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Afterwords: It’s About Time

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Sometimes you have to let the clock finish the job

NHL: New York Rangers at Dallas Stars
Battle of attrition, pictured above
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I could listen to this whole EP all day. Now there’s a power play worth coming back to.

***

Before we get to the game, here is what I scrawled down this afternoon when I first heard about Alex Radulov’s showing up late and Montgomery’s resultant scratch:

Isn’t trying to win right now instead of taking the lumps that come with building a sustainable culture of success kind of how the Stars became mediocre to begin with?

Look, every NHL player knows you get scratched if you show up late on game day. “Don’t be late” is like, every coach’s number one rule in every league. First and foremost, Alex Radulov let his team down. Going forward, he’ll have a chance to lift them up, as he’s done so many times before. John Klingberg and Tyler Seguin are living proof that these things happen, and that these things can be put in the past.

It’s not a great part of hockey culture, but ice time is the only real way coaches have to discipline players. If a player is testing a coach’s limits, a reduced role, benching, or even a healthy scratch are the only real recourse a coach has when their authority is subverted.

Maybe the whole “late=you sit” equation could or should be changed. Obviously it sucks for the whole organization to have to take a hit because of one stupid decision by one person, but even if you had a better idea for such situations, putting an exemption into practice now violates everything the “team first” hockey player mindset is built to reinforce.

Anyway, they won, so this gets to become a footnote. Hopefully.

***

Both teams played this game with seven defensemen. The big difference between these two teams shows up in how the minutes were doled out: New York’s seven D-men played between 11 and 20 minutes, while Dallas’s range was from 5:59 (Oleksiak) to 22:51 (Klingberg).

That disparity also showed up in the forwards corps, with the New York Hockey Rangers forwards playing from 11:25 to 17:45, with Dallas’s frontmen racking up anywhere from 10:00 (Brett Ritchie) to 22:54 (Tyler Seguin). When the stakes are high, coaches lean on their top guys.

Differences aside, both teams seemed dead-set on playing a counterattack game that would keep the puck moving north quickly as soon as it got turned over. That led to a lot of chances on the rush for both sides, although as you can see from the scoreboard, chances were as far as it generally went.

The power play was an even more apt summation of the offensive impotence of both teams. This is what nine power plays generated:

Admittedly, there are overlaps and one final two-second penalty in there, but that’s pretty sorry. Thankfully, this game was way more fun at evens then on the job.

The worst parts of the power plays—and there were a few—coalesced on the two-man advantage. The team seemed to want the Spezza-to-Benn pass down low, and they got it, only to have Benn miss near-side. From there onward, the Stars looked shaken, and a couple of bouncing pucks had even the usually determined Spezza (who often looks like the only player who did his 5-on-3 homework) a bit off his game as the minutes ticked away. Thankfully, playing a bad team means you can afford to squander some opportunities, sometimes. Or all of them, sometimes. Power plays are cheap goals anyway, right? This is just the Stars’ preparation for all of those tight playoff games!

That Janmark breakaway 30 seconds into the game that was stopped (fairly easily) by Alexandar Georgiev seemed to kill the depth players’ confidence a bit in this one. That became unfortunately clear later in the game, when Janmark chose a weak drop to a distantly trailing Klingberg over a cross to Comeau on a 2-on-1. When you re-watch this, it becomes more apparent that Janmark just doesn’t think he can beat Georgiev, as the defender had pretty much ceded the shot to Janmark only to have Janmark forgo his chance altogether. It seems fitting that a Blake Comeau level of deference was present on that rush.

Ben Bishop was really good when he needed to be in this one, but credit where it’s due: the Rangers were really bad when they had to be in order to preserve the shutout. Chris Kreider missed an empty net, and then that botched 5-on-3 turned into a 2-on-1 breakaway against a gassed Klingberg (whose flubbed shot had caused it), and Brady Skjei missed wide. How would you have felt about losing this game 2-1 with a shorthanded goal as the game-winner? A lot different, I think. Anyway, the Rangers signed Kevin Shattenkirk to a four-year deal in 2017, and they’re about to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. I’m sure they’re sure that Artemi Panarin is all they need, though. Free agency!

In a vacuum, the depth players sort of did step up, as far as it goes. John Klingberg made it 1-0 with a slick shot off the bar after Ritchie/Nichushkin/Dickinson got some extended offensive zone time with the puck, tiring out the Rangers a bit. Klingberg, who can sense weakness like the Kool-Aid Man can sense a loosely mortared brick wall, licked his chops and stepped into space, keeping the puck alive and finally getting his shot. This is the version of Klingberg I love: first NHL goal Klingberg.

The version of Blake Comeau I do not love is the one who slidetackles other players from behind. Were this soccer, that would have been at least a yellow if not a straight red card on Comeau.

