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Game 62 Afterwords: No Power Plays, No Probbo, Dobby Does in Chicago

The Stars did all of their scoring at even-strength, again

Chicago Blackhawks v Dallas Stars Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

“Dobby has come to protect, even if he does have to shut his ears in the oven door.’’

***

Hey, you know what the Stars have not done much of, this year? Score empty-net goals! And, to wit:

Now, that’s not necessarily a huge problem. This isn’t something that is just happening by accident, like the Baltimore Orioles. The Stars, in fact, are somewhat mid-pack when it comes to the ENG column, with nine on the season. But considering how many leads the Stars have had, you can begin to do the math yourself, with a couple of rough assumptions in place.

If they have 36 wins now, and if they’ve had 18 games in which they didn’t score an empty-netter (those one-goal victories mentioned above, let’s say), then another nine victories in overtime—wow, again—and two in the shootout, that means the Stars have scored their nine empty-netters in just seven other victories. (Again, this is rough estimation.) So, yeah. It’s been a little while since the Stars were boosting their numbers by filling the empty cage. This team takes not-scoring to an entirely elite level, even without a goaltender. The Dallas Stars: nobody can Not-Score like they can Not Score.

Of course, we’re starting off with the negative, when Dallas beat Chicago in Dallas. This event, right here, should always be cause for celebration. Sending a bunch of “visiting” Chicago fans “home” (I assume that means back to Westover Hills) sad is a delight that was all-too-rare for most of last decade. I don’t expect it will get old in this decade any time soon.

And hey, let’s throw another big positive in there: Dallas’s backup goaltender was once again spectacular. Anton Khudobin is a treasure, and when he did allow the one power play goal to For Some Reason Elite Rookie Dominik Kubalik, you could see his frustration as he slammed his stick onto the ice. Khudobin expected to have saved that shot, as he had gotten over in time to do so. His glove just hadn’t quite arrived on time, and so it was that the Blackhawks managed to convert on the power play, which is an enormous accomplishment for the true-blue worst power play in the league. The Stars can win weird, wild games like this one regardless of who’s in net and precisely because of who’s in net. Khudobin battled on some scrambles in front, and he never let another puck past him. That sort of furious will is what teams need, some nights (and days). This team, perhaps, more than most.

But once again, there’s no need for downcast eyes. The Stars scored two(!) even-strength goals, generated a goodly sum of chances, and got contributions from two players who weren’t scoring for too much of the year. Yes, you’d like the Stars to score more, especially because I sincerely doubt they could have withstood those final two minutes of pressure from a team like Colorado or St. Louis without capitulating. But they scored enough, and that’s perfectly fine, for this game, right here. Not every game has to be a referendum.

That said, it’s hard not to feel for Denis Gurianov, who generated multiple grade-A chances in this one, but played only 8:00 in total. For contrast, the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane played 7:15 just on the power play. For a coach who said at first that he was still learning how to manage the forwards’ minutes, Rick Bowness sure has gotten quite good at managing Gurianov’s minutes, specifically. But then again, you know the reason.

It was the same reason, sort of, that The Actual John Klingberg played the fewest even-strength minutes of any defenseman. Why Sometimes Healthy Scratch Andrej Sekera played the most minutes of any defenseman. It’s not a reason that you can really defend, in a vacuum, but then again, it didn’t not work, in reality. So, there you go.

The team was hell-bent on winning the game 2-1 and maybe grabbing some counterattack chances if they could, and Gurianov’s sometimes-not-great defensive awareness (or Klingberg’s Whateverness) doesn’t help lock down leads, in the eyes of this team. Perhaps those in charge know best. When you don’t have the power to change things, that’s sort of all you can do. The beat goes on. This is the coaching staff’s prerogative. I don’t expect it will change. (And besides, one Jamie Benn has also been seeing his ice time go way down, so it’s not like they’re only managing the kids’ minutes.) These Stars will either win with this “identity,” or they will not. Keep tuning in to find out!

***

Andrew Cogliano did the right thing for his 1,000 games celebration by bringing his dog, because honestly, these things are getting old (the celebrations, I mean). How about for the next one, Comeau or whoever brings their reliable old Ford F-150 out onto the ice, and changes a tire really efficiently. That just feels right, to me.

What felt wrong was how the first goal started with Sometimes Center Mattias Janmark taking AND winning a faceoff(!) against Jon Toews, who was upset about the draw being perhaps not even (which would line up with Janmark’s winning it, if we’re honest). I have chosen to hear Mr. Toews’ grievance and to have the NHL’s top investigative team look into it, so stay tuned on that front to see if Mattias Janmark is getting special treatment over Literally Jonathan Toews. After all, Toews also got penalized off another faceoff for holding Tyler Seguin, which took Kubalik’s initial power play goal off the board. Hopefully the Houston Trash Detectives can get on the case ASAP.

Anyway, the Stars’ first goal came about after that faceoff win by Janmark, followed by a strong Radulov backhand generated a rebound, and Pavelski elevated(!) a puck from the front stoop. I could watch that goal a few times and never get tired of it. I don’t know how hard I would have to try to elevate that puck from that position, but I am certain I would almost never be able to do it. Joe Pavelski: good at hockey!

