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Game 66 Afterwords: Stars Break Slump, Someone Breaks Klingberg

No messin’ about right now: John Klingberg’s absence could be devastating for Dallas.

Now, I really don’t know what happened or how bad it is, so go ahead and speculate as you feel led. I watched Klingberg’s first two (and only) shifts a couple of times, and it appeared that he was in discomfort when he came out for his second one. Towards the end of his first shift, he was busting back down the ice to defend a rush. That sequence (which you can watch here) ended with him being bumped into from behind by Kyle Palmieri. Klingberg fell down to a knee with his leg a big twisted, and I could see his groin or knee getting tweaked in that sort of situation. The fact that he was able to at least give it a go on one more shift suggests that it’s nothing eminently debilitating, at least. Still, this team’s defense without Klingberg is a sight not fit for the eyes of innocents, so it was at least sort of reassuring to see this after the game:

But as profane as it may sound, the game went on after Klingberg’s departure. Things were happening, and interesting ones, too. Faksa beat Schneider five-hole, but because it’s Radek Faksa, the puck chose to swerve wide right after beating Crimson Cory. I’m not sure what Radek Faksa will need to do to get a puck to go in for him, but I’m sure Tyler Seguin will want to know what it is when Radek figures it out.

Getting a lead is good, because then you are ahead in the hockey game, and that is where you want to be. Mattias Janmark knew this, and that is probably why he decided to thread a needle of a pass to Valeri Nichushkin, who chose to activate his Su-33’s afterburners in order to beat Schneider far side with his trademark “I shall go over here and reach the other side before you do” move. I think we’re all guilty of blathering on about how good Nichushkin can be every other time he scores, so I’ll spare you this round. But hey, good for Val following Emperor Kuzco’s lead and giving a birthday gift to himself. Don’t tell him, but it was kind of a gift to all of us, too.

The Roussel penalty to end the first was a weak call, but that’s what happens when you have a reputation around the league. The stripey dudes want to let you know just how things are gonna be ’round these here parts, and sometimes that means a “see HERE” penalty. Oduya had just narrowly been not-blowed-up from his blindside by Kyle Palmieri, and Roussel sprinted over to Palmieri as he was getting up after the whistle, and boom, two minutes. But you have to hand it to the refs for defending the getting-to-his-feet Palmieri (though it’s listed as Smith-Pelly, so maybe I’m misremembering) from a Roussel shove. Safety first and all that.

Adam Henrique scored, and it was a comedy of errors except for the comedy part. Seguin tried to curve back behind his net with the puck, but it slid off his stick, so he had to retrieve it and fling it around behind the net to Goligoski, who also had the puck slip off his stick as he tried to clear it, and it was turned over. A resultant point shot by Adam Larsson found its way to the crease, and Kris Russell’s attempt to kick the puck clear ended up with the puck on Henrique’s stick, and Russell on his keester. Tie game.

Kris Russell had the third-most ice time of the defense tonight, if that means anything. He, Goligoski and Demers skated for 24, 25 and 26 minutes respectively, while Oduya put up 21 and change. Oduya has certainly looked a bit off lately, so I wouldn’t be opposed to lightening his load a bit. If you had told me a week ago that this would be done through the expedient of loading up Kris Russell, I am not sure what I would have said. It probably wouldn’t have been something very coherent, but Russell was fine tonight. The most noticeable part of his game so far is his propensity to fire a wrist shot at the net (and usually get it through) almost every time the puck is on his stick at the point. Whether he’s just trying to wrench his shot-attempt differential back into the positives by his own willpower or what, I’m never going to complain about shots with traffic, and that’s what he’s provided in his first two games. Defensively, he still looks like Kris Russell, so take that as you will.

