Game 25 Afterwords: Turnabout Is Fair Play, But It Still Stinks
The sky isn't falling, but it's a little less blue today
Gonna be brief today, and not just because no one wants to re-live that catastrophe.
This game was lots of fun early, but even then it's not like the Stars were spotless. Even as the Stars were starting to pile up the goals, Antti Niemi had to make a couple of high-grade stops, including one on a breakaway. Razor mentioned that Niemi has done that a lot this year, and he's right. Niemi has kept the Stars in a lot of games, but he has also kept them from surrendering the lead more than a few times, too. Having a solid option behind Kari is a nice luxury, and it seemed like one the Stars wouldn't need much after the first period.
Jason Spezza is clearly trying to set the record for most low-percentage shots for goals in a season (though Fiddler's backhand might have him beat, still). That low-angle snipe was Niklas Hagman-esque, if you remember the Calgary goal I'm talking about. Erin mentioned in the recap that it's not a goal you want your NHL-caliber goalie to surrender, but clearly the Flames aren't concerned with that given that they've already waived two goalies this year. Besides, the posts were clearly the real goaltender against the Stars.
Jyrki Jokipakka will likely have the privilege of watching the next game from up top. I'm not sure if ice gremlins or just lack of concentration is what doomed him, but between a bad pinch and a couple of flubbed plays, he did not come out of this game looking like the bona fide number six defenseman.
Unfortunately, we have to factor Jason Demers into the conversation about who's going to be scratched again, too. The Stars were already fading by the time he took his last shift late in the second period, but if there's better evidence for a "glue guy" than what the Stars have done (or haven't done) in his absence, I'm not sure what it is. The Stars have lost two of the three games he'd missed to this point, and you can probably throw this one into that bucket for all intents and purposes.
One downside of being a team that relies on its defense to sustain offensive pressure to the degree that Dallas does is that when you try to hold big leads and ease up on the gas, you're basically hamstringing one of your most potent weapons. Now, I'm not saying the Stars intentionally let up, but score effects are a known phenomenon, and I'm firmly in the camp that blames psychological factors for them. You start choosing the safe play because you don't have to push the pace with a three-goal lead, and suddenly your zone exits aren't crisp, you aren't getting possession deep in the offensive zone with support, and you're giving up more chances on neutral zone turnovers because you're not ahead of the other team's forecheck anymore.
Even so, the Stars had numerous key blocks in the rather panicky second period that kept them in front. Even Ales Hemsky found himself getting hit with the puck near the net, which is probably a sign that this game is taking place in Western Canada, so everyone has to saddle up and all that. Calgary was doing exactly what the Stars did against Minnesota, and the Stars didn't really handle it any better than the Wild did the other night. They got slaughtered in every category after the halfway mark of the game, and you just felt like they were doomed unless they got another goal to stave off the pressure.
And they almost did, too. If Jamie Benn puts away that shorthanded chance (after a great pass from Eakin, I might add) then we have tons of breathing room, and Calgary tucks its tail back between its legs after a spirited death rattle. Instead, the Stars go almost a full 20 minutes without a single scoring chance, and by then you're playing a one-shot game against a team that scored 80% of its points last year with their goalie pulled late in the third. All it takes is for coverage to lapse for a few moments while your big, right-handed offensive defenseman wafts into the slot to receive a nice pass and lets it go before anyone can get there.
I'll just spoil the ending for you: Roussel tries to cut over to the slot once Hamilton gets the pass, and Eaves likewise pulls the fire alarm from up high, but to no avail. This is a curious situation, because Eakin ends up more or less losing his man, which wouldn't be a problem except both the defensemen are already committed down low as well. Klingberg has to stay low, and that means Goligoski will need to stay in the slot I'm no positioning maven, but between Eaves and Roussel, someone probably needs to figure out who's got Hamilton here. Eaves is puck-watching in this cherry-picked screenshot, but you can really take your pick here. Like a lot of the third period, this was a hockey team not looking quite enough like a hockey team.
That goal probably felt especially great for Hamilton, who at least broke even after kicking the puck into his net in the act of "clearing the crease." No comment on that, but we should most definitely comment on Val Nichushkin's play to set that goal up. It was a beautiful piece of puck-carrying along with a wonderful fake to shake his man. In fact, Val looked great for much of the early portion, but I'm not convinced that he's going to put up many points on a line with Eakin and Roussel. Also of note, Roussel posted a -24 shot differential during 5v5 play. Eakin and Nichushkin were both "only" -11. I believe Roussel got caught out on the ice for a couple minutes straight during the Flames' Globetrotter Extravaganza in the second period, so that was probably helped that number along quite a bit.
Shootouts are a coin flip, so not much to talk about there. Seguin was haunted by a post still angry about being sat upon by Kari Lehtonen, but when you give up all three goals, you don't blame your shooters. Overtime was where the Stars needed to grab this game by the scruff of the neck, but it's tough to generate chances when the Flames are essentially sending one guy in and hanging two defensemen back. I'd whine about them making overtime boring, but a) that's kind of what Sean Monahan does, and b) when you're Calgary, you do whatever it takes to win. No telling when the next time will be.
In summary, the Stars lost this game despite Janmark joining his linemate Spezza in the Victimize a Shaky Goalie Club. They lost this game despite establishing a big lead early, although they got that lead despite never enjoying more than a minute of power play time in the entire game. (Janmark's goal was on a delayed call for interference against Demers behind the net, by the way. He took three more shifts before leaving, so you do the detective work on this one.)
I think I miss ties even more now that overtime is so much fun and the shootout is doubly the worst by comparison. Maybe the Stars deserved it tonight.