Game 26 Afterwords: Thank Goodness for Goodness
Even the bad isn’t so bad right now
Cause getting your dreams
It’s strange, but it seems
A little - well - complicated
There’s a kind of a sort of a cost
There’s a couple of things get lost
Losing to the Blackhawks is a special sort of rotten, always. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been terrorizing the Stars since the previous ownership, and their accompanying fans have been doing the same to the AAC for the vast majority of that time, too.
So it was satisfying to beat them last week behind Anton Khudobin’s masterful performance, but it would have been intoxicating to do so twice in the span of four days. Would have been, of course, being the operative phrase.
But you knew how this was going to go, right? NBC broadcasting the game on national television, the Stars finally getting some incidental national exposure in the midst of their best 15-game run in years, and a franchise-record winning streak on the line? Yeah, that has “stupid blackhawks shutout” written all over it with sequins and those weird glue-bead things my sisters always used to bake in the over, or something. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention as a kid.
It was poetic, in a way. The team’s last regulation loss—if you can remember that far back—was also a 3-0 defeat, which came against the Penguins. But as much as goals are the main thing, these games couldn’t have been more different.
This Chicago game felt like it was there for the taking until about five minutes to go. That Pittsburgh contest, on the other hand, was about as lifeless as it gets. That game was brutal, and it came after a three-game winning streak that was about as uninspiring as a winning streak can get. That Pittsburgh defeat set up the Minnesota game that we all remember so well by now, and the Stars finally found themselves after Alex Radulov threw a brick through the window they had been using to contemplate their own reflection for far too long.
This 3-0 defeat was, uh, not exactly as concerning as that Penguins one. To wit:
Stars got Crawforded pic.twitter.com/K1bmOBHhlq— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) November 27, 2019
The Stars got to the front of the net, Anton Khudobin made a couple of key stops to keep them in it—none bigger than a crucial save after a Jamie Benn turnover at the Stars’ blue line in the first, unless it was the stop on Kane in by himself later on—and they only took one penalty all night. The recipe, in other words, looked pretty much how you’d want it to look if you were hoping to win your third game in four nights after traveling the night before.
But hockey is random, right? There’s a reason even those world-class Stars teams from the turn of the century never surpassed a seven-game winning streak (and that reason is the shootout, but that’s not what we’re talking about right here). The Stars won some games they probably didn’t deserve to, like that Philly win to kick off the whole 14-1-1 run. It was only fair that they’d have to pay down their karmic loan at some point. And when better to do that than national television leading up to Thanksgiving weekend? Thanks for letting us down right before our families all started asking us about the Stars, guys. Thanks a lot.
It kind of felt like distant relatives were watching the game at point too, with the usually excellent John Forslund channeling another former NBCSN broadcaster in borking up the name of a Dallas Stars player repeatedly (until he was mercifully corrected after the first intermission). At least this time it was a hybrid of two Stars players instead of an outright misidentification.
Only other thing I will say about the broadcast: is the Blackhawks Mafia leaning on NBC or something to hide how bad they are? Because while A.J. Mleczko seemed pretty up-to-speed on the Stars’ tactics and strengths (as you’d expect a former player to be), the overall tenor of the broadcast really fed into my preexisting martyr complex about Nobody Knowing the Stars Are Good. I suppose the Comcast overlords gotta eat too, though.
But maybe that was just as well, what with the results and all. Heck, even Miro Heiskanen had two uncharacteristically weak plays on a night where he looked far from 100%. You wonder what sort of thorns he might be carrying in his side after all of the hockey he’s had to play in John Klingberg’s absence, because last night’s Miro Heiskanen was not the dominant, best-player-on-the-ice Heiskanen we’ve seen so much this year. Perhaps it’s just fatigue, and things will be fine. Something to keep an eye on, though, from the young superstar. Maybe he just got the memo about slow-playing the whole Stars’ thing on national television and took it too seriously. Makes sense, really.
On the other hand, John Klingberg looks a lot more dangerous than he did before his injury, and he was creating things all night long, as well as facilitating a host of zone exits against a hard-forechecking Chicago team. This game looked like it was made for the transitional Klingberg approach, but unfortunately the Stars never quite found that final blow, and they couldn’t quite get the deflections Klingberg has gotten in the last two games. That’s the nature of those plays, but it doesn’t make repeatedly fruitless slot chances any more fun to watch evaporate.
Staying with the blue line, Jamie Oleksiak also had some major mojo moments that didn’t quite turn into anything. But still, confidence is good, right? Is it fair to say that Oleksiak is approaching where Stephen Johns was before his injury? I think it’s fair to say that, minus the offensive abilities. Also, Johns’s righthandedness is something the Stars could still benefit from in a fast-paced game like this one was, but you can’t have everything. Some nights, you can’t get anything, either.
