Game 65 Afterwords: Kris Russell Did Not Fix Everything
Kari Lehtonen would have paid a lot of money for the league's top shot-blocking defenseman to have been in front of a certain Shea Weber bomb.
Hey all. Good to be back. Apparently Dallas is still flu-ridden and stuck in a rut, so that's peachy.
First, I wanted to touch on a couple of Kris Russell thoughts. To start, let's talk about this "internet vs. Jim Nill" thing. We know that teams have access to player tracking data and other analyses that the public does not. That is good, for teams! But analytics are not just about counting up an individually inconsequential stat and extrapolating a player's entire value from them, as "the internet" has been accused of doing ad infinitum. It is about getting actionable information by collecting and parsing the little things you might not notice otherwise, then checking the numbers to see if they are repeatable and stable when isolated. You cannot logically discount a player's demonstrated effect on his team (allowing more shot attempts than his teammates) while then turning around and lauding his ability to...short-circuit shot attempts with blocks. Both are part of who he is, and I'm weary of arguments (on both sides) being discarded because of the source.
Secondly, I want nothing better than for the Stars to turn Kris Russell into a fantastically solid defender for two months. Certainly he has some good wheels (which any defender who is listed at my size sort of has to have to stick in the league these days), and most defenders with wheels have a chance to look good in the mobile Dallas system. If Jim Nill's trade for Russell was based on the team's scouting of him alone, then what can you say? Certainly most of us are not qualified to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a lifelong talent-evaluator in the NHL and proffer our advice. All we can do is make sense of the information and opinions we have, and, for me, those have not been very positive with Kris Russell to date. That's why I've been so down about this signing, on its face. But I think we can safely assume that the Stars' brain trust have looked at Russell a lot more than we have, so if he comes in and proves them right, we all get a bit sheepish. That's a lot less of a risk than management took in trading for him. Here's hoping they win their bet.
Finally, it's a pity that Vancouver's ownership is so intransigent when it comes to making the Stars look good, but when you're in as bad a spot as the Canucks, I doubt you're going to be gracious when up-and-comers knock on your door at the deadline. If Dallas really did love Russell more than Hamhuis, though, I surely would love to know why. He's younger, but you're talking about a rental here. Dan Hamhuis is almost the picture-perfect defender you would want to rent in order to shore up your defense. But then again, maybe Hamhuis would have been a square peg in the round hole of Dallas's system. What's your theory? Are there secret tracking data that show Russell to be a Cup catalyst in the making? Only you can solve the mystery.
Okay, getting back to what happened Tuesday now. It's interesting that this game was lost because the Stars couldn't generate anything (a measly five high-danger chances in all situations) and the Predators, well, could.
That's unusual, actually. Dallas, for what it's worth, is still as high-event team as ever: they've allowed the third-most high-danger scoring chances in the NHL since January 1st, but they've also created the fourth-most, which is more or less the type of team they've been all year. The kicker here is that Dallas owns the worst save percentage in the entire league since January 1st. Normally that'd be something you just shake your head at, but this is approaching the worst-case scenario envisioned when the Stars' began their three-year, two-headed goalie experiment last July. Both players are struggling, and they have another two years left. It will be tough to fix that conundrum without retaining some salary or surrendering some extra assets unless things turn around quickly. Say, sure would be nice to have a young WHL scorer lying around for just such a purpose, eh?
Down 5-3, the Stars had gorgeous chances for Mattias Janmark and Val Nichushkin. Neither could do anything with those opportunities, and that hurt. It's great that Dallas has been looking better lately in Ruff's eyes, but you need some of your great young talent to come up big on occasion, especially when you're playing a 2-in-2 and your superstars are nowhere to be found. Vernon Fiddler is a good soldier, but he shouldn't be the only one stepping up when you're trailing late in this sort of a game.
Speaking of stepping up, it was nice to see Jamie Benn try to exorcise the demons from Paul Gaustad's face, but he was -3, and Seguin was -4. You aren't going to win many games when your top line has that sort of a night. Lindy Ruff didn't mince words either: "Every time I put 'em out there, they got scored against." Ouch.
