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Afterwords: The Specialest of Special Teams

Kevin Connauton is on a mission to exact some kind of weird vengeance, but the Stars’ power play overcame even that obstacle

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

That Dallas/Arizona rivalry just might become something when Seattle rearranges everything.

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I don’t know how much any single game means in terms of turning things around. Statement Games and such can be nice, but you need more than a game or two to really build belief within a team.

Cut to today, and the Stars have won five straight games, and in regulation, no less. Granted, December and January both saw four-game losing streaks as well, but something about coming out of the break with a winning streak feels different. Maybe it’s beating Nashville on the road, or maybe it’s just the Stars scoring more than two goals in three straight games. Either way, we’re here to celebrate it.

The “how” of this one was all over the place. The Stars didn’t play the tight defense that is being touted as their new identity, choosing instead to go a crazy +3 on special teams while racking up yet another third period surge to grab two points.

And, much like this season, you wouldn’t have guessed it would go down like that after the beginning. A lackluster first power play followed by a Alex Radulov-led line change from hell saw the Stars go down 1-0 after a 3-on-2 rush, and despite some chances, it was really the Ben Bishop show, including a world-class stop on Vinnie Hinostroze off a 3-on-1(!) that kept it that way. Does this game look very different if it’s a 2-0 score heading into the middle frame? Well, yeah, it looks one goal different. What a silly question.

Jamie Benn and Richard Panik’s little nonsense led to some 4-on-4 time, and that’s just the latest in a series of Jamie Benn Incidents that make you think he’s doing quite a bit of Leadershipping out there. Anton Khudobin can confirm this, I am sure.

That 4-on-4 belied the end result of this game though, as Seguin would miss a great chance right before the Oliver Ekman-Larsson goal to break the ice. If you’ve ever wondered what the Stars would feel like with John Klingberg and without Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, Arizona has been a pretty good representation. Please shudder.

Officiating was odd Monday, as a Hjalmarsson slash on Comeau went uncalled (as well as a late hit on Andrew Cogliano). That’s why Modano got so good at the glove shake after a slash, right? Make the officials notice the call, and if you’re earning it, they’ll be likely to give it. In theory, at least. Heiskanen’s snap-back-to-reality move failed to draw a call for Dallas at the end of Arizona’s first power play, so maybe a second power play just wasn’t in the cards for Dallas in the first period. As it turned out, there would be plenty more, just not in the way you’d have thought.

My favorite part of that graph is how the dots representing the two power play goals by the second unit don’t even quite fit in the time they were given (i.e. the purple blocks). I don’t need to rehash my Spezza on the Second Unit spiel, but I found his primary assist to Roope Hintz a beautiful bit of poetic justice, or maybe just poetry. There wasn’t a lot of justice being doled out in this one, in the conventional sense.

On the Coyotes’ second goal, Roman Polák tipped the puck past Bishop. The Arizona broadcast absolutely went off on Polák’s tip being completely needless and reckless, and I have to say, it was weird to see that portion of hockey Twitter grabbing the microphone for a second. The ‘Yotes color commentator (whom you can look up but I won’t name) did not, however, mention the weak along the boards by Jamie Oleksiak to lose the puck battle, which was just as much an issue for me as Polák’s ill-advised stick wave (not to mention Ritchie’s positioning at the point to allow the shot to get through). Maybe I’m just so hypersensitive to large players getting the benefit of the doubt in Dallas the last couple of years that I’ve overcompensated in how I watch games, but those sorts of things really grind my gears. Still, every team has a third pairing of defensemen, and you learn to love them or live with them all, eventually. Take Kevin Connauton, for instance! Or don’t. He’s not on waivers right now, so you can’t, but I still enjoy watching him play after his stint in Dallas. Hockey players are fascinating.

As the game wore on, Darcy Kuemper’s glove hand was becoming more annoying. Any time Kuemper is the goalie shutting you down, you know you probably have more work to do, and the Stars seemed determined to do just that. The only thing about #efforting is that, well, you can’t just go full Charlie Kelly sometimes, you know? Gotta show some good judgment every now and then, no matter what identity has been fed to you by others.

I’m speaking, of course, of the Ritchie boarding major on Alex Goligoski, who failed concussion protocol and left the game. Even if you don’t think it deserved a game misconduct, it was doubtless a foolish play by Ritchie to get his stick in Goligoski’s skates and not pulling up at all. Anyway, since Goligoski left the game, it’s only fair that Ritchie did as well. However, it’s also worth noting that we all probably view this way differently since we’re talking about a depth player as opposed to a top scorer. We all have our double standards, and if that’s Tyler Seguin or someone whose knee bangs Goligoski’s head off the boards, we’d be flush with excuses. Instead, it’s the Stars’ PIM machine himself, so we react predictably.