As you’d expect in a shutout, the FCC line looked like the most effective forward group for stretches, with some solid moments in the offensive zone, but you can’t do much without finishers. They got the puck to the net with some bodies, but it was mostly hacking and whacking, to quote John Forslund. And Corey Crawford wasn’t about to let a checking line ruin his night.
The Stars’ forwards all played around 17 minutes or fewer, except for one guy. And, somewhat surprisingly, that guy was Joe Pavelski. Ol’ Pavs (I am calling him that now, or at least today) had chances, and like everyone else, he couldn’t finish them, acknowledging as much in his postgame comments. I suppose you have to decide whether to be hopeful that Pavelski looked like an effective top-six player, or worried that his scoring touch is never going to fully return playing on this team. This game, I would suggest, is not the sort of contest after which one should be making big conclusions, though.
Alex Radulov looked pretty good, too, with even his customary tip-of-the-helmet on Jonathan Toews being fairly innocuous, coming as it did roughly 22 inches above the ice surface. But with the ‘Hawks sitting on zero power plays, you knew it was getting called.
Jamie Benn is best when he’s playing ferociously, but there are times where he tries to force the issue and it backfires. We saw it against Calgary earlier in the year at the far blue line, and we saw it Tuesday night on an attempted zone exit. Khudobin was fully capable and confident in covering up his captain, but you would probably ask Jamie to exercise a bit of discretion along with his valor next time, there.
Khudobin was great, though. He held the Blackhawks to two goals, which is all you can ask of a backup on the road in that situation. The first goal was a bit of blown coverage off a faceoff in which Benn and Hintz both attacked the puck-carrier, Klingberg was exchanging and heading up to cover the pooint without anyone covering for him, and Esa Lindell ended up being the only player down low with two Blackhawks available for a pass. Saad excellently relayed the feed from the point without taking a puck handle—something Pavelski couldn’t quite do on a cross he got later in the game—and the Stars were down 1-0, as you always knew they were going to be on this night.
The second goal was just a reminder that the Stars’ power play is still the main cylinder misfiring in their now-strong engine, because hoo boy, Chicago created almost at-will a chance the Stars’ power play never really approached in its two chances.
Here you can see Toews about to feed Alex DeBrincat (I know, I know) for the sort of one-timer your penalty kill really, really doesn’t want to give up. But Khudobin got across in an upright position, and that would have been a great bit of recovery after a breakdown by the skaters, except that Andrew Shaw was right there in front to scoop up the rebound and get it back to DeBrincat, who then fed a wide-open Kane on the far side, who showed all the patience of a man waiting for a taxi cab before finally putting the puck past a discombobulated Khudobin to make a steep hill even steeper.
The Stars needed more help than even five goalies could have given them Tuesday night, but all told, you still have to be pretty darn okay with the way in which they lost this game. Their first period was good despite the back-and-forth, and they really cranked things up halfway through the game, deserving a better fate. I can live with that sort of thing after a seven-game winning streak.
Sometimes you just lose to a bad team because hockey is random. The Stars didn’t play like garbage tonight. They played pretty well but imperfectly, and Corey Crawford played some really great goal. That’s a tough combo to overcome. It sounds, in fact, like how the Stars won some playoff games last year, and didn’t we spend all summer talking about how the Stars needed to upgrade their offensive strategy instead of hoping their goalie could be heroic while the team got outchanced every night? Here the Stars were on the other side of the coin, and it turns out that other side can be kind of a bummer, too.
This roller coaster was never going to go up forever. Now the Stars have a chance to show that they weren’t just riding a bit of magical rocket fuel, but that they are indeed a changed hockey team, capable of weathering the storms of the season and still playing good hockey that gets results. This game was no less maddening for all that, but we all have to grow up sometime, right? Maybe this points streak was the fun, high school party portion of this season. Adulthood looms, and the Stars have, against all odds, firmly established themselves in the upper echelon of the West by American Thanksgiving.
I mean, can you imagine telling yourself on October 26, after that Penguins debacle, that the 4-8-1 Stars wouldn’t lose their ninth regulation game until November 26th? No, of course you can’t imagine that, because that would be straight bonkers. Teams shouldn’t go an entire month of hockey without so much as a single pointless game, but that’s exactly what these Stars did. They took an abysmal start by an abysmal offensive team, and they bought a hydrogen-powered trampoline right off the production line. The Stars are one of the best teams in hockey in terms of their predictive metrics, and their record actually reflects that. The Stars have more wins than the St. Louis Blues, who are leading the Central. Yes, there’s a lot of season left to play, but I can’t imagine even daring to ask for something like this to be thankful for last month.
Indeed, hope oft deceives, yet twice blessed is help unlooked for. The Stars are 15-9-2 as we tuck into whatever awaits us tomorrow. Winning yesterday would have been perfect, but winning for a whole month isn’t too far off perfection, either. So as this roller coaster finally gets ready for the bumpy part, we can all be grateful that, unlikely as it seemed before Halloween, we have got ourselves a hockey season on our hands.