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Game 28 Afterwords: Two Goals, One Point, No New Winning Streak Yet

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This was a winnable game right up until the team lost

Dallas Stars v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

And I just can’t contain

This feelin’ that remains

***

One quick note: I was really expecting Julius Honka to be traded today. I’d think his value is only going to keep going down from here, with one fewer year of team control and all. But I suppose he’s a one-year player at this point, so perhaps not. In any case, Jim Nill must have been getting lowballed like crazy not to get at least something for the former first-round pick. (Hey, I bet the Stars could try that Honka-for-Talbot trade this summer that they passed on back in 2015, if they’re inclined. Just a suggestion.)

There’s not much else to say at this point. I’d expect that the next time we hear anything about Honka, it’ll be a quiet, farewell sort of note.

Well, here’s hoping Denis Gurianov keeps trending up. For Jim Nill’s sanity, if nothing else.

***

This was a far different Wild team than the one that started the year. They’re 7-1-2 at home, and they’re on a three-game winning streak. This is a Bruce Boudreau team in that it’s putting together consistently great underlying numbers in a systemic sense, but its goaltending has been letting it down this year. Unfortunately for Dallas, they didn’t test Alex Stalock nearly often enough to see whether that pattern would hold true.

At first, the neutral zone looked a bit more open than against the Blues. The game started out with a fun-ish sort of pace, but the Wild consistently got the better of play until midway through the third, when the Stars withstood a Wild onslaught and finally cranked things up.

The openness led to more stretch pass attempts in first period, but pucks weren’t really crisp for most of Sunday afternoon, and the Stars ended up looking like a team where everyone was using someone else’s stick at crucial moments.

At no point was that truer than When Roman Polák wound up shooting on Ben Bishop five minutes into the game, which led to a horrifying-but-survivable sequence of three great chances for Minnesota, two by Eric Staal (who surprisingly never scored in the game despite looking dangerous most of the night). Taylor Fedun probably muttered something to himself in the press box after that sequence. Or perhaps after the two Minnesota power play goals. Or maybe he is used to waiting for his turn, and he’s a professional. Probably that one, but the muttering is more amusing, so I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

The other switch came on the top line, where Justin Dowling’s scratch led to Alex Radulov’s placement with Benn and Seguin. The line never really got going, although they had a couple of quick looks here and there that could have turned into more. That line has always tended to look more dangerous at home, where they don’t have to face checking lines all night long, and Sunday was no exception.

As for other off-the-cuff thoughts in our preface, Jamie Oleksiak continued skating more with the puck, trusting his tools. In a lot of ways, he was the more noticeable defenseman on his pairing until his first holding penalty, which is kind of remarkable when you’re playing with Miro Heiskanen (who we’ll get to later).

That first Wild power play that resulted from the penalty saw the same nine skaters on the ice for nearly the entire two minutes straight. Only one really decent look came of it, but everyone had collapsed, and the puck never had much chance of getting through. It was a perfect encapsulation of the Stars’ mentality as a defensive team: protect the house, and hope that you can eventually get to a rebound and clear it for a chance. Often, it works. At first, it worked in this game.

Holding was the call du jour Sunday, as Ryan Hartman was hit with a soft holding penalty on Hintz in the Wild’s offensive zone. I thought it was a bad call, but good news for us: the Stars would be on the other side of a marginal holding call later on, so hooray, everybody wins.

If you’re going to play a tight, low-event road game, then you have to get some help on the power play. The Stars did not manage to do that on their first power play chances, although there was a nice sequence that included a really smart John Klingberg keep with about 6:30 left in the first period on the power play to sustain possession. He looked like the Stars’ best defenseman (and maybe best player overall) in this game, and that’s a sight for sore eyes after what he went through to start the season. Klingberg’s creativity is vital for this team when they get stuck in ruts, and it’s not for nothing that he scored the series-winning goal against Nashville last year. Klingberg can do things few others can do, and this was a game where his doing so was one of the reasons they got a point.

Corey Perry continued to look more like Dallas Stars Eric Lindros than Anaheim Corey Perry for most of the game, but he did play smart as far at that goes, and he drew a penalty on Jason Zucker in the middle period. Another marginal one, perhaps, so I didn’t really think the final penalty of the game was that egregious in its nature. The call, I mean.

Among the Stars’ few good chances—and this game really did not have many good chances at all—Alexander Radulov got a great feed from Tyler Seguin from behind the net, but Stalock stopped him. Then Pavelski hit Stalock up high with a wrister from the dot, but to no avail. The Stars continued to have trouble scoring, and you were reminded on Sunday that the whole Minnesota Resurrection happened behind a ton of goals, not a ton of great defense. Yes, you need both, but this team needs to find that extra offensive gear again if they want to break out of this miniature funk. They’re not playing bad hockey or anything—they probably deserve more like two or three points out of their last three games than just one—but they’re not playing great hockey, either. You gotta make some plays, you know?