But in yet another counterintuitive turn, the five-minute major on Ritchie turned into momentum for the Stars. It was really three minutes of a great kill in all respects, then Mattias Janmark drew a (totally nonexistent) penalty to negate the remainder on a rush up the ice. Things started to spiral here for the paw patrol, as a delay of game penalty a a standard Klingberg-Seguin-Benn power play set saw a Klingberg point shot thread the needle to make it 2-2. Have we started taking John Klingberg for granted yet this year? It feels like sometimes that has happened. It ought not to happen.

The next power play goal—Dallas’s third of the game—saw Radek Faksa playing the role of Big n’ Beefy Martin Hanzal, whose son made an appearance before the start of the game, by the way. Faksa is looking more and more capable of filling the role Dallas envisioned for Hanzal when they signed him in 2017, but you need to score (as a line, if not individually) if you’re going to be a solid center in the NHL, so every little bit from Faksa helps in that respect.

What looked like the capstone project of the Stars’ Rise was a result of, fittingly, Dickinson with good work behind the net to set up Janmark, who did not miss. I particularly enjoyed how Janmark shot back to the left side of the net where Dickinson’s nutmeg of a feed came from. Kuemper was assuming the puck would be spit along to the right, but Janmark found the space, and did so with ease. This was Dallas’s four-best forward last year, you recall.

But the real fun trip started when 2014-15 stopped by just to catch up for bit, as Esa Lindell and Faksa combined to leave Hinostroza uncovered on the near post. Hinostroza did not miss this time, and the game had life anew, unfortunately.

Then...

A sequence that my eyes told me had Roman Polák a bit behind the puck at every turn saw the puck slipped perfectly past Janmark and Bishop’s sticks to Alex Galchenyuk for the put-back. It was cold water on the birthday cake, and here was where all the narratives would be built. Would Dallas crumble in the face of adversity like last year’s team in front of Kari Lehtonen, or would they bow up?

Jim Montgomery didn’t like the idea of asking such questions, which is interesting since he’s usually such a nice guy. Monty stacked up the Top Line again, and the beleaguered and decimated Coyotes had no answer for Radulov, Benn and Seguin in full revenge mode. Tyler Seguin has 11 goals in his last 13 games, and my theory is that it is because he is good at hockey, and lately he has not been having terrible luck. But maybe if you yell about him he will play better, too, some have said? Who is to say, really. The braid is just a bunch of stubborn goo sometimes.

Esa Lindell was the only Stars defenseman not to wind up with a minus in this one, and his positional block on Derek Stepan in the final minute was a good example of why. Lindell had a bad giveaway in this one earlier though, as Heiskanen and a couple other defensemen did, so it’s not like this is one you frame and send to Hitchcock with a “Wish You Were Here!” card or anything. Even Miro Heiskanen looked like he could use another All-Star Break, but you’ll have to wait until next year for that, buddy.

Just to add to the tension, a late Blake Comeau penalty (a no-doubter of a trip) in the neutral zone made things tense down the stretch. Something something “this is the guy you want out in the final minute,” but I digress. Comeau provides some value in other areas of his game, so there’s not point griping about his scoring this season when it’s clearly been more of a team issue than anything else. Beside, the Stars still had Ben Bishop, Esa Lindell and Andrew Cogliano giving them some clutch plays to grab another two points and put a severe dent in the Coyotes’ flickering playoff hopes. Hooray for Tyler Seguin, lockdown artist. But more than that, I would like to salute Andrew Cogliano, who was giving this game everything he had (and to good effect). If you don’t know how to feel about that trade, just watch Cogliano’s work at the blue line last night. That’s some sapient stick and puck, that is.

And now the road beckons, along with whatever parents the Stars will bring along with them. It’s five in a row away from the AAC, including games at Tampa, Carolina and Nashville again. Dallas isn’t the same team on the road, or at least they don’t seem to think they are. But you have to show up on the road in this league at least some of the time, and the Stars know how precarious their little cushion can be if the rest of the West decides to stop being awful for like, five minutes. Go 1-3-1 on this trip and things are going to look dicey as ever. Do better, and things will be better. I wish that were always true in life, but at least we can count on hockey for justice, after a fashion.

So, Ben Bishop continued to be really good, even in a game where he had at least one goal he’d blame himself for. The Stars scored lots of goals, and they capitalized against the league’s stingiest penalty kill (or what’s left of it). Dallas overcame some real hiccups against Arizona, and they didn’t even have to drink from the far side of the glass to do it. But you usually don’t need to when the glass is half full.