Game 41 Afterwords: Five Goals Against the Islanders Is Still Not Enough
It's pretty impressive when you amass 23 penalty minutes in the first 25 minutes of play. Impressive may not be the right word.
Teams lose games a lot. Teams are just about always going to lose games in which they lose a top-four defenseman early, give up 15 minutes of power play time, and don't get a goal from either of their top scorers. Last year's President's Trophy winners lost 22 games. The Stars have lost nine at the halfway mark.
This game was all-too-familiar. The score (and pace) evoked memories of the 7-5 defeat in Nassau back in October 2014, but unlike that contest, this one saw Stars jump out to a 2-1 lead. It did not last long, and while you'd normally be thrilled with five goals on the second night of a back-to-back on the road, you would be less thrilled if you had watched this game.
Really, the first period could have ended in much, much worse than a 2-2 tie for Dallas. Sure, the second goal against was a bit of a tough one to take, but the Stars were playing with fire for a lot of that period. Even though the Islanders did eventually score three special-teams goals, the Stars had a chance to steal this game, and posts by the likes of Tyler Seguin were just about all that kept the Stars from doing so.
Jamie Benn made a great rush to open the game, and things really went downhill from there. I'm not sure if Benn is just overtrying a bit on the road lately, but it's still really hard to get frustrated with him for taking some penalties when he's been producing at such a remarkable clip. In a way, you almost want to turn your head toward his teammates to pick him up in moments like this, but the Stars haven't exactly done so lately.
The tally by Faksa/Fiddler was a simple goal, but good for Faksa to rebound like that after a tough contest last night. The young Czech seemed to take matters into his own hands a few times tonight, which is probably what you should do on that forward line. Good for him and Fiddler to combine like that.
The penalty calamity that ensued after Stars' power play again failed to get things going, was just yeesh, yeesh, yeesh. High-sticking calls are nice and easy for referees to make, but this game could have seen twice the penalties it did. More on that in a moment.
On that first goal by the Islanders' power play, Kari lost his edge or something on Lee's initial move. Razor mentioned on the broadcast that it looked like Kari "bit hard," and perhaps that's true. Even if it was just a slip of the skate, Lee walked in and put it far side without any real opposition. At that point, anyone who was worried that they weren't going to get their money's worth at Barclay's center surely took a sigh of relief. With offenses like this, spectators would assuredly witness at least six or seven of the nine or ten goals sure to be scored.
But then the road PK stepped up, led by Radek Faksa, who took the puck down the ice as the lone forward during the kill. Johnny Oduya also had a critical block right before the Stars started getting people back, and that led to a couple of rushes each direction. That plays into the Stars' game, and Goligoski's shot was right there for Sharp to tip, and he didn't miss. Sharp will hardly ever miss those. It was a bit of a broken play that found the puck heading to Goligoski in the first place, but the Stars were not going to turn any breaks down after taking eight minutes of penalties in the first 13 minutes of the game. Remember when that seemed like a lot?
Lehtonen stopped Grabovski on a 3-on-1 early in the second period, but things got ugly on the Stars' power play when Jason Demers chose to take advantage of a knelt Clutterbuck, and that, as Derek mentioned in the recap, may have been the crux of the game.
It wasn't the worst hit you'll ever see, as Demers actually seemed to land his arms on the boards above Clutterbuck's head; but anytime a prone player's head is enveloped by a hit like that, the officials are going to take notice. No matter how dangerous it truly was, it was a superbly foolish play by Demers, and the ensuing major penalty and game misconduct were not without warrant. Still, I think it looked worse than it actually was.
And after I type that, I read that Lindy Ruff had even stronger words for the penalty.
Lindy Ruff on Jason Demers getting a major for the hit on Cal Clutterbuck: pic.twitter.com/ZWC3BRk7mw— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) January 4, 2016
Anyhow, after all that, the Stars' PK still looked good--right up until a severely broken play saw the puck go in off Goligoski's skate. Kyle Okposo rather incompetently fired the puck about twenty-six feed wide of the net, where Goligoski's suddenly necessary stick-flail of self-defense proved useless against the purposeful victimization of the Brooklynites. Consider that sequence proof that Jordie Benn is not the only player capable of being subject to bad luck around the crease.
