Game 45 Afterwords: What Is Happening?
Let's just pretend that never happened. Seriously. Let's seriously pretend that.
Walking into Honda Center last night, I was struck by just how many Stars fans had come out of the woodwork this season. True, the rebranding helped generate some new jersey sales over the past few years, but I've never seen anything like the California support I saw for Dallas tonight. Great job by all those Real Fans out there, for sure. (Especially Angela20377, whom I did not meet but I am sure was also sporting some Authentic Gameday! apparel based on her comments.)
There's always this feeling I get in Honda center when the Stars are playing. I'm not sure if its borne out of the low-ish ceiling (for a modern hockey rink), or if it's just a side effect of the general maroon malaise that blankets all the seats; but once you walk into the area, dread steals over your soul like your college roommate's dirty bath towel over your desk chair. It's there, and it stinks, and you just can't shake that persistent disquietude even when things haven't totally fallen apart. You know they will, eventually.
Things did not go super duper last night. That first period was (in Bruce Boudreau's words) the best period Anaheim has played all season, so I guess hooray for all the fans who got to witness it. Coincidentally, it might also have been the Stars' most atrocious 20 minutes of the season. Maybe we can just say the team is rusty after such a long break? Sure, that's like 180 degrees from the "finally, some rest!" theme the team had been pushing a few days ago, but what else could explain what happened in Honda Center Friday night?
My grandmother turned 100 years old this week, which is really a wonderful thing. I am much more excited about that than I am about talking about this game, so let's give this thing the ol' sundown rundown and move on to San Jose, shall we?
I walked by Brian Hayward as he was taping the pre-game show with two other lackeys in front of Honda Center. I contemplated going on a screeching tirade about his obvious bumbling of the Three Stars of the Game and sundry other missteps over the past decade, but I opted to proceed into Honda Center to make the most of my ticket money instead. Turns out the screeching tirade would have been much better value for money, but hindsight's 20/20 and all that, right?
Kari Lehtonen made an absolutely gorgeous save on Rickard Rakell right off the hop (first highlight in the package above), and it seemed like we might be in for a nice little goalie duel. That is not what we ended up being in for.
Ducks Score Goal #1: Jason Demers steps up and hits Carl Hagelin as he enters the zone, which is great. Johnny Oduya then collects the puck and skates in behind the net as he reverses the puck to the spot where he supposes Demers will be, which is less than great. A security guard named Josh Manson apparently stole a Ducks jersey and shot the puck from the point, and Jakob Silfverberg was afforded the opportunity to set up some surveying equipment in front of Kari Lehtonen before eventually tipping the puck past the helpless netminder.
It would have been great if Oduya had not, well, passed the puck to Anaheim, but clearly the Demers hit got him out of position, and Oduya didn't pick up on that. Also, no one picked up on the whole "there is someone named 'Jakob' all alone in front of Kari" thing. That proved to be problematic.
Ducks Score Goal #2: Just as I was bemoaning Oduya's reverse-to-nobody, Jordie Benn pinched in the offensive zone and lost the puck to Shawn Horcoff. Repeat that sentence three more times, and you'll have some idea of how painful this game was to witness in person. Jyrki Jokipakka played Cogliano in the resulting one-on-one just fine, thank you very much, until Cogliano found Sami Vatanen streaking back ahead of Roussel. Vatanen was fed the puck, and the Stars courteously made way for him down Anaheim Blvd (a real street in Anaheim--some California trivia for you there).
This would have been a fabulous moment for Kari Lehtonen to step up and say "Nuh-UH," but alas, he did not stop the wide open shot from the low slot. I think that may be why it is called a high-danger area. Certainly the seats in my immediate vicinity began to feel like a high-danger area, at least if you have a fear of beer being splashed upon you by the jubilant hands containing said liquid. Happy Ducks fans mean miserable everyone else fans.
Ducks Score Goal #3: The Stars had about three different rebound chances to Andersen's right throughout the game, but they were never able to corral the puck enough to make use of them. The first such chance came (against, see above highlights package) for Goligoski, and there was this brief shining moment when I thought Dallas might have lured Anaheim into a shootout. Not the hockey kind, although I would certainly have taken that by this point, too. Here is what happened instead after the Stars went on the penalty kill:
If you are not sure which team is on the power play, that is understandable; usually when a team has all its skaters facing the net, it means they are the attackers. Not so! In this case, we can see how a mix-up in forward coverage at the point resulted in the entire right (goalie's right, that is) side of the low slot becoming Open for Business. Ryan Kesler took a moment to think about what he will do when his massive $6.9 million AAV extension kicks in next year, then finally fed Lindholm for the third goal.
Lehtonen may get some flak on this one as he doesn't come across cleanly from post to post. And don't get me wrong, I'm no Lehtonen apologist this year. He's been having a very rough season by all statistical measures except wins, and it's clear who the Stars' better goalie is at this point. But the issue here is that Kesler has so, so much time and space on the doorstep that he is able to fake a stuff attempt of his own before feeding Lindholm. This causes Lehtonen to flinch in preparation for the save on Kesler, and that makes the cross-crease pass that much more troublesome. This was not a well-defended goal, from Eakin and Benn on down the line to the defense corps.
Ducks Score Goal #4:
Lehtonen pic.twitter.com/rzn0wyD5ET— Stephanie (@myregularface) January 16, 2016
I think that's all you really need to know. Tic-tac-toe passing, and there was Corey Perry alone on the back door. That would anger even the most placid goaltender. It also angered Lehtonen tonight.
One thing I did appreciate was Ruff's leaving Lehtonen in after the first period from hellAnaheim. Lehtonen proved that decision to be the right one (if for no other reason than to preserve Niemi for San Jose), and I really think Kari's just about the only Dallas Stars player who doesn't have much to apologize for after Friday night.
The Ducks were successfully strangling the middle of the neutral zone for the first 40 minutes, and Dallas was very reluctant to adapt with a combination of dump-ins and speed from the weak side. As a result, Dallas's massive comeback period in the second saw them total a measly six shots on goal. That's not a well-rested team coming out angry; that's a team what's been figured out by the opposing bench something fierce.
One fun little anecdote involved the Ducks' shenanigans on icings. I don't know if the broadcast mentioned it, but Ryan Kesler pulled the whole "oh no, I seem to have a skate issue, please permit me to visit my benchfellows momentarily as my teammates catch their breath on the ice" act. Wes McCauley appeared to lay into the Anaheim bench pretty heatedly after the second such incident, but those are the little moments I enjoy witnessing when I'm at the game. Also, two Ducks ice girls totally tripped coming off the ice after a TV timeout once. They didn't fall, but it would have been pretty funny if they had fallen and not gotten hurt. I was not in a very caring mood Friday night, if it isn't obvious.
Blame the skaters, blame Ruff, or even blame Corey Perry (always blame Corey Perry), but my pop always said there'd be nights like this. Here I always thought he was just talking about the Wednesday after you forget about Taco Tuesday, but it turns out Honda Center had a similarly awful day in store for us all as well. Life is full of little surprises like that.
San Jose is up next, and if there is any comfort to be found in Friday's game, it is that I truly and earnestly believe that the Stars cannot put forth a worse effort than they did against the Ducks. Am I tempting fate? Am I speaking rashly? Both, probably, but so would you if you had been there.