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Afterwords: Same Top Line Does All the Scoring, Same Third Period Turtle, and Two More Points

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Ben Bishop definitely earned his meal in this one.

Dallas Stars v St. Louis Blues Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Seeing Hilary Hahn and Robert Levin perform this piece is the most emotional concert experience of my entire life. Obviously playing the Blues is a mercy for Dallas at this point of the year, but just listen to this piece. Everything after 2:30 just dismembers your heartstrings. You can almost see the Blues flailing, angry, trying to figure out what happened to their season. They were a lot of folks’ pick to make noise in the Central, and here they are, just trailing off into silence in January.

***

Playing St. Louis is usually a fun game. I always enjoy going back and listening to the Darren Pang commentary on the highlights, and as they are the Stars’ most recent playoff opponent (almost three years ago now), there is a deep well of memories there. Not all positive, mind, but memories nonetheless. And hey, who doesn’t love seeing Joel Edmundson pop back up every now and again? Radek Faksa certainly doesn’t mind, I can tell you that.

First things first: John Klingberg just burns David Perron, who clearly was not expecting a defenseman to bust to the net like he did on the Stars’ opening goal. See here:

It’s a slick play by Klingberg, whose skating is next-level even if he won’t win a speed competition against Miro Heiskanen. The way Klingberg effortlessly pushes off and glides around toward the net just out of Perron’s periphery is beautiful to watch. The initial push backward, the swiveling of the hips...that’s an NHL skater there, folks. Perron sees him a step too late, and that’s all Klingberg needs to move the goaltender laterally as he bunts the puck back to Seguin (who pushes off like a true disciple of the net-front play of Jamie Benn) for the tap-in.

By the way: how hot was Klingberg to start the season? So hot that he could go on an 18-game goal drought and still score his sixth of the season in St. Louis. The Stars have some weapons on the blue line.

If you’re Connor Carrick, it’s safe to say you have not quite blown the doors off in your return. After a lackluster first game back that saw the coaching staff deem Carrick “not up to game speed,” this match saw Carrick spend four minutes in the box, and a bit over six minutes on the ice. That is not a good ratio, in case you were wondering. You probably were not wondering.

As for the other defensive pairings, I have but one request: More Klingberg-Heiskanen, please. It’s been a great pairing in 70+ minutes or so thus far, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Anyone who remembers the heyday of Klingberg-Goligoski can understand the advantages of such a pairing: if the defense pressures one defenseman, the other one has only to get the puck and exploit the extra ice. Both Heiskanen and Klingberg are players who excel when given that space, as you know by now. It may not be something you want to roll with permanently or anything though—one-line wonders aren’t the best idea, you know—particularly with the Stars married to Roman Polák in word and deed.

Devin Shore got a great chance in tight on a feed from Esa Lindell, but he and Valeri Nichushkin seemed tied to the same fate this year. I ran a poll on Twitter a little while ago about whether Honka or Nichushkin would depart the organization first, but now I’m wondering if we need a “who scores again first” poll for 43 and 17. I think I’d go with Shore, but who even knows right now?

The Stars got to shoot their shot in this one after a Robert Bortuzzo knee (reckless) on Janmark (who was okay), but that’s not all, that’s not all; a Zach Sanford slash on John Klingberg as he traversed the ice led to a 5-on-3 power play for 95 seconds, and the game seemed to sit there for Dallas and its power play. There would be no more penalties called for the remaining 39 minutes of play; this was the Stars’ chance to extend the lead. They did so.

After some iffy moves that led to a good chance on the doorstep, John Klingberg finally went full no-muss-no-fuss, pounding a one-timer five-hole on Allen with little fanfare. Failing to capitalize there could really have given the Blues some penalty-kill momentum of their own, but instead, Dallas had a 2-0 lead. It is nice to have John Klingberg back.

Still, it’s worth mentioning that this was a pretty bad goal on Allen (though not as bad as the next one). Klingberg’s shot was on the ice more or less the whole time, and there was no deflection. This is just poor technique by a goaltender adjusting to a shot after the puck was below the goal line. Jake Allen is having a tough one.

But more to that point, the second goal from Tyler Seguin officially made it 3-0 on the Reverse VH of Jake Allen. If you’re wondering what life has been like in St. Louis this season, that goal is a pretty good microcosm. All right defense, seemingly good-enough goaltending, and then the puck’s squeezing into the net. It’s a bit unfair, I know, but then again, the Stars aren’t here to listen to other teams bemoan their goaltending situation. “You didn’t come to our pity party,” the jilted Stars fans say to, presumably, their former invitees. Why they were inviting Blues fans, I couldn’t say. Hockey fans are weird.

But after all that, things changed. You know what happened: the third period with a lead happened, and it happened fast. After a St. Louis timeout (and some lovely swearing by Craig Berube), it was suddenly 3-1 on a backhand from the red-hot David Perron after Roman Polák couldn’t keep up with him as Perron skated out from behind the net. If I’m a coach, that’s a goal I lay into the team for, as the whole sequence just wasn’t diligent enough all the way ‘round. However, I am still, mercifully, not a coach. But I’m not sure it would have done any good if I had been, as the Blues found life after finding the scoresheet. A huge push and some shaky Stars neutral zone play led to a 3-on-2 that nearly made it 3-2, but a flailing Bishop was able to hang on. Carl Gunnarsson tested Bishop’s glove as well during that same surge, but Dallas finally found its legs and came out the other side of the St. Louis flurry hoping the third period would be different. Would it be different? Well, it

Okay, well, it was sort of different, but in a “worse” kind of way. Still, Dallas did have some chances. Seguin had a great chance for a hat trick after some vintage* stickhandling by Jamie Benn to get around Robert Bortuzzo, but Seguin put the resulting puck just wide.

