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Game 30 Afterwords: Redeemed Blown Lead or Disconcerting Victory?

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They’ll take this one, though they almost didn’t (again)

NHL: DEC 05 Jets at Stars Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hey baby, how are you doing

Yeah, I knew I’ve been wrong for a while

But I’m back to say

I want to stay right here with you

***

Just as the 4-1 victory against Philly to kick off their 14-1-1 stretch was the furthest thing from a masterpiece, so also was this game a herky-jerky ride to an eventual two points in overtime. Whether it turns into anything more remains to be seen, but there are positives (and negatives) that you can take from any game—but nothing beats racking up two points after dropping seven of your last eight. Literally, two points is the most you can get from any game. They got 100% of the available points! 100%! That is a large percent.

The power play won them this game, although it could have done so sooner, had the Stars managed a truer effort on Mark Scheifele’s pair of minors later in the second period to give Dallas four minutes on the job. Maybe I’m cynical at this point, but the Stars’ power play effectively scored two 4-on-3 goals, so I’m not sure how much will carry over to their more conventional man advantage play. I think the power play is the primary reason most of the top guys aren’t scoring up to par, and whether its struggles have been due to John Klingberg’s absence, or because of something else—those venerable Facebook commenters tend to blame Klingberg for its failures—the Stars have suffered accordingly.

Thursday, if the Stars come up empty on the power play again, they’re blowing a 1-1 game late. In fact, they almost blew it early, too. Despite coming out with a “we are here to prove something” effort in the first period, the Stars were still leaking high-quality chances far too often, starting with Jamie Benn’s ill-advised pass right to Scheifele at the Stars’ own blue line to set up what should have been a 2-on-0 for a real bummer of a goal. But just like Tuesday, the Stars were saved from early despair thanks to the Jets’ ineptitude. Unlike Tuesday, the Stars managed to solidify their play enough to stave off later despair. Progress, I am saying.

It’s fine if you want to say this game was What They Needed, because maybe it was! The team proved that Winnipeg isn’t an immortal dragon, even if they got pretty badly scorched in the third period. As for the tying goal, I’m not sure what the thought process was behind putting out the line of Dowling, Perry and Gurianov to defend a one-goal lead late against the Jets, but it’s safe to say it did not work. Then again, nothing was really working once the Stars failed to score on that double minor late in the second:

The Jets came out angry to start the third period, and the Stars more or less parked the bus. It may have been enough but for a pretty lousy goal on Ben Bishop, who is a bit more prone to giving up the odd ugly goal than one would like to see, sometimes. Ray Ferraro mentioned on the Winnipeg broadcast that this is just something Bishop has always fought, but the Stars can ill afford to hope for wins while scoring two goals a game, particularly when an otherwise great goaltending performance might be undone by low-percentage shot like Blake Wheeler’s. The whole point of the Stars’ defensive structure is to allow shots like that (if they have to) while protecting the high-percentage areas; a goalie who is a bit more prone than most to giving up low-percentage goals is not exactly the perfect fit for that system.

Lest you doubt this evaluation, among the 48 goalies who have played at least 600 minutes this year, Natural Stat Trick this year has Bishop as 3rd in the NHL in high-danger SV%, but 32nd in low-danger SV%. It’s kind of cruel the way the Stars’ goaltending has shaken out since 2014, isn’t it?

Still, Bishop isn’t submarining this team by any stretch, and his overall numbers are fantastic. You live with that, even if you don’t always like the discrete elements making up the numbers. Additionally, an interesting thing to note is that the top five goaltenders on that list in low-danger SV% are James Reimer, Jack Campbell, Darcy Kuemper, Jaroslav Halak, and Jacob Markstrom. Not exactly Ken Drydens, all of them, though Kuemper is having himself quite a year just the same. Anyway, sample size and all that, but it’s not unfair to note that the Stars would be better-served to give themselves a cushion in tight games instead of assuming Bishop will always hold a one- or two-goal lead. There’s probably a reason the team doesn’t have a shutout yet, is what I’m saying. Score more goals, always.

