Game 40 Afterwords: Get a Point, Lose a Point
This game probably ended the way it should have.
During the Columbus game, the Stars were getting impatient. Trailing from the first minute of the game can do that, but the Stars were playing a bad team, and they failed to trust their skill and their system enough to lean on the Blue Jackets. Instead, they went full-court press a few too many times, and they ended up getting burned while failing to solve McElhinney nearly as often as they should have.
Tonight, the Stars perhaps showed better patience. Almost too much, in fact, as 50+ minutes of unproductive offense testified. The Devils are the only team better than Nashville at minimizing scoring chances against--though they also can't produce them to save their lives--but this is the second time in as many games that we've seen a stingy team keep the Stars contained for much of the contest. Credit to New Jersey for lasting 20 minutes longer than Nashville did before Dallas finally started breaking through.
Still, the Stars didn't exactly crumble in the face of the Devils' defense. True, they created over twice as many scoring chances in the third as they did in the first 40 minutes, but that's what you'd expect from an offensive juggernaut: the ability to crank things up as they get more desperate. At least this time, unlike in Columbus, the Stars were able to ratchet up their pressure without giving their opponent more chances, too.
The whole reason they needed a comeback at all was because of two rather preventable defensive zone miscues early in the second period. First, the Stars' top line failed to sort out a zone exit, and Kyle Palmieri eventually lost Demers behind the net and tried a wrap-around. The puck would only bounce in after hitting Oduya's skate, but the usually solid defense pair seemed to have a bit of a mix-up in coverage on the play. When Jamie Benn couldn't quite corral Oduya's initial chip along the boards, David Schlemko put the puck back down deep for Palmieri. Demers looked like he was going to wrap up Palmieri behind the net, but he appeared to back off, and I'm not sure if it was for fear of a holding penalty or because he thought Oduya would be coming to close down the near side. Either way, it was a fortunate goal by a Devils team that frankly spent a lot of the first two periods outworking the Stars in their zone. Call it an earned bounce, if you like.
The second defensive play was a bit tougher to swallow, as a Goligoski clearing attempt got slowed down by Jordin Tootoo. Stephen Gionta would get to the unexpectedly slowed puck before Fiddler and poke it back to Tootoo, who then fed [Siri, what is a "Bobby Farnham"?] at the left circle. As a result of the multiple exchanges, or perhaps because Faksa and Moen figured the listed as five-foot-ten Farnham for a stickboy, the Devils forward was wide open with the puck on top of the faceoff dot. He scored his fifth goal of the season off the post and in past a perfectly screened Niemi, and Lindy Ruff was not amused. We'll get to that in a minute.
But they were rather fortunate to only be down two at that point, as David Schlemko appears to have undergone some kind of transformation into a terrifying offensive machine after being waived by Dallas last year. (Doesn't it seem like ages ago?) Schlemko not only picked up an assist on the Devils' first goal, but he also danced his way through the neutral zone early on and ripped a shot that Niemi did well to save. Perhaps the Stars were fortunate that this game didn't go to a shootout, as Schlemko surely would have risen to the occasion there as well. I'm starting to think he stole one of Klingberg's magical socks or something when he passed through Dallas.
As we said, Ruff did not seem thrilled after the Farnham goal, and Radek Faksa appeared to bear the brunt of his displeasure. Faksa was benched for the remainder of the second period, and he saw just three more shifts in the third period for a whopping 5:23 of ice time in the game (Moen was next-lowest with just over six minutes). So if you're wondering who the coaches thought should have been covering Farnham on that goal, that might be an indicator. Of course, the Stars basically had to lean on their top lines at that point anyway, so it's doubtful Faksa was ever going to play more than eight or nine minutes anyway.