*sadly, this is what comes to mind when we see Benn beating players like this. Vintage. As in, more valuable now because of its vastly increased rarity.

Eric Condra had a glorious chance to score his first goal as a Star with Jake Allen out of the net, but he for some reason wasn’t prepared to get the puck from Jason Spezza, which, what are you even doing if you aren’t prepared to get the puck when Spezza has it behind the net? He will find you. He will. Anyway, Jake Allen got back just in time to clear that puck, and he followed it up with a fancy glove on Esa Lindell just to remind us that he is an NHL goaltender, recent events notwithstanding. I found it interesting that Berube didn’t pull Allen after the 3-0 softie, but it turns out Allen plays well when his pride is hurt, and so did the rest of the Blues, for that matter. Sadly for St. Louis, they would still lose by two goals. Can’t have everything in this life.

As for the victory lap, thoughts of settling the game down for the final period were quashed early with some great up-and-down action. A Bishop save at one end led to a really great Spezza touch pass to Heiskanen that was begging to be put into a half-empty net, but the puck wouldn’t settle down for the All-Star defenseman. I am going to enjoy saying that all season.

To re-establish his empire, Allen robbed Janmark with his skate on a 2-on-1 pass from Roope Hintz midway through the third. It was maybe Allen’s best save of the match, and it’s easy to see how St. Louis could be addicted to him, with saves like that. Still, there’s no denying that the Stars won the goalie battle in this one, and that most certainly earned them what they got: two points.

***

This was a fun game once the teams came alive, and the third period was especially enjoyable, with a long, long stretch of action without a whistle that finally ended with a glorious chance from David Perron that saw Bishop stacking the pads point blank, only to have the puck miss high.

It might be an Actual Crime to pair a Constantly Playmaking Spezza (as he has been in the last couple games now) with Eric Condra and Devin Shore, who has clearly offended the Hockey Gods with his mirth and good-natured demeanor. But hey, this was the season we were also worried about when Spezza signed that deal, and it’s turned out all right, yeah? He’s fourth on the team in scoring, the power play (with him on the top unit) is heating up again, and Spezza is getting plenty of ice time (finally) even with his team *gasp* in the lead. This is a strange a mysterious concept, this playing Spezza to defend a lead, but given how Spezza was pretty much just taking the puck the instant the linesman pulled it out of his pocket, I don’t know if those were really legal faceoffs anyway. Still, 16 minutes in a Central Division matchup is something I’m not sure Hitch would have been dishing out to Spezza no matter the situation, so it was good to see Spezza making plays in his ample time to roam.

***

Esa Lindell turned a puck over in his own zone, then made a diving save in front of the empty net to keep it 3-1 with eight minutes left. It was wonderful.

No, but really: Ben Bishop was good in this one. His glove hand made another huge appearance late in the third after a series of Dallas icings led to some dangerous defensive work, but Bishop’s trapper grabbed a Tarasenko shot and gained the Stars a reset.

As Razor mentioned on the broadcast, the Stars have scored the fewest empty-netters in the league while allowing the most. What does this mean? Well, it probably means they aren’t generating many neutral zone turnovers with the other team’s net empty, and it probably means they have issues exiting the zone with possession when the other team’s defense is pinching along the boards. Indeed, that was the problem for some of this game. Dallas is going to need to use the center or the ice more confidently if this season is ever going to make something of itself.

How is Vladimir Tarasenko doing? Well—PING—with the goalie pulled and under two minutes left, he had a chance, but didn’t get anything to show for it other than some ringing ears. We are grateful for the melody, Vladimir, but it is bedtime, for goodness’ sake. We’re trying to sleep here!

“They’re on a back-to-back. We shouldn’t give up more than three scoring chances. We gave up, like, twelve.” - Jim Montgomery

The best ten-games stretches in the Central Division currently belong to Dallas and Chicago, both at 6-3-1. Two of those wins for Dallas are the (mildly scrappy) wins against Nashville and Washington. The Stars can steal games this year, and in this one, they just had to claim eminent domain. There were some rough patches for sure, but the Stars weather them as well as you could hope, and here we are: Third place in the Central again, and just behind Nashville, who have a 24-goals-better differential on Dallas. Sustainable? Nothing is in this life. Enjoyable? Well, certainly compared to the alternative, yeah.

And this is why the Stars don’t have a great goal differential, I think. They can’t control the game whether up or down, and even the track meet they did get into at times didn’t really result in much for Dallas. They don’t have the precision of weaponry anymore, even if the armory itself is deep (and it may not be at all). I’ll still prefer a race to a slog, but I can see how Dallas doesn’t love cranking up the Risk-O-Meter at this point in the season. But I am just a big galoot who wants to see elite players do amazing things, and this game had some of those for darn sure. The third period was a bad one, no question, but the Stars can keep figuring that out for years if Bishop (and Khudobin) keep delivering gems like this one. That Bishop contract may age about like the Spezza deal, but if that means Bishop is still around setting up scoring chances (yes, for the Stars, you sarcastic ninnies) in five years, that’s not a half-bad thing to hope for.

Overall, I kind of loved this game. It was chaos, it was a bit 2014-15, but ultimately, it was good goaltending behind some shaky puck work on both sides of it. Dallas has shown they can pull wins out of these possession-game losses, but is that sustainable modeling, or just fantastic wish-fulfillment going on here? I don’t know, but I can promise that the Stars will play another hockey game. Maybe even more! I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Is that even possible, come to think of it? I can run fast, but not that fast.