Game 49 Afterwords: Let's Play the Blame Game
Not to be picky, but it would be nice if two of the three goals scored with the Dallas power play afoot hadn't wound up in the Stars' own net.
As Brad mentioned in the recap, we've seen this movie before. Dallas can dominate Colorado, but the Avs have found a way to absorb the Stars' shot attempts and counterattack just enough to win.
Things didn't have to be that way, though. There was an Esa Lindell error early that almost negated a great start by Dallas, but Niemi came up huge. Later on, Dallas again produced all the pressure, but a breakdown in coverage resulted in golden chances for Soderberg and Mitchell that Niemi, again, shut down. Colorado was playing a loose counterattack game, and Dallas was giving them an opportunity to capitalize with high-grade chances. The Avs eventually scored on three of those bungles, whereas the Stars had to trade half of Jason Demers' teeth just to get a power play goal.
So, let's get to blaming. You wanted Dallas to win this game, and they found a really, really interesting way not to do that. In fact, Dallas outshot (and out-attempted) Colorado at a 3-to-1 rate, which is more or less insane. You do not see that happen, so that means Dallas had to have allowed the higher-quality chances, right?
Well, uh, I suppose? Sorry, after looking at that I totally lost track of what we're talking about. Oh right, scoring chances. Of Colorado's 16 chances (Dallas had 58), 10 of those were from the premium area right in front of the net. That's a breakdown in defense! So you can't be too upset with Antti Niemi, right?
Eh, you can totally blame Niemi if you want. Varlamov stopped any number of Stars from similar areas (including Seguin on a 2-on-1) and didn't give up many great rebounds at all. Niemi made some such saves early on, but he was beaten in the worst possible moments. Of course, you do have to talk about who caused those moments, because maybe those folks are to blame as well, right?
Certainly! John Klingberg made two errors on the power play with a mistimed drop pass and a bungled keep off his shoulder. That, combined with his lack of production on the man-advantage, is certainly blameworthy. Blame away!
Let's continue with that first goal-against, though. Jason Spezza chose to try chipping the puck past Carl Soderberg after the Klingberg drop made it a 50/50 play, but the coin came up Soderberg. In retrospect, you'd sure wish Spezza had just tried to break up that play instead of committing to carrying it.
Then, of course, Soderberg absolutely lost alleged former Jedi Jamie Benn and waltzed in alone. Jamie Benn misread the play and didn't even get a piece of Soderberg. That's deserving of a healthy dollop of blame atop the Captain, wouldn't you say?
The third goal was also eminently avoidable as well. Jyrki Jokipakka, who had been playing quite well for most of the night, opted to try weaving his way out of the zone around a couple of Avs, and he ended up coughing up the puck to Matt Duchene. Not a great play there, Jyrki.
Then his fellow Finn Esa Lindell sprawled to block the pass but couldn't get a piece of the puck before it got to Grigorenko. Lindell was unavailable to check Grigorenko as a result, so go ahead and put a red mark on his permanent record for that while you're at it.
Let's not forgot Jason Spezza again! Razor excoriated Spezza for not checking Grigorenko harder and allowing him to score on his second chance. Sure, when you watch the replay, you can kind of see how weird this play was and why Spezza got a bit fumbly, but Spezza failed to take care of the goal scorer, and that's the bottom line. Minus one for Jason Spezza.
And hey, what about the power play? Sure, the second unit finally managed to get a "dirty goal" by putting a defenseman in the crease, but everyone on the top unit failed in five tries. Toss Tyler Seguin and Patricks Eaves and Sharp into the Blame Bucket along with everyone else. These folks all did not produce goals!
Do you feel better now? Me neither. The only other remedy I can recommend for your frustration is to think of how you would feel about this game from the other side of things. Your team just faced 106 shot attempts and stopped all but one. Colorado is currently in the top wild card spot in the Western Conference after starting off the season holding their sticks upside down, and that is bananas. I guess that's why they call them bananalytics.
Given the exasperating nature of the game through 40 minutes, I was curious to see how Dallas would come out in the third. The answer was a combination of heavy forechecking and holding the puck longer, which isn't a bad strategy if you're trying to create your own high-quality chances. That seemed, to me, evidence that Varlamov was looming large in Dallas's minds with the game 2-1. Dallas had decided that their previous strategy wasn't going to work, and they went full "41 Thunderstorm," to paraphrase Justin Bourne.
If that was the case (Varlamov's psyching them out), then the Stars' shorthanded chance of their own certainly didn't help their perceptions of the Avs goalie. Jamie Benn brilliantly found Demers streaking into the zone, but once again Colorado's forwards managed to get a piece of the puck before it could test Varlamov. Cody Eakin picked up the rebound, but I am 74% certain that Eakin is only allowed to score shorthanded goals if Jamie Benn passes it to him, so nothing came of that.
One of Eakin's true assets has always been his shot; specifically his one-timer, which really impressed me twice tonight. The second time was on a high saucer pass, and I am almost certain Eakin actually shot it right out of the air. Dude can send a puck towards the net. Maybe that is why he played more minutes than both Janmark and Hemsky, despite the 4+ minutes both got on the power play. Or maybe it's because he's on Spezza's line. That is more plausible, now that I think about it.
Aside: hey, does it bother you that the offside review process can only ever correct linesmen's errors when they result in a goal? Well, if so, check out this offside call on Dallas during a counterattack halfway through the third:
(Note: Many who were in attendance said the crowd was mollified by the replay, which showed Benn potentially putting himself offside as he came into the zone. I still think Benn absolutely maintained possession of the puck coming in, but that does change the the nature of the offside call, for sure.)
I don't point this out to whine, but simply to reiterate the fact that the NHL will probably be taking another look at the offside review process. Goals are corrected both ways, but this is not the only egregious offside call that's been made to kill a play this year. If you're going to treat the offside call with such gravity, you need to go both ways or neither. Anyway, it's not like that was a key play in this game or anything, but it sure does rankle after that abomination of a contest.
I don't have much else to say about this one. You saw who screwed up, and you saw the Hemsky/Janmark/Roussel line continue its beautiful dance throughout the game. (Incidentally, that Janmark line has officially become the 2nd Power Play unit, which is a good strategy to use when the line dances around the offensive zone as if they're on a power play all the time anyway. Might as well make it official, right?) It was a fascinating game to watch, but primarily because it tested the physical limits of the "Colorado has their number" aphorism to the uttermost. Honestly, they might just want to try shooting the puck from below the red line against the Avs from now on. You can't prove it wouldn't work any better.
We'll end with our favorite little segment around here, courtesy of a certain recent MCAT finisher:
This power play is the most Ales Hemsky play of the game, @RobertTiffin— Erin (@ErinB_DBD) January 24, 2016