Game 81 Afterwords: The Avs Are Really Bad, and Colton Sceviour Is Not
The Stars clinched home ice in the first round tonight--no thanks to Chicago, who totally choked against St. Louis.
In a game that meant a good deal to Dallas and a lot less than that to Colorado, things broke the way they ought to break. In other words, this Colorado game went the way all Colorado games this year should have gone.
Quickly, to set the tone: Colorado mustered only four shots on net in the first period and three in the second. That is, well, absolutely dreadful. Going 0-for-4 on the power play is bad enough, but when you can't even get the puck to the net for practically all of that time, something is seriously broken.
There's no point kicking Colorado while they're down, of course. Patrick Roy has been ripping his team much of the season (and Duchene most recently), and you had to think Colorado was primed to sag after being officially eliminated and all that.
Still, 2009 wasn't that long ago, so it was nice to see Dallas take care of business against an inferior team that had nothing real to play for. This is how good teams do it. For evidence, look at St. Louis, who has kept up with Dallas every step of the way for the last 10 games or so.
You would expect both clubs to win on Saturday, given that Washington and Nashville have every reason just to rest for the playoffs with their seeding already determined. But then again, you surely felt the butterflies when Calvin Pickard went Nabokov after a gorgeous Colton Sceviour feed to John Klingberg, right? Teams don't always win the games they are supposed to, because it turns out all professional athletes are really very good, and margins of victory are pretty slim most of the time anyway. Point is, Game 82 will mean something once again. And as much as we all love Jamie Benn, it's a lot more fun to care about Game 82 because of what it means for Game 83.
Okay, enough preamble. There was a hockey game played tonight (by one team, at least), and we ought to talk about it more than we have done so far. Jason Dickinson centering a 2nd line was a bit surprising to me in theory, but once Ruff said that he wanted to keep the Eakin and Faksa lines intact, it made sense. Dickinson is probably not best utilized with Fiddler and Moen (who both had nice games tonight), and Sceviour and Nichushkin have done enough line jumping this year to be able to adjust.
It dawned on me early on that Colton Sceviour was the seasoned veteran of that line. That's pretty cool, no? I mean, for a guy whose time in Dallas could have been winding to a close by now, he's made a very good case for being brought back next year. Tonight was perhaps his best argument of the entire season for that case, as a matter of fact. He scored a confident power play goal--I'll never be annoyed at an open player going to the net on a backup goalie--while doing everything imaginable to set up Klingberg on another, and his (and Nichushkin's) forechecking set up Dickinson for his first tally. I know Cody Eakin was the one earning the Swiss Army Knife label last year, but Sceviour has certainly demonstrated his own utility just fine.
To wit: Sceviour not only got promoted to the top power play, but he accrued the most power play time of any Stars skater. That qualifies as a Fun Fact where I come from.
Dickinson looked better as the game went on, but my expectations were pretty mild, so I was impressed. If I'm being picky, his goal almost didn't go in, as he couldn't quite elevate it; but the tools are there, and his positioning was largely solid, even with pretty sheltered zone starts. The Stars can use a C/LW like him in the future, and I have little doubt that they will do just that.
Val Nichushkin had a good game, and his assist to Dickinson was satisfying (for everyone; you could see Nuke fist-pumping on the ice after taking a hit to complete the assist). Val is young, and he is a good hockey player. Those are the sorts of things great teams need to have. This is my comprehensive analysis of Val Nichushkin.
Surely everyone in the building was relieved to see Oduya recover from the Erik Johnson hit into the boards. And by "recover," I mean "get angry and reach for Johnson in the pile-up." Oduya had a bit of a rough stretch there in the second half (join the club, Johnny), but he and Johns look like a sure bet to start the playoffs as the second pairing at this point. What more do you really need to say?
Please raise your hand if you called Jordie Benn scoring the game-winner on a 5-on-3 goal. (Ah, yes, Mr. Meany, I see that hand. Please go to the principal's office, as your pants are currently on fire.) It was enabled by a Roussel screen at the perfect time, but it was also a result of Jordie Benn's watching the 5-on-3 time leak away and saying to himself, "This will not stand." Kudos to Y. Cornelius on his bazooka.
That goal really served to put the game out of a reach for a gassed Colorado team that just needed someone to whisper "good night" in their ear. As the Blackhawks discovered, you can't let teams hang around and wait for some bounces to go their way. Dallas got the separation they needed tonight in the game, if not in the standings.
It wouldn't be a fun game with an Ales Hemsky moment, and we got one with ~3:00 left in third, when Faksa got the puck deep, won the race to it behind the goal, and fed it right to Hemsky in the slot, who executed a toe drag but ultimately managed to not do what you probably weren't really expecting him to do anyway. Pickard actually deserves a ton of credit there, or more likely, the Rules of the Universe that govern Ales Hemsky's time with us deserve a ton of credit there. I would pay $100 for an Ales Hemsky sweater just so I could wear it around the AAC to provoke inebriated people. (Also, I would probably pay $100 for an Ales Hemsky sweater just to have an Ales Hemsky sweater.)
That first Avs goal was a bummer, but a tiny, shameful part of my hockey soul was glad the penalty had at least expired* before it happened. It was as weird a situation as you'll see, the high-sticking minor on Johns when his stick went through the ear loop of John Mitchell. (I think there is a more technical name for those rubber rings than "ear loops," but it escapes me at the moment.) Still, credit to Dallas for coming up big enough during their four penalties they killed. They gave themselves a chance to win, and the Stars took that chance.
*Reason being, the Stars now have the 10th-best PK in the NHL and the 3rd-best PK in the West. As the kids said five years ago, "What is this, I don't even." I don't even indeed, kids. The Stars are big and the future is bright deep in the heart of Texas. What say y'all put a bow on this season, eh?
It doesn't really matter, but the second Avs goal was one Cody Eakin probably would prefer to forget, after he turned the puck over coming out of the zone, then found himself being danced by Iginla right before the shot. Cody Eakin is a dogged forechecker and a hard-working dude with a fantastic shot. Just feels like I need to say that every time I talk about him.
Once more, though: The Avalanche are not a good hockey team. They have some great younger players, and Jarome Iginla is still a marvel; but they are neither a fully ripe lemon nor one that is being efficiently squeezed. That was a lame analogy, but you watched the game (or last two seasons), right? This is a fundamentally flawed squad that should have enough building blocks to be on the rise. Instead, they're talking about trading Duchene because the defense is far more pitiful than any in the Central, and they need help. Tough times in Denver.
The Stars have still allowed but a single goal all year when the other team pulls their goaltender in the third period. As you know, they have scored a bit more than a single goal in that situation. The Stars have defended their leads going into the third period all year long, and they have punished teams that pull their goalie with a vicious regularity. The Stars may be the best transition team in the entire league, and that's a game that travels well. Just ask Kris Russell, who once again fit into the Lindy Ruff system like your legs fit into that one pair of jeans you love because they just fit so, so right.
Finally, I am a stupid, because I am going to the Rangers/Angels game Saturday evening, and so I will be DVR'ing the Stars' final regular match for late-night viewing. When I planned to go originally, I had assumed that this year's version of Game 82 against Nashville would have less drama to offer than last year. Thank you for proving me wrong and making my actual, real life more difficult, Chicago. Y'all are a buncha knuckleheads, you know that?