As for making plays, Oleksiak was forced to take his second penalty of the game after a bad Pavelski turnover at the blue line, where Oleksiak ended up shoving Zucker into Bishop out of desperation in what I would term a pretty good penalty to take, really. Pavelski has to make a better decision on that breakout attempt, because defensemen have to get desperate when they’re trying to prevent odd-man rushes and slam-dunk passes.

Unfortunately for Oleksiak and the Stars, the penalty kill ensued with a similar amount of indiscretion, as both Lindell and Sekera got sucked away from the net towards the corner, and Kevin Fiala was open on the doorstep to deflect a puck past Bishop with relative ease. Jim Montgomery said after the game that he liked the Stars’ penalty kill, but I honestly didn’t, in this one. I guess he’s going to win that tiebreaker, though.

But the special teams battle did prove to carry the day, as Ryan Donato took another Minnesota offensive zone penalty right after that to give the Stars another shot, but they spent the first 1:30 of the advantage with their second unit on the ice just looking for something from the perimeter. Then John Klingberg took matters into his own hands, and used the defending forward as a screen along with Jamie Benn, who was posted in front of Stalock, the Stars leveled things right back. It was exactly what they needed the power play to give them in a tight road game--especially these days, when scoring has dried up again. John Klingberg is such a smart shooter, and that’s even more valuable than having a cannon of a slapshot.

His sagacity also plays well in the defensive zone, and his metrics have almost always borne that out. He knows how to beat players with wit instead of getting turned around and scrumming along the boards, and his pairing was, at times, the only one you really trusted in this game. Roman Polák and Andrej Sekera, on the other hand, were having to chase pucks or skaters in the defensive zone for a lot of the night, and that is never a great way to build momentum.

Big saves are such a way, however, and Bishop made just such on Staal to end the 2nd - HUGE save. Zuccarello blocked a Miro Heiskanen shot and immediately fed Staal down the ice for a clean breakaway, but Bishop’s blocker took care of business to preserve the tie heading into the third. Ben Bishop didn’t have a great shootout, absolutely, but he also kept the Stars in the game. You’d like to see the team win when they outscore Minnesota 1-0 at evens and the goalie holds them to two goals overall. But alas.

Miro Heiskanen continue to look a bit off, and he looked noticeably slower this game. On a shift later in the second period, it looked like he and Comeau had a 2-on-1, but Heiskanen (who was a ways into his shift, admittedly) got caught pretty easily to negate the chance. Add to that a concerning Heiskanen turnover to Foligno to set up a gorgeous chance that whistled just high of Bishop, and you had a Heiskanen that looks enormously different than the one we watched for most of the first 25 games of the year. The most concerning of all was another 2-on-1 allowed after Heiskanen turned it over in the neutral zone late in the third period. That’s not Heiskanen at 100%, in my opinion. That’s probably not even him at 70%. Maybe there’s a tweaked muscle or two hampering him right now, but he never really looked like a serious weapon, and the Stars needed one in this game.

Still, they were in it, in spite of all that. It was a cagey start to the third period, until Jamie Benn blew up Eric Staal in the WIld zone to get things revved up. The downside of that trend was that the Wild used that newfound dynamism to do exactly what the Blues were doing for much of the game the other night, forcing the Stars to dump the puck out when they retrieved it in their own zone, or just straight hemming them in with some simple cycles. The Stars’ structure cedes that sort of thing, but the reality is that even a heavy and effective collapse that allows a lot of zone time against is going to show cracks after a minute straight of being ragged around in coverage without the puck. Thankfully, the Stars made it through about five minutes of strong Wild pressure with the tie intact, and they were able to push back a bit. The third period was their best one by far even with that five-minute segment, and it needed to be.

Radulov, Hintz, and Gurianov all got decent chances in short order in the back half of the third, but then Mattias Janmark had a layup after an Andrej Sekera shot from the point rebounded perfectly, only to have Janmark put it sqaure off the post and back into Stalock. That looked like it was going to be a heartbreaking missed opportunity, but the Stars’ bottom six got another chance.

This time, the depth scoring came through, as it has so often this year. Faksa almost, at first, and then Comeau flat evacuated Staal off the puck behind the net, curved up to the circles, and put a low shot through Stalock. I wonder if Stalock thought that shot was going high, but then Comeau fanned on it a bit to end up crossing up the goalie when it went low? Just a thought. Stalock certainly wanted it back, but here the Stars were, looking at taking a clean two points on the road against Minnesota—against whom it’s always sweet to win in regulation—in a tough game where they had fought through some adversity.