Speaking of someone else who is Good at Hockey Despite Other Evidence This Year, John Klingberg smartly took a penalty early in order to save a goal. Well done, especially considering whose power play he was putting to work. John Klingberg is always one step ahead, even if his hands haven’t been there to match for much of this year.

Honestly, I might have to re-assign the NHL’s top investigative team to figure out what his whole deal is, this year. That’s not John Klingberg, all the time, out there.

Of course, that was also quite literally true in the second period, when Klingberg and Gurianov and All The Rest took a break. I am not kidding. Of the 8:00 of PK duty to dole out, Lindell and Sekera were out there for like 6:40 of it. Johns and Heiskanen cleaned up the change, and my goodness, does this coaching staff (and Montgomery before them) love Riding the Penalty Kill Experts. And hey—it worked, sort of? I guess it depends on whether you think going 20% on the power play is a success for Chicago’s power play (it is, sadly). Anyway, good job by the penalty kill. Good job by everybody, except for those folks resting, like Benn, Perry, Hintz, Gurianov, and Radulov. (Also, not a good job to Patrick Kane, because I don’t feel like ever complimenting him.)

After that fake goal was wiped out for the Toews’ even-up penalty, Esa Lindell then hit the posts at 4v4 by just going straight with the puck and splitting the defense on what looked like a 2-on-2 rush. Lindell can skate deceptively well, but you rarely see it because of the way he manages his game in the defensive zone.

Anyway, many in the arena thought he had scored, including Lindell, but he had only hit iron, all of the iron. Then Hintz took another penalty to round out the sequence, putting Chicago on a 4-on-3, which ended with a Patrick Kane feed through the seam for a Kubalik one-timer that did count, at last. That goal ended up cementing Khudobin’s resolve, as we said, because he shut the door from then on. Again, goaltending. It is nice to have!

Yet another Chicago power play came after a Radulov slash during a neutral zone faceoff that really shouldn’t have been called. Radulov’s stick broke, but he really didn’t appear to be bringing his stick down extra hard or anything at all. Even money says his stick had a hairline fracture already, but this is the NHL, where calls are made when heads whip back or when sticks snap, because who can be bothered to actually call the rulebook?

Except that, uh, calling the rulebook wasn’t really a problem in the second period, as Jamie Oleksiak took an interference call that he was upset about to give the league’s worst power play its fifth straight chance on the job. But once again, Dallas got through it. Dallas got through everything, and the Stars were the better team in this one. Considering how the Blackhawks broke the Stars’ streak back in the fall, just winning against them can be enough, for now.

***

To win, however, Dallas would need more than one goal, much to their chagrin. That goal came when Perpetual Offensive Threat Corey Perry juggled the puck to Seguin, who easily put the puck away. It was the sort of play where I said, “Did he just do that?” in real time, only to have the replay validate every bit of my amazement. These players are good, all of them. Sometimes, they do great things.

Mattias Janmark is someone who repeatedly had chances to do such great things, including a penalty shot after a smart breakaway chance (that, honestly, I was surprised earned him a breakaway, given how reticent officials tend to be to call those—I suspect the penalty differential played into that). I was never expecting him to score on it, but then again, you never do know. I was reminded, in the moment, of Antoine Roussel’s penalty shot goal against the Hawks so very long ago. For a couple of years, this was the Stars/Hawks highlight for Dallas fans. Again, it was a rough decade in the Central, for the most part.

(By the way: you have to love Pierre, of all people, telling Roussel he shouldn’t be infuriating the crowd.)

Anyway, Janmark didn’t capitalize. Crawford is good at penalty shots. Gurianov also couldn’t quite capitalize on the few chances he was allowed to get, but you still love the ability for Dallas to at least threaten to counterpunch, even if their actual offensive production belies the threat itself (they are more or less the worst even-strength offense in the league, assuming you don’t count This Year’s Red Wings as being In The League).

And that’s where the lack of empty-net goals kinda comes back around to what this team is. They had one chance at the empty net, really. It was a long shot, literally. Dallas had to shelter in place and ask for some big saves from their goalie at the death. Is that any sort of way to close out games, consistently? That’s basically bringing in your closer with the bases loaded, every single night. Sure, if you have the best closers in the league, you’ll probably win a lot of baseball games nonetheless. But wouldn’t you rather find a way to have a bigger lead, or to prevent the bases from being loaded in the first place? This is a baseball blog now, I have decided.

But of course, I already have the answer to that silly question. The Stars are determined to absorb as many punches as they can, and to strike strategically just enough to eke out victories. That’s why they’re leading the league in one-goal victories, right there. They are good enough to get a lot of leads, and they are strong enough systemically and in net to hold most of them. I just don’t look forward to the best teams in the league leaning on Dallas’s one-goal leads for the final 3-5 minutes of a period in every playoff series. Thankfully, there are still 20 games before we have to worry about that.

By the way: Dallas is the 7th-best team in the league, in terms of point totals. We can get scared thinking of how on earth they’ll be able to hang with Colorado, St. Louis, Tampa, Boston, or Washington. Or we can marvel at the fact that literally this team is up there with those teams, in this league. We can yell about problems, but people who want the Dallas Stars to win are enjoying one of the best seasons in 12 years by a franchise that has had so few good season, let alone great ones (one?). How greedy we have all become. How terribly, wonderfully greedy a winning team must be, if they want to keep doing so.