Afterwords: Hung Out to Dry

Oettinger is the only reason Dallas is still alive this series, but the Stars can’t continue to rely on him like this.

Last night’s Dallas Stars game can be perfectly encapsulated by a single shift. I’m sure you know which one I’m talking about.

With roughly nine minutes left in the second period, Tyler Seguin, Jason Robertson, Denis Gurianov, John Klingberg, and Miro Heiskanen were stuck in their own zone on a long shift. And by long, we’re talking about three minutes plus each — every time the Stars tried to clear the puck, the Calgary Flams were there to stop it and retain possession. The one time Dallas did clear, they were unable to change due to the long ice, and the TBS broadcast openly suggested that they should have just iced the puck to get a momentary breather (which they did the next chance they got).

The issue is that this wasn’t the first time Dallas got caught on a long shift, even if not to this degree. It happened a few times in the first period, and at first it just felt like Dallas was just stumbling out the gate like in Game 1. But as the night progressed, it became clear that this was the norm: Calgary was dominating the possession game, and Dallas was helpless to stop it.

The only reason Dallas was in the same stratosphere as the Flames on the scoreboard was because of Jake Oettinger. The goalie gave up three goals for the first time since April 21st (also against Calgary), and yet it was still the his best playoff (if not season/career) game to date. That’s the sort of thing that happens when you face 54 shots, and are forced to make saves like this:

Consider the goals against Oettinger: the first one came from a perfect Rasmus Andersson shot 1:17 into a 5-on-3, which is already a tall order for a goalie to go unscathed. The second was a Johnny Gaudreau penalty shot, and given his failed breakaway late in Game 3, I’m not sure anyone was going to stop the 2nd-leading point scorer from getting his revenge. Finally, the Stars left 42 goal scorer Elias Lindholm all alone up front for the Flame’s 50th shot of the game.

Suffice to say, no one is blaming Oettinger. He’s currently 1st in the NHL postseason with a .960 SV%. He’s also faced 45 more shots than second place (Jacob Markstrom with .952), and only three goalies (Igor Shesterskin, Connor Ingram, and Mike Smith) have faced more. Given how close the score has been this series, without Jake Oettinger playing at an elite — not great, elite — level, Dallas probably would have been swept last night.

And the worst part of it all? There’s no relief in sight — in each game so far this series, the Stars have surrendered more shots on net than the last:

The flipside to that is that the Stars have also increased their offense each game, but it’s little consolation when you’re still being outshot by roughly 10 in two games and 20 in another. It also doesn’t amount to much when your team is largely incapable of scoring, which brings us back to that second period shift we started off with.

After the Stars finally got off the ice by drawing a penalty (they couldn’t even regain possession themselves), we had a commercial break followed by a power play. And wouldn’t you know, there were John Klingberg and Jason Robertson, back on the ice to continue their shift.

Now, if the players are up for it, I’m not entirely opposed to putting them back out there, even after such a long shift. But I can’t help but think that they were back on the ice because the Stars needed them to be, because even though they were only down 1-0 at the time, the coaching staff knew they needed to score now else things get further out of hand.

Without Jake Oettinger playing at an elite level, Dallas probably would have been swept last night.

And when it comes to Dallas, who had a negative goal differential in the regular season and has a largely ineffectual power play, there’s really no other choice in that situation than to put your top offensive players back on the ice.

There’s been some criticism of Robertson so far this series given he’s only managed a single assist across four games. Many have attributed it to a lack of playoff experience, but I think his lack of scoring is much simpler: Calgary is one of the best defensive teams in the league. And when you match up that against a one-line scoring team, well, it’s only reasonable to expect some (if not all) of your top players are going to get shut down.

There were some positive takeaways from last night’s game. I’ll probably get grilled for this, but I think Tyler Seguin has some very nice plays, from his nice penalty killing early in the game to the Stars’ lone goal during the 6-on-4. Valdislav Namestnikov had a couple of up close chances that Markstom stonewalled, and Miro Heiskanen was excellent as always.

But as a whole, the bright spots for the Stars’ skaters were few and far between. They were absolutely pummeled in the possession game, and for the first time since the first period of Game 1, it truly looked like a matchup between a last-minute Wild Card team and a true Stanley Cup Contender.

As I mentioned last time, the Stars have a blueprint to beat Calgary, albeit one that relies too heavily on elite goaltending. When they head back to Alberta for Game 5, they need to slow the game back down, and prevent Calgary from camping up in the offensive zone and tormenting Jake Oettinger.

It’s either that or open the offensive flood gates, relying on Oettinger to keep stealing goals with less help on defense. Because whatever that was last night? That can’t happen again, else Dallas is probably finished on Friday.