This is my second favorite Steely Dan song.
Do you remember what it was like when the Stars beat the Jets 5-1 back in October? Well, let’s review:
The similarities are more striking than a Blake Comeau hit in a lullaby game. Kyle Connor beat Ben Bishop on a great shot, Alex Radulov scored after a puck pinballed off Tyler Myers, and the Stars’ scoring was exclusively done by the top line, particularly on the power play.
We wondered if this was a Statement Game, if the Stars hadn’t proven they were Back, Baby! Beating up a big opponent like the Jets was no small feat for a team with a rookie head coach, and it was fair to wonder if this game was a sign of things to come.
Since then? Winnipeg has gone 25-12-2 to lead the Central, while the Stars have gone 20-17-4, which is an 88-point pace. That Dallas sits inside the playoffs right now despite a dearth of scoring (particularly in the bottom nine) is due to two things: the regression of teams like Minnesota, Nashville, and Colorado, and the stellar goaltending of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin.
Sunday, however, featured a rather forgettable game from Bishop. He might have played the part of Connor Hellyebuck from October, come to think of it: a couple of pucks that probably shouldn’t have squeezed through, and some understandable frustration behind a team that should have scored more than it did but deserved to lose, just the same. Parallel universes, people.
I suppose Seguin’s line-drive rebound could have put the Jets on their heels early, but of course, it passed through the crease without result. A great forechecking combination of Jason Spezza and Eric Condra generated another good chance right afterwards, but with the same lack of pay dirt. After that, as you can see, the Stars disappeared for most of the first, and nearly all of the third period. If the Stars are supposed to be a relentless team, they have only acheived that identity insofar as they are relentlessly quashing my hopes for a 60-minute effort.
They scored a goal, and that is something. Sure, it was a fortunate goal after a gift call, but the power play did at least look like it had some idea of which was the proper net to attack, and that’s something we said all too rarely during John Klingberg’s lengthy injury absence. It’s the most obvious thing, but solid special teams play is a great complement to great goaltending. Most teams that overachieve—and make no mistake, that’s exactly what we have to hope this team does most nights—do so in the crease and on the job. And, because this was a road game where their goaltender didn’t stand on his head, the Stars lost. That’s more or less how it’s going to go until something changes. There are 39 games remaining.
The particulars aren’t really very interesting. The Heiskanen-Polák pairing failed to clear a puck while Hintz Pitlick and Janmark failed to take care of their marks right after the Stars’ brief lead, and Adam Lowry—a candidate for a low-budgest alternative to Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in a made-for-TV movie in five years if ever I’ve seen one—had his redemption. I wonder what it’s like to have the players who take a lot of penalties score goals? Oh, right: the Stars have one of those:
Penalty differentials, Dallas Stars:— Robert Tiffin (@RobertTiffin) January 7, 2019
Roman Polák -14
Brett Ritchie -10
Alex Radulov -8
Blake Comeau +5
Val Nichushkin +5
Devin Shore +3
Last year, Radulov took 36 penalties while drawing 22. This year, he’s taken 18 and drawn ten. That is almost exactly the same pace, which isn’t great, Bob. Then again, the Stars can’t really afford not to play Radulov with this team’s depth, so you take the great with the not-great. The penalty kill has certainly been strong enough to withstand it, all told.
(No comment on Brett Ritchie Roman Polák, for now.)
The second goal for Winnipeg was more or less a whoopsi-doopsie-poopsie. Tyler Myers flat-out clowned Ben Bishop on a wrap-around chance that slipped five-hole. It was a bigger dagger (I think) than the third goal, coming as it did at the end of the second period, and the Stars had themselves a hill to climb.
That hill got steeper when Kyle Connor—not sure where Winnipeg got him, have to check on that, no one ever talks about it—made it 3-1, though let’s give credit where credit’s due: Taylor Fedun backed off a good deal too much on the zone entry,
Here's the zone entry before the 3-1 Jets goal. Taylor Fedun and Esa Lindell might want to try gapping up a bit more next time, just an idea, I don't know. pic.twitter.com/cB0jX1jgbx— Robert Tiffin (@RobertTiffin) January 7, 2019
(NB: Please forgive the gauche nature of embedding my own Tweets, but when the file is small enough to host there, I prefer it to the auto-play of a direct embed.)
From there, it was more or less the Fabulous Jets Checking Show! The power play had one more opportunity to make things interesting, but you really aren’t going to beat the Jets when your goaltending slips and your 5-on-5 goal-scoring takes its second straight game off.
There weren’t nearly enough fun moments in the mire, though. Jason Spezza was setting up all sorts of things—I agree with Razor that he really was skating exceptionally well—but the bottom nine really didn’t have much, and Miro Heiskanen looked a bit less dominant against the Jets than he did against the Capitals. But if we’re going to start complaining about a nineteen-year-old defenseman not leading the entire team every night, then we’re basically one step removed from becoming Buffalo without Jeff Skinner. No one wants that.
The road trip gets easier, and then the Stars have three games at home before the Jets visit Dallas again. Of the next five contests, you’d really hope that Dallas can at least show up in four of them:
1/8 - @St. Louis Blues — A struggling team in a bad season. They can steal a win here and there, but Dallas can’t afford not to pull a point out of this game.
1/10 - @Philadelphia Flyers — If you shoot the puck on net like 25 times, you should beat Philly every time.
1/12 - St. Louis Blues — The Stars are finally back at home, and this is probably going to be a Trap Game or whatever. So, be prepared to read those stories.
1/15 - Tampa Bay Lightning — The best team in maybe the last four years? Yeah, I could see this one ending not-so-great.
1/17 - Los Angeles Kings — The worst team this year? Possibly. Quite possibly. Still, be prepared for Jack Campbell to shut them out.
The Stars need something, and I don’t think the most unprofessional burying of its own leaders in franchise history was Quite It. Still, this team can and should scrap for a wild card spot. Which, hey, weren’t we saying basically the same thing back in July?
[T]he team as it stands right now is probably going to be fighting for a wild card spot, at best. It’s hard to see things going wildly right for them in a division as strong as the Central—I’ve got Greg Pateryn marked down to score six goals against Dallas this year as it stands now—and while the Pacific is pretty blarghy-blarghy, the Stars will need to find some more goals in the middle six forward group and hope for a better year in net.
Dallas looked like a team that might be able to throw some heavy punches when they first battled Winnipeg in October. Then they lost 7-4 to Toronto in the next match, and my totally subjective, felt sense is that they’ve only grown more cautious since. If so, it certainly hasn’t been reflected in shot suppression.
Fortune favors the bold, but the boldest thing about Dallas so far has been the claim that they are deep in any sense of the word. This team is a one-line team with solid goaltending. Until they find either a better approach or some new personnel, this team’s misfortunes will be entirely its own.