Looks like Mourning in your eyes
The first thing you noticed about this game was the sparsely populated lower bowl, right?
Official attendance was 9,472 tonight, 9th fewest fans to watch an NHL game this season.— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) February 13, 2019
The second thing you noticed about this game was, probably, that it was kind of boring. Not much happened, and that combined with the dead feel of the building to evoke an exhibition game on and off the ice. It wasn’t, though. This was all-too-real, and the Stars made the handful of Panthers fans who did show up regret having done so.
Sometimes games just aren’t very much fun to watch, and that’s where the result comes in. The Stars, mercifully, made this game worth watching—or, more accurately, worth having watched. If the team wins and enjoys doing so, you can get on board with that.
How did they do it? Well, put simply, the Stars got to the front of the net with impunity, as you can see here:
Even more simply, the team Tyler Seguined their way to a win. Seguin scored two goals and had a slick primary assist on Esa Lindell’s tally, leading Dallas past a Florida team that only ever threatened Anton Khudobin’s shutout with some isolated chances here and there. That’s what you can do when you have a superstar playing for your team.
Conversely, just how one dimensional are the Dallas Stars at forward? They won 3-0 with no power play goals, and eight of their twelve forwards were even in plus/minus. The team played a good defensive game as far as defending the slot, but anyone looking for hope that this team might be a Real Contender come April will notice the lack of consistent threats from other lines. They call it a one-two punch for a reason.
Speaking of other lines, this play is still making me angry, so I’ll go ahead and talk about it once more:
Spezza's gotta be dying a little every shift tonight, right? Ritchie turned a great chance into a wrister from above the circles literally minutes after Roope Hintz made a pass on almost the exact same play to set up Seguin. Blargh. pic.twitter.com/4IXRGcEzse— Robert Tiffin (@RobertTiffin) February 13, 2019
The first Stars’ goal was a great play by Roope Hintz to catch and release a puck to Seguin as he was streaking to the net. Unfortunately for Ritchie, he opted out of the give-and-go Spezza began here, and just tossed a wrister up high at Roberto Luongo, hoping for a perfect rebound, I assume.
It reminds me of the old Lindy Ruff adage, “was there a better play?” Absolutely Ritchie could have saucered the puck to the net front here for Spezza, but he either didn’t see Spezza breaking through or didn’t think it was a pass he could make. It’s the sort of thing that drives me crazy every time I hear someone complain that Spezza isn’t earning his salary, as though we’re the ones writing the checks for this team. Ah, well. We all have our things, and Ritchie is probably still being showcased for a trade, so it’s whatever. Jason Spezza has a wonderful family and will be happy regardless of who passes to him. Life is beautiful.
As for the other side of the bottom-of-the-lineup decisions, Jamie Oleksiak only played eight minutes in this one, which is noteworthy insofar as the Stars were leading for most of it. This sort of icetime allotment is usually indicative of a lower level of trust for a player—see Val Nichushkin’s 7+ minutes—and considering Oleksiak’s lack of offensive capability (his early season outburst in Pittsburgh notwithstanding), it’s a bit confusing to me why the Stars traded for him if they don’t trust him to defend a lead against a middling team. If you can’t trust Oleksiak to defend a lead against the Florida Panthers in February, how on earth are you going to deploy him in the playoffs against Nashville or Winnipeg?
Oleksiak, by the way, did not distinguish himself in this one, as it was his turnover that led to the Derick Brassard shot off the post early—how different could this game have been had that gone in?—and his needless interference penalty that could have cut the 2-0 lead back down right after it had been established. Maybe Oleksiak was simply being disciplined in this one, and next game will see him being trotted out there on the regular. I cannot wait to see.
It occurs to me that I am spending some words on lower-lineup players again when most recaps out there are probably going to focus on Tyler Seguin, Esa Lindell—who was quite good—and Anton Khudobin, who absolutely deserved the shutout after making a couple of big saves when he had to. I can’t bring myself to apologize for this, and here’s why: I enjoy talking about decisions, discussing why coaches and managers do what they do, why they construct a given game plan and how they react to the results. So as much as Jim Lites might hate to read something talking about Ritchie or Honka or Oleksiak or Fedun (who honestly deserves to be making Oleksiak money), I can’t help but talk about the parts of the lineup that are open for tinkering. The lines get blended, and the top players are generally going to get their minutes. But coaches are going to bring players in or out towards the bottom of the lineup, and I love trying to get in their head when they do so.
So, I guess I’d say it’s just more interesting to me to discuss the players who get rotated in or out than to spend as many words talking about, “Hey, that Tyler Seguin guy...he’s pretty good, eh?” You know that, and you can read about that anywhere. I don’t want to ignore that, but just as I trust I’ve praised Anton Khudobin enough this year that our gentle readers won’t think me unkind for not waxing poetic about his game tonight, so also do I suspect that you don’t need me telling you that the Stars won this game because Tyler Seguin was great. They did because he was, though.
Oh, one more thing: that Seguin goal from Hintz was extremely reminiscent of the Ondrej Palat goal from the game against Tampa last month. It’s fun to watch slick goals like that when your team is the one scoring them.
The same goes for the Lindell goal too, I suppose. Right after Benn was put back with Segin and Radulov, the trio combined to win a puck back from the ever-regressing Aaron Ekblad along the boards, and Seguin turned his stick over to push the puck perfectly to Lindell’s tape. Good on Lindell for going to the right spot after making a play on the puck earlier to keep things going, and good on Seguin for some elite vision, as usual. Vision is a skill.
Of course, that vision can cut both ways, as we save later after a great Jamie Benn poke check in the neutral zone to create a 3-on-1 that turned into a 3-on-0, that turned into an Andrew Cogliano shot off the post. (The Stars are now 0-for-2 on 3v0 chances that I remember this decade, for what it’s worth.) All due respect to Seguin and Cogliano, but I want Seguin just taking his best shot on Luongo right there, every time. But it’s easier to laugh these off after a win, thankfully.
By the way, kudos to Roman Polák for toughing this one out after taking a puck to the head. Especially after getting pulled for concussion protocol in the Stars’ last game, you give credit to Polák for not only hanging in there on the play, but also being (along with Lindell) a big part of a great penalty kill against a top power play like Florida’s.
Speaking of the PK, here’s some food for thought: of the eight players who got the majority of PK time in this one, Three of them were borderline lineup players to start the year (Polák, Dickinson and Fedun, let’s say) and one of them is a teenager. Dickinson in particular was fabulous on the kill Tuesday night, leading a couple of great plays to move the puck out, as well as drawing a penalty himself to end one of them.
It’s especially interesting to look at that effective PK play in this game and to reflect on how Marc Methot and Martin Hanzal were acquired with an urgency around fixing the 2016-17 penalty kill that ranked among the NHL’s worst in decades. It’s a good lesson that, when it comes to the NHL, you really should only be paying high prices for offense, and maybe goaltending. Defensive specialists are always available, as it’s always easier to prevent one of a number of things from happening than it is to get the puck past six players and into the net with perfection. One hopes the Stars will bear this in mind going forward, but given the trade for Jamie Oleksiak, who knows what the Lessons Learned whiteboard has on it in Frisco?
Roope Hintz was good until he took a puck to the leg, and you hope he can continue to look like a top-sixer either now or next year. Taylor Fedun is found money, John Klingberg continues to be markedly better than Aaron Ekblad just like he’s been since they both debuted four years ago, and Tyler Seguin is a reminder that the grass is sometimes greener right where it’s been all along. Especially when it’s Victory shade of Green.