One thing that illustrates the difference between these two teams is the D-to-D pass. You may have noticed that Dallas rarely employs this tactic, usually because they focus so strongly on getting the puck up the forwards as quickly as possible to get the attack going. New Jersey, on the other hand, may have some sort of team-wide mandate requiring both defensemen to touch the puck before any offensive effort is begun. It's ponderous, it's boring, and it's really safe. It is an easy way of beating at least one forechecker, but man oh man, does it ever wind up creating a lot of dump-ins when the puck finally does wend its way to the far blue line.
Fortunately for New Jersey, they seemed to thrive on those tonight; the second goal, for instance, was generated off such a dump-in, even though the Stars really should have done better after retrieving the puck. I'm no systems expert, but I think that also played into the Stars' troubles in the neutral zone for much of the game: if you're mostly winning the puck in your own zone down low in board battles, then your forwards probably won't have a ton of momentum right after you get possession, which means they'll have more people to slog through in between the blue lines. It's a choice, and it's a free country, but New Jersey's is a brutal system that needs some timely goals to be effective. The Devils got a couple tonight, so there you go. If I could ever forget witnessing a certain goal in 2000 on the TV at my grandma's house, I could almost be happy for them.
Come the third period, the Stars were more lively after some Ruffling. It would be Klingberg who decided that enough was enough, who danced the Amazing David Schlemko, and who created a scoring chance that Sharp cashed in. It was the game-breaking talent you were hoping to see, and it was telling that it came with the Stars' second line on the ice. John Hynes had been sending out Travis Zajac, Palmieri and Jiri Tlusty (along with John Moore and Andy Greene) to match up with Seguin and Benn all night, and while the Stars' line came out ahead in terms of possession, the Devils will undoubtedly take a goose egg from Seguin and Benn any day of the week.
With the strong shutdown work by New Jersey, it was that much more encouraging to see another lower-line soldier step up for Dallas in Colton Sceviour. Yes, Sceviour is no fourth-line plug, but any time you get a game-tying goal from your third line against Cory Schneider, you should be happy. Maybe "third line" is a stretch, as it was actually Jason Spezza out there centering Sceviour (and Eaves) during that second goal, but as it was Sceviour's first shift of the night with Spezza, it's still great to see him take advantage.
That was also the culmination of great pinching by the Stars' defense, as Oduya was part of the filthy screen door obstructing Schneider's view on the tally. "Get traffic in front of him and get pucks to the net" is the cliche every player spouts during in-game interviews while they're trailing, but there's a reason it became a cliche in the first place.
Perhaps the biggest bummer of the night--and I don't think this night deserves that tag, on the whole--was Sceviour's getting robbed by Schneider with a minute to go on a pretty feed from Eaves below the line. The game was right there for them to win after a bit of scuffling, and they really did everything right except the shot placement. Again, Cory Schneider is a really good goaltender, but if Sceviour doesn't put that puck more or less right into his glove, it's part of the season highlight package. But the Stars have already stolen a couple of games in the third period this year, so maybe that was asking too much. Sceviour's job there is to elevate the puck at the net as quickly as possible, and he did that. He just didn't do it perfectly.
Finally, overtime happened. Erin was pretty forthright in her opinion on the Jamie Benn penalty, but I would add that the Stars honestly could have incurred another one or two themselves in the third period if not for some Official's Forbearance. Besides that, the Stars went oh-fer on the power play all night, and you're really asking for trouble when you don't execute on the man-advantage against stingy teams. That's (big expert take coming here) your chance to use passing lanes and set plays that aren't available for most of regulation, and the Stars again couldn't find a way to do anything with it. I realize that we're talking about a top-five power play here still, but I am a bit miffed that the league's leading offense becomes relatively tamer when up a man lately. The ineffectiveness of the second unit (on full display tonight) is likewise troubling, but as long as the goals keep coming from somewhere, we're probably looking a goal horse in the varicose veins.
It turned out to be an even game in most statistical measurements, and a loser point on the road after that sort of game is never a bad thing, especially when you've been as fabulous at home as Dallas has this year. Besides, the second half of back-to-backs has been money for Dallas so far this season. What could go wrong?