Game 31 Afterwords: Winning in Spite of Themselves
The Stars gave Columbus every opportunity to do something, but when it comes to chances, only of these teams is stacked, and it's not the one from Ohio. (Alternate subhead: "Whither, Kevin Connauton?")
Since both Lindy Ruff and the Blue Jackets were displeased with their respective games tonight, there's probably not too much reason to get worked up. And in a 5-1 win, it's tough to be all that upset, so please take the following with a grain of Grumpy Salt Antidote. (Pairs well with donuts.)
The first period against Columbus looked a lot like the first period against St. Louis. One team was controlling play and racking up the shots while the dormant team made the saves they had to at even-strength, preventing any golden rebound chances along the way.
Of course, the difference tonight was that the Stars' opponent was not awarded a power play until the second period. That gave the team enough time to begin sorting things out. Then you have a rookie goaltender vs. Oduya Veteranocity, and guess who wins that one? Goaltending is a good thing to have on your hockey team.
And yes, the Stars' special teams continued to look lost tonight as the PK doled out its customary goal while the power play added another three horse collars to their recent run. This game was what it was because of Kari Lehtonen, who was named the number one star tonight because he was the number one Star tonight.
Not sure what the officials were planning to do when they let a couple clear trips and another couple obvious calls go on both sides in the first period. This game was probably bound to get chippy regardless, but it's a bit mystifying when the officials from night to night can be so disparate in their calling of a game. Antoine Roussel's extra roughing minor against Jenner tonight was certainly observable, but this is the same Roussel who got legally assaulted a few days ago and received the exact same repercussions as the aggressor in that instance. It's more frustrating when it has a big impact on the game, but maybe refereeing is just something that we non-professional athletes could at least conceivably do, so we feel like we have a right to criticize it. I'm sure it is incredibly difficult and that I would die if I tried to do it.
Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin both ended up having rather unimpressive games tonight aside from a 40-second stretch in the second, and their team-worst(!) possession stats bear that out. Seguin certainly acquitted himself with the tallies--and one of those from a nice feed from Benn behind the net--but I think a good amount of Ruff's frustration with this game stemmed from the inability to have a top line dominate at home the way it ought to do. Benn in particular fought the puck with a pool noodle at times, which is very uncharacteristic of our venerable captain. Still, it's odd to see the Stars' two best players not be their best players, especially against a bad team.
It wasn't so much the fact that Columbus was forechecking hard that caused the Stars problems as much as how the Jackets did it. They had pretty clearly scouted the Stars' favorite exit routes, and they jumped the mid-ice outlets like they knew they were coming when the boards were taken away. Dallas adapted as the game went on, but you'd like to see them do so before getting shellacked for an entire period, if possible.
To compound poor Korpisalo's night that had already been ruined by the Oduya goal, Sharp's shot in the second almost squirted through. Nuke's poke just did tick off the paddle of the young Finn's outstretched stick to pass over the bar, so I suppose it was either his best or ugliest moment of the night, as a goalie should probably do better with the initial Sharp shot than Korpisalo did. Call it a harbinger of something.
Again in the second, the Stars survived a couple glorious chances from the Blue Jackets courtesy of Kari Lehtonen, then Hemsky and Goose combined to restore the lead. It was really 90% Goose and 10% Hemsky, as the Stars' defender made the exact right play and went to the exact right spot after dropping the puck to Hemsky. Brad mentioned in the recap that there was a danger of the puck's rimming around for a break the other way on that shot, but I politely disagree. Hemsky did not miss the net by much at all, and he was more or less in the middle of the slot. The puck bounced the way it did because he was in a prime shooting area of the ice. It's not the most complicated play or anything, but it was nice to see two maligned players execute well on the same play.
The Stars in their own zone were still a mess at times, though. Matt Calvert rang the crossbar shortly after the Goose goal thanks to some very suspect coverage in the offensive zone after a partial change, and you have to think that's where Ruff just started staring into the rafters. (There are some pretty neat banners there, so I don't blame him completely.) Patrik Nemeth could have been worse, and he also could have been better. I'm beginning to think I can't even judge among the three competing defensemen anymore, so hopefully Nill will trade one just to clarify which ones we're supposed to be hoping to keep. I sometimes find myself wanting the Stars to retain all of them and none of them at the same time. Or, as it's better known, "Nilla Wafer Syndrome."
Anyhow, that's when the Stars finally started taking over the game, and the two Seguin goals evidenced a lack of proper coverage and skating by 'Lumbus, to put it lightly. Ryan Johansen did not touch the ice after Seguin's first goal, though Jack Johnson appeared to be by far the bigger culprit on exiting the Klingberg-Seguin Expressway at such a crucial time.
More knowledgeable folks than I have written about the Tortorella/Johansen fissure opening up in Ohio, but if Torts thinks he's going to fix that team by benching perhaps their best player, then I look forward to greeting the Stars' new forward this offseason. Hopefully the Stars trade all their defensemen and play 18 forwards next year just to show you all a thing or two about what this team is really built to do.
How about we end with some arbitrary categories and call it a day? Don't worry, this'll be a one-time thing.
Most Perfectly Encapsulating Moment of the Game:
On the "power play," Sharp weirdly coughed it right up from the point, but the ensuing breakaway by crossbar-hitman extraordinaire Matt Calvert would also be nabbed by the ice gremlins and saved by Kari. This game was the Stars screwing up a bit, the Jackets failing to do anything against Lehtonen, and the Stars getting another chance. The Stars will do things with chances, eventually.
Most Turning Point-est Point of the Game
Shots were 16-8 after 1, but Stars outshot 'Lumbus 19-12 in the second along with a few, you know, goals. One team did something with their dominant period, and the other did not. Thus, the Jackets decided to try to score more goals by benching one of their top scorers. It makes sense if you really think about it. No, keep thinking. It might take a while.
Most Ales Hemsky Play of the Game
Hemsky's dancing Murray with a gorgeous drag between his legs and failing to score was the most Ales Hemsky Play of the Game.
Most Memorable Line of the Night
Anyone playing with Jason Spezza. Janmark, Eaves and Spezza began the contest looking like some of the only fully conscious personnel in green. After the shakeup, Sharp and Nichushkin picked up where the prior two wingers had left off. All told, Spezza and his two pairs of linemates created half the scoring chances for the team tonight. Mattias Janmark even created one ex nihilo, but I'll give Spezza some Inspiration Credit on that one for his great Leadership. Dude was good tonight.
Most Important Stat of the Night
23-6-2. That's not really a stat, actually. I don't care.