Jason Spezza has been scoring goals this season, and he kept his stick on the ice and drove to the slot to get another one Friday. Janmark made his second perfect pass of the game, and that’s all it took. I felt good to see Spezza get on the board, and it felt better to regain the lead almost immediately. I still miss Janmark centering Ales Hemsky (who, by the way, looks like a shepherd with rabid sheep on the third line), but if the Spezza line can put up two goals a game at even-strength with that construction, I don’t think we’ll complain. That’s what you need when your top line is stifled.

Andy Greene did not feel better after Brett Ritchie rubbed him out along the boards. Adam Larsson looked undecided about whether to take a possible instigator penalty to defend his alphabetical brother, and so he stepped up to Ritchie, but only dangled his gloves instead of dropping them. Meanwhile, Ritchie began raining blows down on him. (Man, I hate dangling.)

Brett Ritchie may be almost the perfect type of winger for Benn and Seguin, as Razor (and Josh Bogorad apparently) said. Tonight, he certainly looked imposing and impressive. If he can bring that sort of a game every night (or near enough) after the Patricks return, I don’t know how you take him off that line. And line placement aside, it was just good to see Ritchie in the NHL again. That’s a very nice sort of player the Stars have there.

The third goal featured Alex Goligoski dancing Rutuu back whence he came at the blue line and finally firing an unobstructed wrister that Colton Sceviour was able to tip past Schneider as Radek Faksa was creating havoc in behind him as well. That’s four goals and an assist in Sceviour’s last six games, by the way. I don’t know that Dallas will have room to bring him back next year, but you certainly can’t say he hasn’t done what’s been asked of him this season. Always cool to see solid AHL players holding down a lineup spot in the big leagues. As for Goligoski, I’d say that qualifies as stepping up, even after his episode with Seguin in the d-zone on the first Jersey goal.

Kari Lehtonen had a huge glove stop on Adam Henrique during a late second period power play that made me wonder if Lehtonen might not be looking to get his net back again. Goalies do decline, but asking for a bit of a bounceback over the next couple months isn’t too much to require of him, is it?

It was tough to see Cory Schneider go down after his fabulous save on Spezza during the Stars’ third power play. Schneider is the only reason the Devils are even within sniffing distance of a playoff spot, and to see him get jammed up on the post and pull a muscle (ostensibly) on the second night of a back-to-back must be heart-wrenching for New Jersey.

With that said, Keith Kinkaid held up admirably on two great chances right after he donned the gear. Seguin got a feed in the slot from Benn (thanks to a stellar Ritchie forecheck), and Eakin had a breakaway chance denied after a sublime breakout pass from Hemsky. Razor compared him to the late Thomas Kinkade, but I don’t really care for the work of either one, frankly.

Tyler Seguin might send out a search party for voodoo dolls after tonight, and it’d be hard to blame him as he also hit the post in the third period. If Spezza and Nichushkin are scoring, that’s okay; but it would be nice to see Seguin and Benn return to form before March turns into April. Maybe we are being greedy now, but that is what asking for victory is, really. We are all greedy hands with grubby, selfish fingers, scrapping for the last piece of bread at the table.

With five minutes remaining, this game felt pretty tidy. Dallas had held New Jersey to 15 shots, and the Devils’ dump-and-chase game was looking fairly harmless. Then the Stars got trapped in the zone as the Devils managed to fling the puck at the net, and a quick one-two pass after a shot off the end boards found Smith-Pelly on the back door for a pretty tap-in goal. If you had begun to think that Dallas had found a way to lock down their coverage in the zone, this was the “surprise” witness in your movie trial that you really kind of expected all along.

I couldn’t tell you why Lindy Ruff put Vernon Fiddler out with Benn and Seguin late in the game with an empty New Jersey net (before the Oduya penalty), except to say that maybe there is a “4C = SHUTDOWN EXTRAORDINAIRE” mandate lying around in an AAC office or something. Good to see Fiddler get his 100th goal, even if he did have to use the inside of the pipe to do it. Hey, 100 goals is 100 goals. Congratulations to Vernon for 100 goals. Congratulations to the Dallas Stars for not losing their fifth game in a row.

Talking Points