Then things got dicey on the aforementioned Heiskanen turnover, which led to a 2-on-1 late, which led to an unnecessary Radulov reach later in the sequence, which is to say a holding penalty. That put the Wild on the power play with just over two minutes left in the game. It was a bad decision by Radulov, but Jim Montgomery said in the postgame scrum that he thought that sort of reach hadn’t been called all game, which made it a pretty tough power play to award in the final stretch of regulation. The Stars just aren’t getting a lot of breaks right now, but they aren’t really helping themselves out, either.

It didn’t take long for this thing to break bad, either. Parise batted the pack out of midair to tie the game, which was a pretty deflating moment for a Stars team looking for a bright spot right now. It was a cruel twist, the way it happened, but the Stars, as they’ve done often in the last few games, didn’t do a good enough job of forcing the better outcome, allowing the initial shot, and being out of position on the rebound. One of the Wild’s best players made a great play because he was allowed to try, and there you go. The Stars had actually won the initial faceoff, but Lindell couldn’t clear the puck, and eventually lost it to Minnesota. It was a tough way to end a hard-fought (and boring, at times) game.

As far as overtime, the Stars had maybe one decent chance in five minutes, which was Heiskanen’s wrister with Gurianov and Hintz. I’m seeing now that this was also their only shot on goal, which, that’s not good! Really, it wasn’t a pretty overtime at all, with a lot of messy play by Dallas where they either failed to create an odd-man rush, or couldn’t make a clean pass to really get moving. The extra five minutes ended with a strange sequence of clock correction, where the clock froze at 0.3 seconds after a big Bishop save that he assumed would take the team to regulation, only to have the clock freeze to ostensibly balance itself out before expiring. It could have been disastrous, but you have to give Bishop a pass there, as he clearly had glanced at the clock and assumed it would continue to elapse at a steady pace instead of freezing for an extra 1-2 seconds to catch up, or whatever it was doing. It didn’t end up mattering either way, unfortunately.

So it was onto the shootout, where I observed this about each shot:

Parise: head fake to drop Bishop, then backhand shelf. That’s the best move in the shootout, in my opinion. Execute it quickly, and you’ll score almost every time.

Pavelski: A bit of a lucky goal off Stalock back into the net, or an unlucky bounce off the post that fortune redeemed. Take your pick.

Fiala: He just beat Bishop clean, glove side

Seguin: I’ll see your Fiala goal and raise you an even better shot, top corner blocker side. I could watch that shot a lot, and I have.

Zuccarello: He nearly deked Bishop, but the big American’s legs saved him from giving up three straight in the shootout.

Radulov: With the game on his stick, Radulov lost the puck. I get the idea of trying a deke after two shots got past Stalock, maybe catch him flinching or something. But it looked like he stayed with Radulov all the way, even if he hadn’t lost it. And this wasn’t even the worst attempt of the shootout, oh no, not quite.

Koivu: A smooth but less sinister backhand move, but it was enough to beat Bishop, and Bishop was angry about it, almost smashing his stick on the goal before realizing things weren’t over. Yes, it was a stoppable shot, but fate was with Koivu in his 1,000th game, so what are ya gonna do? Other than, like, score, I mean.

Perry: A fake slapshot, then a weak five-hole attempt. I’m not sure why you fake a slapshot in the shootout if you’re not coming in with a lot of speed and trying to get some room wide. Neither did Perry, it seems, as he ran out of room and had to settle for a rather hopeless five-hole stuff attempt that was never going anywhere.

As far as the shootout personnel decisions: I don’t care. Lead with your best guys, then go with your gut. It’s what every coach does, and honestly, this game never should have come down to the Stars’ fourth shooter in the skills drills. Sure, it’s weird that Roope Hintz didn’t get the call given how he’s the Stars’ best scorer and all, but hey, Denis Gurianov was fourth among forwards in ice time. It’s not like this is a coach refusing to trust young guys or anything.

Anyway, you should usually win a shootout when your shooters go 2-for-3 at the start.

This was a game the Stars should have won. They didn’t. The point is still important, and good on them for getting it. But this is more or less exactly what Monty had to be worried about happening when the winning finally slowed, and now the Stars need to find themselves again before the roller coaster finds its way back beneath the surface again. Winning streaks are great, but you have to back them up with consistent scoring, always.

Sure, the PK allowed two goals, which it’s rarely done. Maybe you just write this one off. But the Stars’ offense has weakened in each successive loss, and I don’t want to hear a single thing about defensive identity right now. The fact is, they aren’t forcing the issue lately, and that’s not going to win you many games. Chicago was some bad luck, I’ll grant that; but if they can’t find their mojo again, we’re going to be having a lot of conversations for the second time that weren’t even remotely fun the first time. Let’s not do that. This team is still in a perfectly fine spot, but as quickly as the Stars propelled themselves back into relevance, so also can they drop out of it. It’s their choice, unless they continue to let the other team choose for them.