and forces the puck over to Benn. Then Benn has time to feed Seguin in the low slot for the Stars’ first tally. Easy peasy, right? This is a perfect example of what Gurianov can do for this line. Dare I say it? On this play, he was a bit like a Cody Eakin type in his ability to speedily retrieve pucks and let the Big Boys do things around the net with the puck, which they should. It might make Hitchcock feel good to see Seguin fighting along the boards, but he’s not a huge guy, and his elite tools are best utilized in the slot, not in the corners. If you can let the other guys do that and let Seguin do this, things will generally work better.
  • Speaking of such, some really good, hard work by Jason Dickinson to win the puck back behind the Hawks’ net led to a great chance, as Dickinson fed Gavin Bayreuther for what should have been a 3-2 score late in the second. Instead, Cam Ward did his best Vintage Ward impression on Bayreuther’s shot. Was Ben Bishop out-goalied by literally cameron ward, well, who’s to say who did anything these days, friends
  • It was almost 3-2 earlier in the third, as a slick move by Gurianov to feed Benn looked for all the world like a goal in the making. Instead, Benn inherited Seguin’s penchant for pumping iron, and the Stars began to realize that spotting even a bad team three goals is less than ideal for a team that has hardly been a scoring machine even at the best of times.
  • Alex Radulov also missed with a great chance in alone on Ward. Honestly, these are the players you need to make things happen when they get chances. Tough loss, obviously, but tougher knowing the puck was on the right guys’ sticks a few times with nothing to show for it.
  • The Stars finally did pull within one off a great Jamie Benn play to “ice” the puck knowing Radulov would win the race on the opposite side of the rink. Radulov fed the puck into the goalmouth, and Benn was able to poke the puck back across the crease before Ward could get his glove all the way on top of the puck. Taylor Fedun deposited the loose puck into the net, but Benn got Murphy’s stick shaft in the face (perhaps accidentally) as a reward for his efforts. Murphy would shortly receive a similar gift
  • Tyler Pitlick’s elbow caught Murphy in the face right before Heiskanen’s great chance was stopped by Ward, but I don’t think there’s any real way you can call that intentional, as Murphy was behind Pitlick, who couldn’t really see him and was busting to the net looking for the tying goal.
  • This should probably be its own article, but whatever, let’s get into it: the Stars seem to have a strong conviction that Big Guys In Front of the Net is a key way to score goals when up a man, whether it’s 5-on-4 or 6-on-5. All due respect, but I’m not sure Radek Faksa or Martin Hanzal should be out there when you’re trailing with the empty net, even with Jason Spezza out of the lineup and center depth a bit thin. Get pucks to the net with traffic, sure; but you also have to retrieve pucks and win races to loose pucks, and you have better options for that. But faceoffs and size and all that. That we’re debating this after the Stars lost to the worst team in their division by three goals probably says a lot more about the whole team than about the sixth attacker choices.
  • Stop being annoyed at Klingberg for the empty-net goal. I think he thought the Hawks should have been called for too many men or something, and yeah, that’s wrong and he sort of quit on the play or something? Okay, fine. That wasn’t what lost this game, even if it did prevent them for making one final effort. Klingberg will be fine. They desperately need him, by the way. A little more desperately after this one, by the way.