Game 19 Afterwords: Stars Lose the Special Teams Battle, Win the Video Game
The most exciting part of this game was watching the stripey-shirt guys watch tiny televisions
There's not a lot that can be added to a two-dimensional game like tonight by talking about it, or at least it sure feels like it. Buffalo's forecheck was cowed in the first after going down early, and even when the Sabres started getting chances in the second, it only lasted for a few minutes. The third slowly ramped up the tension, but it fizzled quickly after the recalled goal, and the empty netter was a mere formality for this group.
If you didn't watch this game, you could watch a Disney movie from the past fifty years and get the general arc: The Hero 1) is established early 2) fends off mild adversity 3) is beset by much greater adversity 4) is betrayed by a friend 5) faces her worst fear but overcomes it and 6) finishes off the eleventh-hour victory with a flourish. From the suddenly-easy Val goal to the Jamie Benn Whatever That Was and the Seguin #ENgonnahappen, this game seems a bit formulaic in retrospect. We'll keep watching anyway.
That Nichushkin goal was puck po-zeh-shun and then some. Nuke might have been the Stars' best player in the first, as the early tally seemed to give him confidence and vigor that only enhanced his already intimidating frame. Think of Jamie Benn at 20 and Jamie Benn now, and realize that Nichushkin is still 20. He won't turn into Now Jamie, but he's going to keep getting better, and I think he made some good progress tonight. NHL goals: good and good for you.
Ales Hemsky's Bake-Off was a more entertaining reality show than a lot of this game, but I could do without so many turnovers. That is a stupid joke, but Hemsky did have a nice little sequence of three giveaways in thirty seconds at one point tonight. Derek Tweeted that Hemsky had a very Oilers-like game, and I think I agree with that. He played 10 minutes and change though, so who can blame him for taking some chances in an effort to score goals? Well, Lindy Ruff can blame him, probably.
One of Buffalo's only good chances early was from an odd play. Jokipakka tried to keep the puck in at the blue line against the glass, but Spezza derailed his efforts with an ill-timed stick, and it created a Gionta/McGinn 2-on-1 which led to, well, it's Buffalo. Klingberg played it well, and the puck never made it to the net. (Lindy Ruff very cleverly teleported Klingberg onto the ice for Jordie Benn there, as the mere presence of #24 on that play may have caused forty spare pucks to spill out of the rafters directly on and into the Dallas net. Jordie Benn has been a good hockey player with some bad luck this season. Keep on keepin' on, Jordie.)
The second period started out looking like the Stars were trying to embarrass the Sabres with some high-skill plays. Unfortunately, the Sabres have a lot of experience being embarrassed, and they stood their ground well, even generating a few chances on the counterattack. This only lasted so long though, and Niemi was able to weather the storm without much trouble. The Sabres had zero scoring chances during the last 14 minutes of the second period.
Hemsky's adventures aside, the Hemsky/Sceviour/Fiddler line had some good chances, especially on a couple of odd-man rushes in the second. Sceviour got a shot off both times, but one was blocked and the other stopped by Linus Ullmark. Fiddler was great on the dot tonight (64%) as well, and that is how you have a fourth line that is just fine.
Something that stuck out at me tonight (though not for the first time) was how willing a lot of players were to utilize the player by the goal crease on a breakout under pressure from behind the red line. Time was that would get you benched even if it didn't backfire, but this team is just so good at moving the puck that they've incorporated that play into their regular exit repertoire. There were a couple of other defensive zone plays (Roussel had one) that were, erm, less great, but Niemi was good when needed, and the defense swept rebounds away when he couldn't corral them, which was more than usual tonight. Good Enough is an acceptable result in your own zone, I guess.
Ullmark's stop on Eaves in the slot was perhaps his best of the game, unless you count his partial glove save that sent Klingberg's wrister off the corner of the post later in the second period. Between that and Klingberg's wrister from between the circles after a beautiful backhand feed from Benn at the blue line, our favorite Swedish defenseman (sorry, Patrik) could have had another couple o' goals to pad his NHL-leading total. John Klingberg did not score tonight, though, which happens occasionally. (He was plus-two, however.)
That Eaves chance in the slot was created by a nice fake by Jason Spezza, who was probably the Stars' best player for the majority of the game, especially in the second period. He also forced Ullmark to make a pad save with a Nichushkin screen on a 2-on-2, although Razor wanted him to keep skating and try for a backhand. You can't really fault Spezza for opting for a screened wrister there, though.
And speaking of our #2 center, how about the Spezza move to just ignore Tim Schaller at the blue line to set up the Goligoski goal? From that beautiful little entry to Janmark's pass-with-patience philosophy to Goligoski, there was lots to love on that segment. Goose was not afraid to join the rush as the fourth (and odd) man even in a one-goal game. It was a low-risk gamble, but a wonderfully timed one from the player we've had with us almost longer than anyone else, and Goligoski found a hole in the enormous goalie. (Or as we can start calling them these days, goalies.) Please watch the Spezza entry here:
Jamie Benn's temper got the best of him late in a close game, which was pretty disappointing to see. Benn's had the Alpha Male look about him for the past few games, but he seems to be itching to push the pace almost every shift, and that aggression misfired tonight. That's both great and not so great, depending on whether you're a bloodthirsty fan or a coach. This time around it was 100% not so great, and the Sabres' power play got the best of Dallas.
Something interesting about the no-goal call: the offside entry occurred with about 1:30 left in the Buffalo power play and 6:15 on the game clock. The goal would be scored about eight seconds later, but after the challenge was upheld and the game restarted, only the game clock had been reset to 6:15--the time of the offside zone entry--while the power play now showed only 1:23 remaining, (the PP time at the moment of the "goal.") Not sure if that was a mistake or if I'm missing some rule minutiae, so just consider this paragraph the Bolen Bat Signal for now.
As the Sabres were despondently sending more guys to try to tie it up again for the first time, Jamie Benn got a late breakaway and dented the post. There would be no redemption for him yet, but that was his night tonight, or at least it would have been if he hadn't been able to break out of the zone and feed Seguin with about 2:00 left and Ullmark pulled. The Stars can be a bit outmatched when the other team is set up in their zone and cycling, but there's no one who can better their skating and transition game, and that zone exit leading to the third goal was far too easy. Let us all always like the Stars scoring empty-net goals.
Dallas had seven high-quality scoring chances tonight. The Sabres had three. There were approximately 212 faceoffs and ninety-seven icing calls. This was not an exciting or fluid game, and you might well use it as an example of how the NHL has a problem promoting offense. The Sabres are not a great team, but they were able to play the trap in order to stifle the NHL's most lethal offense for a solid 50 minutes. Everything was kind of rubbish for a lot of this game, but the Stars still scored three goals and hit a couple posts as well. The Stars do not have a goal-scoring problem. The Stars do not have many problems right now.