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Afterwords: Three Goals, Three Losses, and More Questions

In a bit of a track meet, Dallas found that even a fast second place is still losing.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Time is running out to make this team less incomplete, but thankfully, the West is every bit as bad as it’s been lately. Mediocrity rewarded!

***

Tuesday’s loss was relieving in a lot of ways. It was a relief to see the team score goals again, to have the goals come from players like Spezza and Lindell, and to see the Stars sort of keep up with the Predators, whom they might face in the playoffs, should probability dictate the future.

A loss is bad, of course. But I remember an NHL coach once talking about the process being more important than any discrete result, so let’s take stock of the good things we saw in this one before accepting reality.

It’s painful to realize how crucial Khudobin has been for Dallas this season after the Stars frittered away the prime years of their best players in front of substandard goaltending for so long. Was it really that difficult to find a great backup, or was it just a confluence of timing and opportunity that led to the arrival of the goaltender that continues to make Dallas look like a much better team than they’ve otherwise been in Ben Bishop’s absence?

A prime example of this came after a Roman Polák giveaway in the defensive zone, when Dan Hamhuis got a point-blank chance all by his lonesome. Khudobin straight-up robbed Hamhuis, and it kept the game in hand. Even counting Khudobin’s iffy play with the puck that led to the Predators’ third goal, the Stars have continued to get stunningly capable goaltending all year long. They’ve needed it, and not just when Filip Forsberg is busting out circus tricks.

Also, chin up, fair fellow fan. The Stars may have given up 47(!) shots to Nashville in Dallas, but the Predators got a couple of bounces in this one that the Stars didn’t get. If they’re awarding style points, Dallas’s goals won this thing with flying colors!

Jason Spezza played 13:26 in this one, tallying a goal and a primary assist in the process. It’s funny, with all of the hubbub around Spezza’s 20-game goal drought, it’s easy to forget that he’s still having a rebound season overall. No, 24 points in 57 games isn’t anything to rejoice over, but given the even greater dearth of production below him and his even more disappointing season last year under Ken Hitchcock, one takes what what can get.

Besides that, Spezza’s two points were two really slick plays for Dallas. The first goal was just a great shot from a player who knows how to shoot (against a goalie that isn’t what he used to be). It was a bit of a garbled give-and-go in the neutral zone that Jason Dickinson paid for—but when is Dickinson not getting hit these days?—and Spezza just took the puck to the slot and fired it. That’s something the Stars have done too rarely lately, including the unfortunate Alex Radulov pass attempt on a 2-on-1 early in the game. The Stars are, as Montgomery said after the game, guilty of looking for the pretty play too often at times, but I think a better definition of what they need to avoid would be the overcomplicated play. If you get a high-danger chance like Radulov (or Spezza) near the net on a goalie like Rinne, you need to make sure that puck gets on net. The Stars had great lateral movement on two of their goals, and that can open up the net a bit. But putting the puck on net (and, more importantly, doing what it takes to get the puck into a shooting area to begin with) is the cornerstone of goalscoring, and the Stars did all right for themselves in spite of being outshot and outscored in this one. It’s about the process.

Spezza’s assist on the power play was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, the Stars’ power play went 0-for-11 on their recent road trip, so breaking that slump was key for the team’s mentality. Second, it was noteworthy that it was the second power play unit that finally broke through. That would be a unit of Joel L’Esperance, Esa Lindell, Brett Ritchie (newly demoted), Spezza, and Roope Hintz.

In all honesty, though, this goal happened very simply: John Klingberg executed a Power Play Drop Pass to Spezza before leaving the ice, and Spezza gained the zone by chipping it to himself. Spezza then proceeded to fling a blind backhand pass across the zone right to Lindell’s tape.

Lindell’s shot was just as pretty as the pass, with the puck sizzling off the post and in to draw the Stars level. Lindell’s wrister is really quite above average, and it’s nice to see him get to use it on the fly every blue moon or so.

Finally, it’s worth emphasizing just how solid Roope Hintz has been lately. He was one of the Stars’ best players tonight, and that’s saying something for a player who has also been relegated to 21 games in the AHL this season. Maybe he needed the marination, maybe not; either way, his speed and instincts looked lethal against Nashville, and I can’t help but wonder if Dallas is inching towards putting him on that no-touchy list along with Ty Dellandrea leading up to the trade deadline. You have to give to get and all that, but if you’re Dallas, wouldn’t you rather trade Gurianov, or even a player like Bayreuther, than Hintz?

