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Islanders Send Stars To Christmas Break With Stinging Loss

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It wasn’t pretty, some other players were injured (again), and generally this one should be moved on from quickly. Unfortunately, it’s going to sting a while thinks to the league’s Christmas break.

NHL: New York Islanders at Dallas Stars Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The second half of a road-and-home back-to-back was unkind to the Dallas Stars as they lost to the New York Islanders at home. After winning a thrilling overtime last night, this game was the exact opposite of fun. “Did we even put together two tape-to-tape passes tonight?”, quipped head coach Jim Montgomery after his team’s loss.

As the team enters a three day break for Christmas, the message he gave his team was to go and spend time with their families. Take the time to recharge and they’ll get back to work on Thursday when they have morning skate in Dallas before flying to take on the Nashville Predators.

Hopefully, the rest will do them all some good, players and coaching staff alike. Though they won’t actively think about the game, it’ll be hard not to dwell on what could have been done differently in this one. After all, everyone thinks about their last game, said Montgomery.

We’re also going to take some time to be with loved ones. We’ll return with regular content later this week. In the meantime, we hope you all get to spend time with loved ones, furbabies, eat some pie and drink some spirits.

Happy Holidays, y’all.

FIRST PERIOD

There wasn’t much flow to the first period, mainly due to the special teams work needed. The Stars went on the penalty kill twice thanks to two obstruction penalties by Alexander Radulov (a tripping and then a hooking, respectively). He also was responsible for the Stars’ only man advantage opportunity when he drew his own hooking penalty, so Radulov was impacting the special teams on both side of the ledger.

The good news is the penalty killing of the Stars continued to succeed, keeping the Islanders off the board. (It also helped that they seemingly did half of the work for Dallas as they were ineffective at exiting their own zone at times, and at others they straight up turned the puck over and were forced to defend the shorthanded chance against.)

Neither goaltender was overly taxed in the first period, but Antoin Khudobin did make some big saves early in the period. On the other side, Robin Lehner stopped one of the best scoring chances Dallas had in the period on a point-blank chance setup by Valeri Nichushkin.

SECOND PERIOD

Dallas opened the scoring in the middle frame after a little more than six minutes of much of the same play from the first period carrying over into the second. Tyler Pitlick’s goal started off with a big save by Khudobin and a stretch pass through the neutral zone by Jason Spezza to Mattias Janmark. Janmark then made a short pass to Pitlick who slipped the puck through Lehner’s five hole as he was nearly at the goal line himself.

About midway through the second period, Stars PR announced that Martin Hanzal would not return to the game due to an upper body injury. Hanzal and Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck got tangled up with one another earlier in the game which caused Clutterbuck to be helped off the ice immediately. Hanzal played one shift after the collision before being ruled out.

The latter half of the game was again heavy on the special teams side as Alexander Radulov and Leo Komarov jawed at one another prior to a faceoff, resulting in the two going after each other and sitting for roughing. Dallas rolled out Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg as its first 4-on-4 unit, and that has the promise of being absolutely electric or very scary defensively as they’re aggressively looking for offense.

Luckily, the 4-on-4 didn’t result in either for the Stars – but the Islanders didn’t do anything in that situation either.

Nearly right after the (first) 4-on-4 action ended, Casey Cizikas scored the tying goal off a very bad bit of luck for Khudobin. The initial shot popped up off Khudobin’s shoulder, and when it came back down, it bounced off the top of the net and in off Khudobin’s own back. It was a bad break for a team that has benefitted immensely from shots not going in due to crossbars/posts this season. I guess it was the hockey gods’ way of evening out the karma a bit.

Radulov and Komarov would go a second round with one another, resulting in yet more 4-on-4 hockey for the two teams. Nothing would come of it this time, and the two teams would head into the last 20 minutes tied at one.

THIRD PERIOD

Dallas looked like a team that had played last night in the third period, and the penalty killing effort finally caught up to them. Radek Faksa went off the ice on a slashing call, and while he definitely did get his stick up into the hands of the opponent, it also looked a little sold to get the call. The Islanders would score to take the lead, leaving an already tired Stars squad to play from behind.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough gas to generate offense in the third period, and the Stars fell 3-1 courtesy of yet another empty net goal (the second game in a row at home where Dallas had allowed an empty net goal.)

The problem in the third was not just the defensive effort of New York, who swarmed any Stars puckhandler when they had the puck, but also that Dallas tried to cheat offensively with stretch passes that were easily picked off and shots forced to guys that were way more than covered. There was no skating to draw the defenders out of position or drives to the net to generate rebound opportunities. Pucks weren’t handled well and there was no support for the puckhandler.

It’s definitely a frustrating note to end on as the league enters the Christmas break.

Other thoughts….

*I thought the first period Nichushkin played was one of his best this season. He setup two very good chances. The problem is, once Hanzal left and the forwards had to be juggled around to account for the missing center, Nichushkin kind of disappeared.

*Not a game goes by where I don’t “oh wow” at some defensive effort or pass made by Heiskanen.

*Where has all the offense gone? The Stars used to be really good at scoring on home ice, but these last two games have been less than thrilling in that regard. That second-best-in-the-league home record has taken a hit this week, and considering the team doesn’t know how to win on the road, they have to collect points on home ice to even remain competitive in the Central/Wild Card out West.

*Khudobin’s puckhandling tonight was adventurous. There was one time where he came out past the top of the left circle to cutoff a puck dump-in, and it nearly was calamitous as an Islander came right in to play the puck too. Maybe a little less aggression and a little more staying in the cage in those situations, the fans’ blood pressure would greatly appreciate it.