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Game 3 Afterwords: Too Much Man, Too Much Mantha, Not Enough Man-on-Man

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This wasn’t a good game

Dallas Stars v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I’ll bring some gasoline and matches

maybe napalm too

And we could start a fire

Just for something to do

And then take off down the alley when the police come

***

Over the course of a hockey season there are going to be tough games. There will also be some fun games, unless you’re like Ottawa or Buffalo or something. But every once in a while, you’ll also get one of those games that feels like it was genetically modified to bond with every piece of your heart before ripping them right out in regular installments.

For the Dallas Stars, tradition dictates that these games usually take place against Detroit.

Whether it was tough playoff elimindations in 1998 and 2008 or the 7-6 debacle with the Kari Lehtonen bowling by Justin Abedelkader in 2015, or any other number of humblings in the old Joe Louis Arena, Detroit has been a graveyard for a lot of Dallas Stars Hope over the years.

This game was much earlier in the year than any of those, and after all, three one-goal losses to start the season is nothing to start firing people over. The Stars began last season 3-4-0, you may recall.

Still, there were some warning signs in this one if you’re inclined to look for them. For instance;

Eight penalties is a bad look, even if you disagree with one or two of them. The Stars haven’t given their opponent eight power plays in any of the last four regular seasons. They did get nine power play opportunities themselves in a loss to Nashville a couple years ago in the dying embers of Lindy Ruff’s tenure, you may remember, but yeah. The point is, officials really don’t like to call eight minor penalties if they have any reason not to. The Stars made their own, terrible bed in this one, and it was one of those race-car beds except with three flat tires. Yeah, this race-car bed had tires, but they got flat. I don’t know, I never had one of those, I’m not Richie Rich, sue me. (Please don’t sue me.)

Speaking of things you could debate with the officials, Frans Nielsen caught a puck up high and went to the ice as the Stars were entering the zone late in the third, but play was allowed to continue. Personally, I idn’t like that, given the potential seriousness of head injuries, but we also have the non-whistle on Ben Bishop’s collarbone-buckling shot against St. Louis last year fresh in our memory, so perhaps the universe’s attempt at equalization is just drunk and very, very belated. Thanks for nothing, giant turtle.

***

Even though the Klingberg interference was the only one that actually led to a power play goal, there’s no denying that playing nearly an entire period shorthanded is going to rough up your guys on the second night of a back-to-back.

Esa Lindell, for instance, played 11 minutes shorthanded, which is 2:31 more than Taylor Fedun played in the entire game. So things like that puck on edge that Lindell flubbed to the slot on a late D-to-D pass may or may not be a result of fatigue. Maybe the dumb penalties weren’t always costly, but they sure as shootin’ weren’t helpin’, neither.

Then again, the Stars may have remember that half their goals the previous night came shorthanded, so maybe they were playing next-level mind games here. The heart is deceitful; who can know it?

It’s interesting to think about this game from the Detroit perspective, too. What if the Stars had hung on and stolen this game in overtime? Then you’d have to think Detroit would be kicking themselves for only scoring on one of eight power plays, decrying their lack of any scoring outside of one player, and we’d all be lauding the Stars’ penalty kill for keeping them in the game.

That’s not what happened, though. That is very much not what happened.

***

As if having Brett Ritchie open the season with an ugly goal on Ben Bishop in Dallas’s first game wasn’t cruel enough, Sunday night saw Patrik Nemeth play 21 minutes (of mixed quality, to be fair) while all around great guy Trevor Daley left the game with an injury. Those aren’t all equivalent or anything, but when you start the season 0-3-0, you’re looking for every bit of spite the universe might be hurling at you, and there was plenty to dodge in this one. Former Stars contributing to their new teams stick out a bit when this squad is still figuring things out.

Things started well enough, which made the eventual downfall that much more painful. Jamie Benn had a nice deflection right off the hop from Dowling that hit Bernier up high, marking a good first shift for the “third” line. Unfortunately, that’s as close as that line would get, en route to eating a couple minuses and generally struggling to generate any dangerous chances. Jim Montgomery began mixing lines up later in the game what with all the penalties and such, but Jamie Benn knows as well as anyone that he needs to find a way to drag his teammates out of the mire they’ve slid into, and soon.