Other NHL GMs are watching the same games we are, so yes, that means they all want Hintz, too. As always, we remind ourselves that any trade for an impact player will likely cost at least one player you kind of don’t want to lose. Are you okay with losing Jason Robertson and a first-round draft pick for two months of [player]? Those are tough questions, and I can’t imagine Jim Nill relishes them any more than we do (fantasy trades notwithstanding).

***

As for the not-so-great, I’ll keep it terse:

  • Alex Radulov played over 22 minutes in this one (as did Seguin), so decision fatigue is real. The Stars really had a shot to tie this game late, but as with this offense most of the year, they just couldn’t finish. Jamie Benn’s minutes were chopped a bit, but that’ll happen when you’re not playing on the top line. Benn and Klingberg both ate four minuses in this one, so I can’t imagine they’re super thrilled with this game, process or otherwise.
  • Roman Polák might have had his worst game as a Star in this one. I’ve been wondering if some of the older players might start to wear down this year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s happening. Miro Heiskanen has certainly looked a bit slow as well, so maybe it’s just a matter of Polák not having the coverage he did earlier in the year. But either way, it wouldn’t shock me to see Dallas make a move for a top-four RHD if they strike out on the impact forward front. I don’t see how they can do both, but we aren’t overhearing the conversations.
  • Heiskanen got caught a bit on Rocco Grimaldi goal, but that’s a beautiful play all the same. Great finish by an undersized forward—cough cough—and a great low-risk pass to try to spring him. Low percentage plays really suck when they work out for the other team. Still, Heiskanen needs to either step up and glove that one down, or have a better gap there. Teenagers, what are you gonna do.
  • Brian Boyle definitely hit Seguin after one should be allowed to deliver a hit just prior to Boyle’s goal, but you’re barking up the wrong tree if you want an official to call that every time. Each side got two power plays apiece, so it was clear what sort of a hockey game we were going to get. Defend the play marginally better and it’s not a problem.
  • As for the fourth Predators’ goal, Esa Lindell got some flack for appearing to just lose his man on what should have been a relatively simple exchange (or lack of it) play during 4v4:

This one’s tough, but I think Lindell needs to head back down low when he sees Janmark coming in to support at the dot there. Instead, Lindelll drifts a bit too far before the “Oh, !@#” light comes on in his head, and things only got more chaotic from there. You can bet the Stars are going to be poring over this video themselves, but it’s at least arguable that Janmark should have stuck with his man instead of switching onto Turris there. Gotta allow your mates to use their momentum during 4v4. Leaving Lindell to cut down to Josi there is a tough ask indeed.

  • Nashville was leading with around 28 shots halfway through the game, so it’s a miracle that the Stars managed to stay as close as they did. Honestly, I’d love a playoff series between Dallas and Nashville (also Dallas and anyone), and the Preds are probably the most vulnerable team (vulnerable to Dallas, at least) Dallas has a chance of facing. A bit early for all that, though.
  • I have a notepad that I’ll occasionally use to jot down bigger questions or ideas that I want to ponder before writing. One thing on there right now is whether Dallas, as an organization, is capable of honestly assessing their needs. Not to harp, but sending Pittsburgh a 4th-round pick so they could play Oleksiak for 10 minutes a night is concerning. Oleksiak has played ten games for Dallas now, and he’s been basically a taller version of Joel Hanley with occasionally less ice time. Not sure why you’d burn a mid-draft pick just to get a taller version of what you already had (and signed for three years at market rate, no less). If Dallas does get another defenseman at the deadline, that probably spells some healthy scratch time for Oleksiak, too, who has gotten even fewer minutes against Nashville than he’s gotten otherwise (~11 minutes on average in three games vs. Nashville since his return.) That trade will never stop confusing me.
  • As always, I loved Rick Bowness’s comments during the intermission report. Bowness mentioned in particular that Nashville had been using a “four-man wave” to interrupt Dallas’s forecheck, with some considerable success. Once Dallas adapated, they were able to take advantage of Nashille’s quick-transition whoopsies, and they had some good counterattack chances because of it. Gotta makes teams pay for taking risks in the NHL.
  • Andrew Cogliano is approaching that Ales Hemsky in 2014 Territory where his game looks all right in its separate elements, but he can’t seem to make things click when chances come. And chances will come, even on this team.
  • If Dallas is capable of assessing their game and team, then there is much to take from this match other than the two points. Nashville is a team that doesn’t let you get away with much. You have to get into the thick of it with them if you don’t want to die by way of a million paper cuts, and Dallas was all right until they blinked. Whether Jim Nill will blink before next Monday is, perhaps, an even bigger question.