Johnny Oduya lost track of Craig Smith (after a Riberio kept the puck in with the 2nd-best mid-air tip of the game) on a d-zone breakdown before the Perds opened the scoring. The Stars are still looking problematic in their own end, and you have to think that's the book on them now: get the puck in, use size to maintain possession, and out-pass their coverage until you get a good look. The Stars have surrendered at least three goals in seven straight games now, so it's not like it's an unrepeatable approach or anything. They are a great team, but a flawed one.
Antoine Roussel was awfully nice when he reminded Dallas that they aren't the only team pining for solid goaltending, as Pekka Rinne got plain flummoxed by a nice little rush-n-stuff move by the feisty Frenchman. It was a great effort by Roussel, but when that, a 5-on-3 and a late one-timer from the point by Vernon Fiddler are your only goals, you probably need to re-assess your offensive capabilities. Losing Sharp for the third didn't help, but he's been having a rough go of it for a bit now, so if he has to take a couple games down the stretch to get healthy, that wouldn't be the worst thing in the entire known universe (in my book).
I had no problem with Seguin and Benn being split up, but it's getting to the point where line-shuffles are just treating the symptoms instead of the disease. Still, I don't blame Ruff for flipping the switches available to him. It's not like he can magically turn the clock back five years on his goalies, you know.
Carl "Calle" Jarnkrok's tip past Niemi was as deft as it gets, but I don't think Niemi saw the puck to begin with. At least, I hope he didn't, because he was thoroughly unprepared for the only possible dangerous action to occur in that situation. Did I mention he hasn't had a great 2016? Well, someone did.
If Kris Russell was supposed to be some sort of magical catalyst for the Stars' penalty kill, it sure didn't work on Shea Weber's one-timer. Sure, it was from the opposite point; and yes, Goligoski may have partially screened Niemi; and yes, Cody Eakin may have left Shea Weber wide open for unclear reasons; but if the Stars are going to pay a premium for a 3rd-pairing defender because he's great without the puck, then I expect magic, consarnit. MAGIC.
Unlucky, unlucky, unlucky tonight, eh? When the Stars have encountered adversity, things have had a tendency to snowball lately. By "lately," we may mean "since 2014," because I have a hard time backtracing this proclivity. I wonder if it isn't more a matter of overtry and frustration that leads to scrambly coverage (or lack thereof). That's certainly what it looked like on the crazy fourth backhand deflection, which never should have happened for a lot of reasons. Composure is an aphorism in sports, usually; for the Stars this year, it is a myth.
The Stars were granted some grace in the form of a 5v3 power play, although I'm not sure Spezza felt it was all that gracious when he was corked in the face by a high stick to earn the call. Nevertheless, it was more than they deserved after a rather useless first minute of the power play, so a 5-on-3 that they immediately cashed in on was a bit of a blessing, all-told.
Unfortunately, the Stars' 5v4 unit continued to sputter, and Radek Faksa was called for allowing his arm to be do-si-doed by Viktor Arvidsson shortly after its expiration. It was just the latest in a rash of tough calls on Dallas lately, but when you're the beneficiary of a two-man advantage, most referees are going to look to even things up. That is wrong and bad of those referees, but it's pretty much how most of them do their job, so I don't know what to say anymore. Actually, one thing comes to mind: score on your power plays, hockey players. That is what you can do.
James Neal's dagger goal was not a good one for Kris Russell, who stumbled trying to clear the puck earlier in the shift, then got stuck in between (which was less his fault) and failed to block the pass or the shot. There is a snarky comment to be made here about shot blocking, but that goal was more or less an eventuality with the personnel mismatch on the ice at that point. I'm also not going to fault Kari for a sub-par push across there, given the Shea Weber shot he'd absorbed just a bit prior.
It's funny; I thought Vern Fiddler looked tired as the game wore on, and then he goes and scores the Stars' third goal from the point. Nothing like sticking it to your old club, eh? Good for Vernon Fiddler. Hooray for the Stars' bottom lines.