As for those preventing disaster, Anton Khudobin saved his first shot on goal, so that’s progress in the Dallas net. He did give up goals to start the second and third periods, but I really don’t fault him for any of the tallies tonight, full stop. Firstly, because Anthony Mantha was clearly in Hero Mode tonight, and what are ya gonna do? Secondly, because holy schamoly, someone should have picked up the guy with a hattie already, dontcha think?

I suspect that he was Mattias Janmark’s guy there, but remember, that was a bit of a mixed line after an icing to defuse another great Red Wings shift in the Stars’ zone that saw Esa Lindell’s gaffe precede a deflection off Klingberg, both of which Khudobin had somehow kept out of the net. But Mantha’s fourth goal was a wide-open flubbed one-timer that ticked off Klingberg’s stick, so fate was clearly in full control tonight. (Fate, by the way, is named Mrs. Mantha, and she is quite proud of her big son.)

No one wants to hear it on this website, but Anthony Mantha had the night of a lifetime. It really stings to have it come at the Stars’ expense, but you have to sit back and marvel a bit at that game. Eight shots on goal, four in the net. Hey, give me another two or three decades, and I might start to be able to feel some amount of happiness for a Red Wings player. It could happen.

***

The penalties are the easy locus for pinpointing What Ails the Stars these days. Dallas have drawn just six penalties in three games while surrendering a whopping 14 opportunities. When you’re having to kill two penalties for every power play you get, you’re going to come up short a lot of the time. You might, in fact, ending up scoring just two goals per game or something like that. Wow, that would be bad, hopefully that won’t happen to this team, right guys.

Radulov started the parade with a hook that didn’t have to be called, but it’s not like you’re really giving Radulov the benefit of the doubt these days, you know? This is a player who was tied with Evgeni Malkin and Mikko Rantenen in minor penalties taken last season, but who drew 10 fewer than he took, while the other two guys were basically even. And when you’re scoreless to start the season, that’s where it really becomes a glaring stat. Thankfully, this one didn’t hurt the Stars, but it was an ominous sign on an preposterous night.

Can you remember when this game was 2-0, Dallas? It’s true, fossil records bear it out, I wouldn’t lie about this. Miro Heiskanen was the first Star to encourage our misplaced optimism when he took the puck from Khudobin and used an effortless bit of skating (the only kind he really has) to easily gain the zone and hand off to Hintz, who caught Trevor Daley with a bit of a passive gap--which should tell you how afraid Daley was of getting beaten inside by the large Finnish Star--allowing Hintz to catch Jonathan Bernier with a bit of a weak glove hand to start the scoring. Hintz looks unstoppable right now, and his second goal would just reiterate that fact. Unfortunately, Mantha was unstoppabler.

Of the seven goals in the game, only one was scored by neither Hintz nor Mantha: Tyler Seguin, in fact, victimized the player we all thought was Detroit’s best forward when he walked Dylan Larkin and went top shelf over Bernier, who was looking beleaguered by that point, much like Binnington had at times the night before. It was a great play by Seguin, enabling him to keep pace with Jamie Oleksiak and Anton Khudobin in the Stars’ scoring title race this season.

Speaking of the non-forwards, John Klingerg had the only costly penalty in terms of goals for either side, with a bit of unnecessary interference as the first period ended, though it wasn’t exactly the sort of interference that always gets called. The Stars would end up paying for it collectively, as Anthony Mantha put a one-timer from the point past Khudobin early in the second period. You may have seen this phrase before.

As for the Stars’ power play, Mattias Janmark was the only one earning opportunities for Dallas, doing so twice on the night. The first one came as a result of some good protecting against Nemeth (with the officials surely happy to give the Stars’ an opportunity), and I was all ready to talk about how Janmark has gotten a bad rap from his lack of finishing ability lately until he (I think) botched his coverage off the faceoff that led to the game-winner. But folks get testy at the bottom-six players who aren’t scoring when the team as a whole can’t score, and tonight is probably not the night to defend anyone not named Hintz or Heiskanen.

