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Game 65 Afterwords: Familiar Estrangement

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The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily

NHL: FEB 29 Stars at Blues Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Adrenaline is increasing

When everyone’s eyes get caught on you

It’s getting hot, hot, hot

Suddenly you go crazy

***

Denis Gurianov is the Dallas Stars’ first draft pick to score 20 goals for them in a season since Jamie Benn. We all assumed Roope Hintz would be the one to earn that title this year, but Gurianov has, remarkably, flown by him as quickly as he flies by everyone these days.

As much as we tend to focus on Gurianov’s usage—and as David and others have mentioned, it is remarkably sparing among other scorers—I think Rick Bowness would make a counterargument along these lines: Gurianov’s scoring and effectiveness might be, at least in part, because of his targeted usage. Coaches are a proud breed, and hey, if Gurianov is leading the team in scoring while being deployed like a place kicker across the season, why fix what ain’t broken, right? The Stars were one goal away from winning this one against St. Louis. You may feel like you’ve heard that before.

Of course, looking at overall ice time for forwards is deceptive when the Stars don’t earn a single power play for the third time in seven games (is this a record? I strongly suspect this might be a post-lockout record). Gurianov doesn’t kill penalties, so of course he’s going to have fewer overall minutes than someone utilized similarly at 5v5 but who kills penalties.

In fact, the ice time last night was curious in one other respect: Alexander Radulov only saw four shifts in the third period, and sat for all of overtime. Radulov’s game seems like it would thrive with that much open space, but Bowness instead went with six other forwards in overtime: Gurianov, Hintz, Benn, Dickinson, Pavelski, and Seguin. Again, this is why I think criticisms of Bowness are often overblown: he is using the younger, faster players in overtime. Comeau and Cogliano were two of the least-played forwards all night, which makes sense in a game where the Stars were trailing for a lot of the time. This isn’t a wholly intransigent coach, even if he be an opinionated one.

Thus, it was a bit odd to see Radulov as the third skater, as recent comments might lead you to believe that it would be “unfair” to bring Radulov in “cold” in the shootout instead of, say, someone who had just scored on a breakaway against Jake Allen. But then again, Radulov is a great shootout shooter, currently sitting at 9-for-20 in his career. That said, Radulov is now 1-for-7 in his last two years in Dallas. It was an odd choice, even if shootouts are oddities themselves.

Joe Pavelski also got only four shifts in the third period. I don’t quite Get It, sometimes. But when it comes to ice time, one thing Rick Bowness has said consistently is that the Stars try to roll four lines, more or less. And really, he’s got a point. The Stars generally have all four lines within just a few minutes of each other. This isn’t Gurianov playing 7 minutes while Seguin plays 25 or anything like that. The differences are highlighted in failure, but they aren’t so big as to guarantee their significance in small samples. This team will live and die by its system.

And against St. Louis, it seems clear that Dallas isn’t good enough. That may seem harsh, but what other conclusion is there to draw? In their five contests this season, Dallas won one game, and none in regulation. The Stars averaged 2.00 goals per game, while St. Louis scored 3.4 goals per game against the Defensive Identity Dallas Stars. St. Louis wasn’t called for a single penalty in two of those five games. Whatever else the Stars may have done right in building a team primed for a non-wildcard playoff spot this year, they are, if anything, further from catching the Blues than ever.

Anton Khudobin was great, as he’s been. The Stars got some clutch scoring, though a breakaway, an extra-attacker goal and a Seguin tip from the Bermuda Triangle weren’t the most dominant ways in which to score three goals opposite the Blues’ fancypants goals all night.

John Klingberg also looked like he was playing NHL 2020 with a controller on low battery the entire night. His great stutter shot to get the puck through in the dying seconds was Vintage Klingberg (do we have enough time now to say Vintage Klingberg? I fear we do.) but yeah, this game was not reassuring. Again, I will pay handsomely for any explanation for his season. Have the Houston Astros somehow managed to sabotage him, too? It would not surprise me, these days.

Overall, I view this game and the Boston game much the same: the Stars are a top-10 team in the NHL, but solidly not a top-5 team. They consider it a boon to lose by only one goal, which only happened in both cities thanks to scoring an extra-attacker goal (and in Boston, of course, that goal was scored by Zdeno Chara). The only thing resembling a decisive weapon in Dallas’s arsenal these days resides in the goal crease. Or, still quite often, on the bench.