Game 27 Afterwords: Stars Miss 98% of the Shots They Do Take
Or at least, they didn't score on them. Honk twice if you liked the Stars doubling up the Oilers in the scoring chance department!
Well, thank goodness for Mattias Janmark, because can you even imagine enduring that game only to see it end 1-0? The plucky Swede rebounded from a rough contest the night before to do what no other Stars were able to do, which is score a goal all alone with the puck in front of the goalie. That was a very competitive category, by the way.
It's tough to shoot pucks when you're tired. When you're fresh, you have to lean on the stick just right and transfer your weight quickly in order not to fall down in your follow through, and that's after you've already performed the arduous task of getting into a scoring area, relatively open, with the puck on your stick in the first place. When you throw some fatigue in there, good luck doing all of that and hitting your spots perfectly. Yes, these players should be able to do that better than anyone (and they have, really). But these players are also mere mortals, and we have certainly seen the skull beneath the skin on this road trip through Western Canada, haven't we?
If you're still not totally aware of the anomaly that is and was the Stars' inability to convert on their multitude of glorious chances in this game, let's try this: if you take away the Stars' 10 empty-net goals this year, they would still be leading the entire Western Conference in goals scored (and everyone else in the NHL sans Montreal). When you factor in the skill of the personnel getting the chances tonight (Benn, Seguin, Spezza) and failing to score, it's perhaps best just to nod at the shadowy figure in the corner of the tavern and mutter a "well played, Fate" as you take your leave. It was not the Stars' night tonight, demonstrably.
The Oilers were certainly using the old Juice Weasel on whatever good karma remained to be extracted from Rexall Place tonight, but the building may also have been exacting its revenge upon Dallas for the sins of olde. Yes, I am suggesting that the specter of the Stars' trompings over the Oilers in the playoffs those many years ago came back to haunt them. (For you young hockey players out there, that was when hockey was real, back in that halcyon age when when a bag skate meant you had to carry your Cheetos around with you, and fans' eyes were treated to every player's grody undershirt instead of the NHL logo front and center on their EDGE uniform kit systems.) But then again, there is other history in this building that suggests its resident spirits are more uniformly chaotic than downright malevolent, so probably it is best not to speculate.
Val Nichushkin played a whale of a game tonight, and so did Patrick Sharp, come to that. The two most recent players to inhabit the 1RW position had some of the best jump throughout the night, with Sharp in particular looking like a Selke candidate in a playoff game more than once. If those two can keep doing what they've done these last two games on their new lines (for however long they last), the Stars would have to be pretty thrilled. Sharp can rack up power play time (and PK time as well, apparently) while shoring up the third line, and Nichushkin can come into his own as he creates and receives great chances from two of the best hockey players alive. Seems doable, right? Okay, glad we fixed that.
Ales Hemsky finally made it to the Spezza line, and aside from being bit by the same impotence mosquito as every other player not named Janmark, seemed to do well for himself. His aesthetics are still a little suboptimal, but I really do like his two-way game more than that of Eaves right now. I'm not sure which player that says more about at the moment, but there you go.
Two weeks ago, I don't think I would have anticipated Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak's seeing their second game together in two nights with Jokipakka as a healthy scratch. Now, it's tough to say it's not the best choice until Demers gets back. Jamie Oleksiak was playing with confidence and making nice, snappy passes, and Nemeth timed a pinch well early on that would have resulted in a goal if not for, well, you know.
The two black eyes for the pair (both to Nemeth, actually) came in the form of a phantom call on Nemeth for somehow "holding" a player with a hand which was also holding Nemeth's stick and a bad-luck puck that traversed Nemeth's circulatory system before landing perfectly in Hall's skates on the other side of the defender. I don't love the play by Jordie Benn there to just fling it off the glass during a change, either, so consider this my apology for Patrik Nemeth.
John Klingberg may have had a (relatively) worse game, actually. Whether from fatigue or abundant caution, he kept his creativity to a minimum (with early overtime and the fourth power play being the exception) and couldn't quite find that extra level the Stars needed from their top players tonight. Maybe I was just expecting something amazing from him since most of his fellow Swedes were getting their names in print one way or another.
The Stars have not scored on their last 13 power plays, and while the man advantage finally did get its groove back on the fourth opportunity, you need to start putting pucks in the net as well as looking good. It's nothing to be too concerned about yet--their power play conversion rate is still near the top of the league--but you don't want to risk losing the magic that the top unit has finally started creating. The Stars are great at risking things, though, so maybe it's all part of the plan. Let's say it is.
For all the talk about Nilsson's volume of saves, Antti Niemi was forced to make a similar amount of high-danger stops (10 to Nilsson's 14) in a much smaller body of overall work. There were numerous times where the Oilers seemed sure to score and put the game firmly in the voodoo bag, but Niemi (and the two other former Hawks) were as determined as they could be that this game would not be slipping away just yet. Tonight, Niemi really looked like someone who can play goalie for the Stars and do a great job of it. That is a unique skillset, but hopefully not absolutely so.
You can look at this game in that sort of "shrug and move on" way, if you want. The Stars gutted a point out of a match in which the best goal scorers in the league couldn't convert bushels of chances, the Stars were exhausted from a tough game and travel the night before, and the Oilers seemed to delight in their own defensive lapses like that kid who refolded an empty gum wrapper to its prior state and put it back in the pack before offering it to the shy kid in the hallway. Maybe the Oilers knew there was nothing to be found by an opponent in Edmonton's carelessness tonight. Something weird is going on up here. Let's just let this building depart in peace.