For what it’s worth, the Stars’ second unit would get the better chances on the job, although I’m not sure that a unit with Heiskanen and Hintz is the second version of anything right now. But no goal means no success, and the Red Wings’ going right back on the power play thanks to an awkward Andrew Cogliano trip sapped any momentum that power play might have been able to draw.

A bad Denis Gurianov mistake ended up leading to the tying goal. After looking for a better play than clearing it up the ice from his own zone, Gurianov ended up waiting too long and failing to clear altogether, leading to an extended Wings shift in the attacking zone that (after another quick clearance and re-entry) eventually saw a gassed Esa Lindell (who also didn’t add to his career highlight reel on the play) getting the corner turned on him by, of course, Anthony Mantha.

It was the sort of mistake Gurianov just cannot afford to make in front of a coaching staff that clearly doesn’t trust him to play big minutes yet, and he rarely saw the ice for the rest of the night, getting only one shift in the third period and two in the second. It’s a tough spot for Gurianov, but you have to call a spade a spade, and that play was more or less inexcusable given the situation.

To add to the fun, Jamie Benn took the Stars’ fourth penalty as a loud shot rang off the post, signaling that this game was no longer 2-0 Dallas by any stretch. The Red Wings are a young team still a ways from contention, but they looked plenty ready to prove their mettle against a rattled Dallas team at the halfway point of the game, and they largely dominated play for the rest of the night.

This is where it got really silly, though.

The Stars’ fifth penalty was the first for too much man, and it came right as Benn’s hooking call had expired. Jim Montgomery let his bench know his displeasure with a very visible display of some unprintable (well, unprintable in most publications) words.

Roope Hintz created some havoc in front of the net with a nice rush on the left wing, and Janmark was there to draw his second penalty as he attempted to stuff the rebound, which was a nice preview of what would happen with a role-reversal later on when Hintz scored his second goal. We’ll get to it, I promise.

***

Obviously it’s gonna be the talking point, but yeah, your top guys need to show up somewhere if you’re going to get off to a good start in the year. Even if your skaters aren’t all in sync, the power play is a great place to make up for some mistakes when your 5v5 game isn’t there. But the Stars couldn’t find a way to make it happen in either of their chances, and they have yet to score a power play goal on the season. Losing streaks usually have their share of “if only” moments, and this game was no exception. But at the end of the day, Dallas is 0-3-0 because too many players haven’t played well enough, and you usually start with the name brand products when you start going down that list. Radulov and Benn are easy targets, and even Pavelski has been drawing some ire from fans who find him relatively invisible, despite being +2 on the Hintz/Janmark line and at least not being scoreless to start the year. I get it, he doesn’t look that dynamic, but I also don’t see a player totally lost, either. He’s around it, and he knows how to get after it. He’s not at the top of my list when it comes to concerning players right now.

Still, Pavelski was less invisible in the third when he tripped Valteri Filppula, and the too many men on the ice by Tyler Seguin came shortly thereafter.

The Andrew Cogliano goalie interference penalty completed the infraction trifecta. It was a tough call, given where Bernier was outside his crease, but what with the violence of the collision, you can see why the officials called it in the moment. Anyway, Dallas emerged from some good 5-on-3 penalty killing time (that almost saw Hintz with a two-man-down shorthanded breakaway) with the game still there for the taking, and they came one minute away from having at least a point to show for it. So close.

***

To go back for a moment, if I were Jim Montgomery, I would probably lose my gourd the most at the Mantha hat trick goal after the Stars came out tentatively to start the third period. For a team that had surely just talked about what they needed to do to play well and take care of a business, that breakdown was outright disgraceful from a team fresh from intermission. You want a statement from your tough line to set the tone for the period. Instead, you got this:

Faksa and Lindell looked like two players not recognizing the real threats, with Faksa in particular going up high along the boards and getting upside down on the puck. It wasn’t egregious in a vacuum, but you just know losing those sorts of battles will drive a coach insane.

