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Game 50 Afterwords: Quick Thoughts on a Slick Loss

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The Stars scored Three Whole Goals, they did not score enough goals

Toronto Maple Leafs v Dallas Stars Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

All I know is we said hello

So dust off your highest hopes

All I know is pouring rain

And everything has changed

***

Just a short bit of musing today, so bear with some of these scattered thoughts after the Stars exploded for three goals on Wednesday against the Maple Leafs. Guess whether three goals was enough to win?

Well, it wasn’t. It was, however, the first time Dallas scored three regulation goals in the last six games. That’s, ah, pretty bad, pretty bad. If management was allowed to pine after larger third-pairing defenseman who got injured against St. Louis last year, then we for ding-danged sure are allowed pine after literally anyone who can score a goal to prevent the offensive water torture that was games six and seven against St. Louis last year. This team needs to figure out how to juice the offense, full stop. Rick Bowness finally giving Gurianov minutes commensurate with his production is a good start, but this is not all on coaching.

If Blake Comeau and Justin Dowling are the only non-Russian players getting grade-A scoring chances, then you need more. You just do. The system isn’t conducive to scoring, that’s for sure. But you have to find a way or make a way at a certain point, and it’s extremely alarming to see the Stars’ two best defenseman and two of their ostensibly scoring forwards going arctic like this.

Coaches can make teams or even players more defensive by turning certain levers, or by mandating certain things (e.g. “Don’t hold pucks for more than three seconds”), but there is too much stigma attached to opening things up and incurring more risk for things to go the other way. Especially in Dallas, where the whole organization seems to take pride in turning 40-goal players into checking line forwards because of some moral imperative about how playoff games are won.

You need to be able to score. Toronto obviously has defensive issues the Stars don’t, but at the end of the day, goals are the most valuable thing in hockey. You can outscore your problems; your high-danger defense and goaltending usually won’t score you too many game-winners. Again, we saw this in the playoffs last year.

Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews did what elite young players do, and they beat Ben Bishop (with great passes or shots) when they got great chances to do so. The team as a whole didn’t earn the win against Dallas, but their best players made some great plays when they needed to, and it was enough to overcome being outchanced. I’ll say it again—the 2014-15 Stars had abysmal goaltending, but they earned 92 points because their offense was amazing. Last year’s team, with structured defense and veteran players and Vezina goaltending every night, earned 93 points in a much weaker Central Division. Then they fixed the goaltending just a little bit and won the entire Conference the following year.

So, you’ll pardon me if I scoff at a coach saying the lesson after the team’s first three-goals-in-regulation game in half a dozen tries is that they didn’t pay attention to their defensive details. That’s a case where a true statement can still be deceptive. What you really have to ask is how this organization can watch Jamie Oleksiak’s vintage issues with decision-making under pressure come right back to the surface one one (and arguably two) goals, then somehow spread the blame around in what was effectively a one-goal loss. The power play was awful, and Blake Comeau and Justin Dowling and Mattias Janmark aren’t finishers, as was displayed in their unsuccessful opportunities. But if you play good positional defense, by gum, you’ll get all the leeway in the world because you embody this team’s philosophy. Roman Polák will never be scratched if this coaching staff has their druthers, even when he gets way out of position like he did late in the first period just trying to deliver a big hit. Which, I thought Stephen Johns was tacitly criticized for that by Bowness the other night, but we all know how this works.

It’s almost enough to make you wish they’d go back to cussing out their top scorers, just because that at least showed the team recognized how problematic an anemic offense can be. But the more you think about that whole Gaglardi/Lites tirade from last season, the more you have to shake your head and wonder if this team is really capable of learning the right lessons, or if they’re doomed to unsuccessfully attempting to copy whatever recent Cup winner happened to outplay them on a given night in May.

This team can’t play like the 2014-15 squad, that’s for sure. No one is saying Rick Bowness needs to go full Lindy Ruff, or even halfway there. But if coaches can’t coach both directions even a little bit, isn’t that an indictment on everyone? If the team’s defense is solid, then the organization thumps its chest and talks about how they’re playoff-ready by design. But when the offense dries up, suddenly that’s 100% on the players “not finishing,” and then other players get scratched or demoted for taking risks that don’t fit into the system. There is a balance to be struck, but I have yet to see evidence that 2020 is going to hold a giant upturn of Fortune’s wheel any time soon.

I believe that they are trying to score more goals. I believe that the coaching staff is looking to solve that problem. But again—Toronto is one of the three worst defensive teams in the league. They’re about as perfect a mirror image of Dallas as any team could be, and somehow we hear folks talking this morning about how the offense was “fine” last night, how they scored “enough” to win.

Three goals should be enough? Okay, that’s fine—in that case, the Stars are apparently good enough to “win” every sixth game, or to risk a coin flip in overtime. That’s all well and good in an incredibly weak West, but how is that going to play against Colorado and St. Louis, against whom Dallas has looked less than dominant, despite some amazing goaltending? You can say this team is “built for the playoffs,” but I was also told that Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski were Power Play Weapons this year, so you’ll forgive my skepticism.

Anyway, things could be worse. Seguin’s shooting percentage is bound to rebound at least somewhat, the power play will score again someday, and goaltending is still the most important thing when it comes to having a shot. The Stars have enough pieces to make some noise, but unless we can see the return of Roope Hintz! at some point, it’s hard to be excited, given how see-saw this season has been. So we will continue to hope and trust, and to wait. We cannot do much else. Hopefully the players can.