Connor Hellebuyck, by the way, was outstanding last night, as he has been for the Jets all year. This is a game that easily could have been a lost goalie duel for Dallas (with assistance rendered by Anthony Bitetto’s goal-line sprawl), if not for some really clutch scoring by Jamie Benn and Denis Gurianov. Benn redeemed his turnover and then some with a classic Benn power play wrister, and Gurianov scored a goal off the rush that looked like an amalgamate of his draft day highlight reel. The Stars needed them both, and they got them. Benn saw a vacancy in the slot, and he stepped up and shot it with a good Pavelski screen set. That decisiveness will serve him well this year if he keeps it up, as his shot is still one of the best on the team. He also had a ridiculous sequence dancing a defender and nearly generating a second goal, so when you combine that with his big hit on (of course) Scheifele, it’s fair to say the Captain was Captaining in this one. Good on him.

Tyler Seguin also created that overtime winner, even if he’s back in a goal-scoring funk again. How worried must the Stars be about Seguin this year, do you think? As Jim Nill said earlier this season during the first losing streak, he can GM at full speed all he wants, but at the end of the day, the Stars need their $10 million players to be, like, better than 20-goal scorers. Or, check that—Benn and Seguin now have six goals through 30 games this year. That’s actually a pace of 16 goals over an 82-game season. That’s, and I have double-checked this, not good. Benn’s decline has been presaged for a bit now, but Seguin accompanying him off the cliff would be a disaster far worse than whatever is going on with Alex Radulov this year.

Speaking of, you should check out Sean Shapiro’s rundown of the game for his notes on Radulov’s behavior. The healthy scratch does indeed seem to be more of a cumulative thing than any response to penalties. Yes, Radulov is still one of the team’s best offensive weapons, but he’s always carried with him a certain sort of behavior that bucks against what hockey coaches are trying to foster within the team. And when a ship starts leaking, the last thing you need is someone running around and pushing everyone else out of the way as they try to plug all the holes themselves. I had somehow forgotten about Radulov’s talking back to Montgomery last year that earned him a bit of a benching, but when you put that sort of attitude alongside Radulov’s flaunting of other rules (team and otherwise), you can see how a team might have to make some tough decisions.

That said, it’s also a failure all around when you have to scratch one of your best players to curtail behavioral issues. It’s the same frustration that Stars fans have felt about scratches of Goligoski, Klingberg, Hemsky, Hamhuis, Seguin, Spezza, and other players over the last decade. This is the nuclear option; if you’re using it once a season, there might be some bigger issues at heart. One is reminded that Montgomery called out a certain “culture of mediocrity” last year, but I digress.

Like Bishop, however, Jamie Benn saved the Stars in spite of themselves. Joe Pavelski (also now with six goals) did the same in overtime, and wow, there are a lot of players on this roster who are not scoring, aren’t there? Seems like something somebody should do something about, I don’t know. Ryan Garbutt scored 17 goals one season, what’s he up to these days? Just trying to help here, don’t blame me.

I’ve also given Corey Perry’s play some criticism in this space, but his primary assist on Gurianov’s goal happened, and that gives him points in five of 23 games this season (3-7-10, to be clear, so a lot of those are multi-point efforts). I’m not sure that finding the scoresheet once every five games is really worth the $1.5 million in performance bonuses the Stars’ cap hit is going to take next year as a result, but you can’t put a price on getting other teams really, really annoyed, I suppose.

Oh, and that primary assist last night was, shall we say, not exactly Zubovian in character. Maybe it was just enough to keep Gurianov’s momentum where it needed to be, but only Perry really knows for sure how much of this was intentional:

Regardless, it was enough to get the Stars a two-goal lead, and that was enough to get them into overtime. Sometimes, you just need to get enough to survive before you worry about getting more. And for a team that’s been as feast-or-famine as it gets this season, maybe some good old-fashioned moderation is just what the doctor ordered. So long as it comes with two points, the Stars can handle that. It’s better than losing a fifth straight game to a Central Division opponent, though. Most things are.