Hintz and Janmark would respond, to their credit. The quick response goal to get the team going started with a pretty little overlap in the neutral zone from Janmark to Hintz, who then fed Janmark for a one-timer, with Hintz again there to finish the double give-and-go by stashing the rebound. Expect to see that pair together again on Tuesday, even if every other forward line gets tossed into the Veg-O-Matic

There were nearly some unexpected heroics from the two newest Dallas Stars, but Nick Caamano’s glorious chance from a behind-the-net feed by Rhett Gardner went into Bernier’s pads. Those were two players who can probably hold their heads up a bit after this one, with Gardner in particular looking solid on four minutes of penalty kill duty. Still, a goal would have been nice, and they did have themselves a chance at one.

***

I don’t have a great place to put this, but Lindell had a really smart bump pass late in the third that I loved, so here is that GIF, in case you like smart plays to exit the zone with possession under pressure. Considering how many icings Lindell has racked up in the past, I take every play like this as a positive sign. You take what you can get with this team right now.

The Stars made a great push at the end, with Heiskanen, Pavelski and Radulov all coming close, and Radulov in particular getting the puck at least onto the goal line, but indiscernibly further, according to video review. But, I mean, when your top-line winger is getting thwarted by literally Jonathan Bernier, that tells you all you need to know about which way the wind is blowing on a given night. Dallas is a team frustrated, as you may have noticed by reading- *checks comments*- uh, this website.

***

So, what do you if you’re Montgomery? You can go the Jim Lites route and put Benn and Radulov and maybe even Seguin on blast for some instant catharsis. You can bench guys, but with an already-thin bench, it’s hard to see how Dallas can do that without shooting themselves in the foot. You can mix up the lines, but it’s pretty clear that only a few guys are really clicking for the Stars right now, and Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz are not gonna win many games by themselves, even if Mattias Janmark is hell-bent on drawing a power play for every stick penalty Radulov takes.

That’s why my answer right now is, and more or less has to be, patience. Either for the truly troubling times so we can all enjoy our gallows humor without hesitation, or for a bit more context before we start scrubbing up for major theoretical surgery. Or, of course, for the Stars to bounce back. Goodness knows they’re good enough to do so. The other team sitting at 0-3 in the league right now? The San Jose Sharks. It is early.

Some have speculated that Jim Nill was waiting for the season to start before trying to acquire a top-four defenseman. Thanks to the we-know-from-whence signing of Martin Hanzal (which, to be fair, no one could have predicted would turn out this poorly) and the misfortunes of Stephen Johns, the Stars just don’t have cap space to do things without really hurting themselves down the road unless Nill can pull a rabbit out of his, uh, hat.

That’s why, much as we all want to start screaming about all the failures and foibles of this team and its discrete parts—which are very real, both in the past and present—the easiest and wisest solution for now is probably to hope and pray that their best players play better. Alex Radulov is clearly still very, very, good, and John Klingberg knows how to score power play goals. Jamie Benn is skating well even if he’s not taking over games lately. The Stars have an outstanding goalie tandem, and enough bottom-six depth to weather the injuries besetting them right now. They will not lose 79 more games, I am fairly certain.

I thought on opening night that the Jason Dickinson injury was the one that could most haunt the Stars of the three suffered in that game, and tonight’s game didn’t really disabuse me of that notion. But if you believe in voices in the room, tonight was also a night where they could have used a steady, veteran presence like one of the two they lost Thursday, and there just didn’t appear to be one. That’s on the veterans who are there, the captains, and yes, the coach, to an extent. But this game faltered in the details moreso than the overall approach, so it seems prudent to work on tinkering before beginning any serious excavation.

The good news is, Dallas next gets to play the team tied with Toronto for second in the NHL standings right now. It’s always a great time to visit Washington D.C., that magical city where problems go to get fixed up and sorted out.