It’s miserable to watch the Stars lose a game in Honda Center. I’ve been to dozens of games there while sporting some variety of Stars gear, and the feeling of being in (Orange County) enemy territory is a precarious thing. In 2008, it was a wonderful experience in the playoffs, as the Stars won the first two games in Anaheim pretty handily, shutting up the crowd almost the entire time. 2014, of course, was another matter, with the Ryan Garbutt/Corey Perry debacle taking some years off my life.
So, to those who suffered this game in person, I salute you. It is a solemn salute, one that communicates my sympathy, my understanding, and my sorrow for your experience. That goal horn, that walk outside the arena, and so forth. It’s similar to losing at any enemy rink, and yet it’s somehow also much, much worse.
This game was worse, also. This game was the worst, or at least tied for it. The Stars sat on a humble pie for three days, and then they brought big guns and unleashed their utter best against Anaheim, and with the same horse collar on the scoreboard to show for it. These are the sorts of games that take something out of you.
Martin Hanzal gave it his best, but he couldn’t hold up to game action Wednesday, and that’s a shame. Whatever this nagging lower-body injury is, it seems like surgery could be looming (this is a guess). Certainly the Stars don’t appear able to really predict how resilient he’ll be come game time, and that’s not good at all. No coach wants that level of uncertainty when building a lineup, so we’ll see what the Stars do after Hanzal gets re-evaluated this week.
Jason Spezza started this game on Hanzal’s left wing, which was something alluded to by Hitch over the summer, but which we never really saw until Anaheim. I don’t have the foggiest idea what the plan was there, but certainly it was not about getting Spezza to start scoring more, in case you didn’t know that the Stars are not constructing lineups toward that purpose this year. Usually I would say that playing a scoring center (as a type) on his off-wing is an effort to take some pressure off and let him score and create more, but given Spezza’s would-be linemates in Hanzal and Brett Ritchie, I am hard-pressed to say, again, that scoring was really a primary motive behind that line’s genesis.
The Los Angeles game could wash this taste out of the old hockey mouth quickly, so let’s go ahead and run down what this game was and was not before I start spiraling here.
I believe that the Stars really did play a pretty good game, overall. But it’s hard to gauge what a good game is when the team keeps trailing after the first frame. The Stars didn’t collapse under the weight of their own comeback attempt right off the bat, but they most certainly did collapse, in the end.
I believe that you can’t really fault Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, or whomever for the Ryan Getzlaf goal. Those guys had just poured their entire souls into a desperate power play for a couple of minutes solid, and they see a puck sailing way over them. They were never catching Getzlaf there regardless, so I get why they didn’t really bother pursuing him. The puck bounced horribly (just as it bounced perfectly for Hampus Lindholm on the first goal), and Bishop did seem to hesitate just a bit before coming out of the net. It was a perfect storm, but hey, score on the 5v3 in the first place, and we’re not talking about this.
I didn’t hate the 5v3 approach, though the execution was a bit over-deliberate, and obviously not, quote, successful. with the Ducks collapsing so severely but keeping the two guys high, the cross-crease pass down low was open, and Spezza indeed found Alexander Radulov, only to have Radulov stuff the puck just wide. It happens, but man, the Stars just could not get a bounce this game. The Brett Ritchie post in the first period was, in retrospect, auguring poorly for the Stars’ luck in this one.
One play that I loved was Marc Methot’s nonchalant “I am going to shove the net off its moorings here” at one point in the first. That is veteran savvy, right there.
Another thing that I loved less was the mention of “Tyler Perry” after Anaheim’s #10 had a chance in alone on Bishop after an unsuccessful Esa Lindell clear. Razor was kind enough not to point it out, but my goodness, how no Madea references were dropped later in the game is a question we may never get answered.
I believe that the Stars are right to brush this game off as a special teams loss, however you feel about it. Keep working hard and outplaying the other team at evens, and iron out the wrinkles in your power play. What else can you do? Some nights, you just don’t get the bounces.
Gemel Smith is slated to draw into the lineup on Thursday. He deserves it. The Stars had some good looks thanks to hard work by Radulov and Mattias Janmark, but when Remi Elie and Devin Shore are getting a lot of the chances, it’s not totally surprising that the Stars didn’t pile up the goals. Elie and Shore play hard, but goal-scoring has not been their forte this year, so it’s tough when lineup construction makes them the beneficiary of hard work by other players.
I liked the idea behind balancing the lineup on the road to make the Stars less easily neutralized, but it seems pretty clear that Dallas has scoring depth issues, particularly when players like Faksa and Smith aren’t going to be allowed any power play time. Dallas needs more options.
To that end, I’d expect Jim Nill to use time as leverage, looking to buy cheap sometime in the last couple hours of the deadline. He knows how this works, and buying early does not tend to come with a discount.
Greg Pateryn played only 16 minutes tonight, thanks to the abundance of power play time for Dallas (which is a thing I did not think I’d write after 40 minutes). Stephen Johns and John Klingberg led the defense in ice time. It was interesting to have Johns with Klingberg on the 5v4 power play, just as it was interesting to me that Hitch put Spezza on the 5-on-3, but not the top 5-on-4 power play. It tells you something about how the coach views players and roles in those different situations, and where he thinks they can and cannot be as successful. Johns has a cannon, and I will never complain about a cannon, unless it’s that stupid one in Columbus.
Jamie Benn and Corey Perry fought after the game—a game which propelled the Ducks into 3rd in the Pacific and pushed the Kings outside the playoff picture. For Benn, it felt like frustration (and longstanding hatred of Perry, which we’ll never begrudge him). Maybe it lights a spark or something. One never knows how locker rooms really function in tough times like these.
Finally, yeah. These last four games have been brutal for the Stars, and there’s no disguising it. Outside of Ben Bishop’s heroic effort to salvage the St. Louis game, the Stars have gone from a five-game winning streak back to Murkytown far too quickly. Some hot goalies have shown up, but hot goalies are still just goalies. The Stars have four goals in their last four games. That’s a good way to get ride of good vibes you worked hard to build. But the next game can always get them back. Unfortunately, that one’s in Staples Center. For now, let’s not talk about what it’s like to watch a Stars game in Staples Center.