It’s a bit worrisome for a veteran player who isn’t scoring to be taking penalties like Comeau has been. Comeau took 16 PIMs in his first 50 games as a Star, which is great for a guy who also draws calls. However, that trend has seriously reversed itself, as Comeau has amassed 18 PIMs in his most recent 12 games, and that’s not including the weird no-call two games ago. It’s been well-documented that Dallas doesn’t draw many calls, so the last thing they need to be doing down the stretch is taking more penalties to boot. Thankfully, the penalty kill (and Ben Bishop) once again cleaned things up.

In fact, the kill even generated some things, as Faksa had a decent bid shorthanded during Comeau’s penalty, and Esa Lindell got 3-on-1 opportunity that couldn’t find the net just after Comeau left the box.

March 5th is an ignominious date for the Stars, as it is the anniversary of the game in which Dan Hamhuis fell (or was tripped) into Ben Bishop, injuring the goalie before Dallas wilted down the stretch and fell out of playoff contention. I coudn’t help but hold my breath, then, when Taylor Fedun found himself falling and sliding into Bishop in this one. Thankfully, goalies are much better prepared to absorb horizontal impacts, and he was fine.

It was telling that Fedun really kept his spot in regular rotation with Oleksiak in. I’m not sure what the plan was after the Ben Lovejoy signing that necessitated Fedun’s scratching, but the coaching staff has clearly reversed course on that stance.

Olekisak probably didn’t help his cause much when he got caught with a bad gap on Critstoval “Boo” Nieves and got beat to the outside. That gap and subsequent exploitation forced Oleksiak to take a penalty, and most guys on the outside of the lineup will tell you that taking penalties in limited time will usually* not endear you to the coaching staff.

*usually

Two moments other than the Klingberg goal really stuck out in the warmer recesses of my heart: Jamie Benn’s awesome pirouette en passant after gloving down a puck in the neutral zone, and Mika Zibanejad with the old Jussi Jokinen cut through the defense on the power play to get in on Bishop alone. (Admittedly, I would be less fond of that play if Zibanejad had scored instead of hitting the post.)

But we shouldn’t end without discussing the major penalty assessed to Zibanejad. As you surely saw, Radek Faksa tried to eat a puck on the penalty kill after a rush up ice shorthanded, and Zibanejad tried to back into the pile against the boards and caught Faksa’s head. It looked unintentional—you can see Zibanejad’s reaction—and nothing was originally called, but Justin St. Pierre has never really bothered with making his work transparent or logical from this hockey viewer’s perspective, and so we got the old “uh oh, this guy got hurt on a hit and we didn’t put our arms up when we blew it down” retcon treamtment. We can only assume a linesman chimed in, because Zibanejad was given a major for boarding and a game misconduct despite nothing being called by the referees at the time.

Anyway, I’m trying to empathize with Rangers fans a bit, but you probably have to do something about that hit if you’re the NHL, so they’ll probably be glad the officials sent a message, if nothing else:

From what I can see here, it’s a bit reckless to let the momentum drive through Faksa like that, but it’s also pretty clearly not intended to be a headshot at all. A bit of misfortune that Faksa’s head ended up being where it was, but you know, the responsibility is on the player delivering the hit and all that. It’s probably the right call, if not a terribly easy one for Zibanejad to swallow in the grand scheme of things.

The best Stars comparison I could think of was the hit on Cal Clutterbuck that got Jason Demers ejected a few years ago. No, not that one. This one:

You can see Demers apparently leaning over top Clutterbuck in the first portion, but the replay at 1:51 shows how he really made zero effort to avoid (and even an extra effort to lunge into) a somewhat prone player. Just as Zibanejad stopped far short of throwing an elbow but still ended up driving into and hurting a guy, so too did Demers draw Official Wrath for delivering a hit that was pretty needless and fairly reckless.

Ultimately, the players probably should want to have hits to the head treated like this, even if there are going to be “I didn’t even really do anything!” moments kind of like this to players who aren’t really dirty at all. Similar to the Radulov scratch, I don’t have to love the things in place that forced this call to be made, but it’s understandable why it was.

But thankfully we got back into the regular nonsense with time winding down, as Ryan Strome cross-checked Jason Dickinson in the back, and right into an unsuspecting Ben Bishop. Seriously, guys—not cool, trying to weaponize Stars players against their own goaltender. Do you think New York even knows that the Henrik Lundqvist Hit guy isn’t even on this team anymore? Someone should probably tell them.

Seven of their next nine games will be at home for the Stars, then they’ll have a four-game swing through Western Canada in late March before the final three games of the season (including one more trip to Chicago). These home games need to be profitable for Dallas, no question. Winning a game with some adversity (some of their own making) was a great way to return home. Now Dallas needs to put something together again. One more losing streak could really put them in a bad spot. ten wins in their final 16 games, and we’ll probably get to start preparing for Extra Hockey in April.

It’s about time.