Things looked like they could have taken a good turn with about 6:30 to go when the Stars' top line finally showed up in a good way. They hemmed the Islanders in their zone for a full minute, even completing a full change as New York sat helpless (and nearly motionless) in their own zone. Unfortunately, they changed for the fourth line, and that resulted in an almost immediate break for John Tavares. Thankfully, Klingberg got back enough to defend the doubtless exhausted Tavares, but it was tough to see such a dominant run end with the Stars having nothing to show for it.
It would get tougher momentarily, too. The Grabovski goal was a dagger coming when it did, and the loss of Demers directly contributed to it. Goligoski and Oduya were clearly confused about who was supposed to be where, and a lost board battle suddenly became a two-on-none that even a fully jettisoned Kari Lehtonen groin muscle couldn't have stopped.
That goal took place on Cal Clutterbuck's first shift back from The Room after the Demers hit. Clutterbuck then showed himself again to be, ahem, quite healthy by potting a nice goal of his own after a disaster of a twenty-second segment by Dallas. Klingberg fell down at the blue line, and while the 3-on-1 didn't actually produce a goal for the Islanders, the Stars never cleared, and Clutterbuck fired a nice shot from the angle to hit the far top corner on Lehtonen.
(Note: I would probably still be unconscious were I to have been in Clutterbuck's place for the Demers incident, so I am not suggesting anything untoward. At least, not moreso than Lindy Ruff.)
Going into the third period, what was there to say? The Islanders are an extremely high-event team that allows the most scoring chances in the league; both teams were on the second-half of a back-to-back set; all that remained to be seen was whether the Stars could sustain enough pressure to make things interesting. Interesting is exactly what you did get, if nothing else.
Val Nichushkin did his part, scoring a fluky goal from almost the same spot as Okposo's (Goligoski's) earlier. You'd probably rather see Nichushkin shoot that puck, but if a pass is going to bounce in like that one did, it's tough to complain. Besides, Nuke would learn his lesson later on. At that point, a 5-3 game early in the third period began to feel within reach, even moreso as Klingberg drew a penalty with a pretty foray into the slot.
Alas, that power play was destined to end as all road power plays have ended for the past seven years (estimate), and the Stars would actually surrender a two-on-one at the end of it that Goligoski just did break up with the ghost of a tip.
That wouldn't be half as nutso as the next opportunity, however. After the Stars' top unit couldn't convert on the first half of a Fiddler-drawn penalty (though Seguin and Benn both had good chances), Cal Clutterbuck found himself wide open on Kari's doorstep, and he again managed to shake off the effects of the Demers hit to bury the chance. Klingberg (who was basically doing double duty after Demers got bounced) couldn't quite contain his man underneath the red line, and Goligoski didn't quite get back in time to cover Clutterbuck, and I was about to start going through who was really at fault for that goal when Val Nichushkin came right back and scored his second of the game during the advantage's waning minutes, so skip it.
That made the game 6-4, and suddenly you began to realize the inevitablitiy that was Clutterbuck's shortie being the eventual game-winner. Sure enough, the Stars would pull Kari with over two minutes to go (for Vernon Fiddler, which is a new one). Jason Spezza would eventually dunk a rebound after a Sceviour wrister from basically the same spot as his goal in New Jersey, but the Stars just couldn't quite find that final goal.
It seems pointless to do much more delving in a game so riddled with penalties, but you really would have loved to see Dallas score a power play goal before Nichushkin's tally over halfway through the third period. The Stars' road game has had issues lately, as evidenced by their single win in the last seven games (1-3-3). Matchups and familiarity are an advantage, but 12-5-4 against road teams so far this year is not going to get the job...wait, hold up, they're 12-5-4 on the road? That's, like, a 109-point pace over the course of a season. That's really good.
Recent trends are concerning, but the Stars are still the fourth-best road team in the league after this bit of travel malaise. Combine that with their league-leading home-ice record, and you have a first half that deserve mountains more kudos than brickbats. At least, I think it does. I really don't know what a brickbat is.