Game 42 Afterwords: Unique New York Struggles Continue
The Stars can't leave New York soon enough.
The Stars have finished up a three-in-four-nights set, and things did not go swimmingly.
3.00 Goals per Game (which is low for the Stars, really)
Power Play: 10% (1/10)
Penalty Kill: 77% (10/13)
Points by Jamie Benn or Tyler Seguin: 0
*The Jason Demers misconduct was rescinded by the NHL Tuesday per Mike Heika.
So after all that, what do you really need to know? This was a team that looked tired on Sunday and played like they were brain-dead Tuesday night in MSG. Marcus did a nice job running through the various points of calamity throughout this game (six of them!), so I'm not going to break them down in much detail here. You don't want to revisit them, and I don't want to beat you over the head with the fact that the Stars are struggling.
It's interesting, though. The Stars have feasted on the Eastern conference all year, while questions surrounded their intra-divisional play. Then they pulled nine of ten points out of games against the Central Division surrounding the Christmas break, and things were as rosy as they've been all year. Then where do they start their first losing streak of the season? Against weak defensive teams in the Rangers and Islanders, and a generally average team in New Jersey. Those teams all played well for their part, but there has been a Dallas Stars problem ever since they hit the Eastern Time Zone on Saturday.
Erin has wondered about whether the Stars are actually missing Ales Hemsky more than we might have suspected; there's no question the Stars have been a better team with Hemsky this year, but when Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn disappear for a three-game road trip while you surrender 15 goals, you have bigger problems than just one player's absence (or presence). And, as a side note: thank goodness for Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp, who would be the top offensive players on quite a few other teams in the league. We're spoiled here even when things go badly.
Why did the Stars lose this game tonight? Well, because they played badly and the Rangers played well. That's not an attempt to patronize you as much as a reduction of the issue into its essence. The Stars turned the puck over all night long with bad decisions, and the Rangers were hungry. Those are sports platitudes, but they describe the game we just watched. It's not often that things really are that simple. Tonight, things looked too simple, at least, for the Rangers.
Goaltending was not a big issue tonight except, perhaps, for the Lundqvist save on Sharp and Seguin's 2-on-1 early in the game. Dallas had not been (and would not be) producing bushels of chances, so taking that potential game-tying goal away was as close to Actual Robbery as a goaltender can perform on the ice. You could see Seguin's frustration after the play (and it certainly was not aimed at Sharp, who has been dynamite lately), and that seemed to creep into his play in a bad way as things progressed. Dallas had to start pushing as the game went on, but they couldn't quite absorb the forays New York was making, and so they tried to counter too early. Stretch passes were almost wholly futile, but they kept looking for them. The Stars didn't earn chances tonight, and they couldn't scare up a few extra ones via the cheap ways either.
But goaltending, as I said, was largely irrelevant to the outcome of this game. Lundqvist only faced three shots the entire night from high-danger areas, saving two of them; Niemi faced ten and stopped six. Curtis McElhinney beat the Stars the other night, and he is one of the worst statistical goalies in this league. The light flashes behind the net when a team scores, but you often have to look away from the light to find the culprit. Tuesday, you had only to look at the bench. The Stars did not generate a single scoring chance until over halfway through the first period, by which point New York had generated seven. It never really got better.
This game was perfectly encapsulated by the Nichushkin goal that was called back by Spezza's offside play. You thought for a moment that the Stars might have some momentum, but even when things started to get going (e.g. the early Klingberg goal), the Rangers took it right back. No, the Stars would not be allowed to cheat this game after playing so badly for so much of it. Even a strong-ish second period was negated when the Rangers scored their third (and game-winning) goal late in the frame. Or rather, the Stars scored the Rangers' third goal. Is there any better illustration of their recent play than two unproductive power plays followed by a messy own-goal of sorts? I doubt it. This team can beat anyone, including (or especially?) themselves.
The Stars are heading back home for two games, and they have their work cut out for them. Their defense hasn't been adequate lately, but tonight's primary culprits were, as with the forwards, the top players. Goligoski and (particularly) Klingberg couldn't find their rhythm tonight, and New York was able to get their top lines out against the Stars' third pairing for their first two goals. I don't care who your third defense pairing is--they probably aren't going to look great against New York's top guys.
The Jets are struggling lately against weird teams like Arizona and Anaheim while beating the Sharks and Predators. I don't know if that's a good thing for Dallas, but a home matchup against the worst team in the division is at least a game in which you have a chance to win. The Wild come to town after that, and the Stars would surely love to go into their five-day break with a nice Minnesota thumping under their belts. That sounds weird, but I don't know why. They would like to win their game against the Wild and bask in that victory for days, is what I am saying.
The Stars have the biggest cushion in the conference, and they've had to use it up a bit over the past three days. You can be sure Ruff's group is not relaxing, and you can be sure the players don't feel comfortable. But we have the luxury of number-watching instead of grinding out a tough practice after a boring flight, which means we can be, well, okay with where the Stars are. Even if we're not pleased with where they've been recently.
I led with the numbers at the top because they are so utterly uncharacteristic for this team. Dallas has been winning most of their games all season at an absurd pace. Now, that pace looks a little bit less absurd. It diminishes the euphoria a bit, but no more so than saying good-bye after a wonderful high-school reunion (if those exist). Those times you enjoyed all happened, but you have to return to reality now. You can make new good times while remembering the old, but they probably won't be quite the same. That's okay.
Benn and Seguin will play in the next game, and they have some time to figure out how they want to approach that. If you are Winnipeg, you probably are not super excited about what plan they might come up with. These players (and their teammates) have been amazing for a couple of years now, and it's pretty safe to say that they did not suddenly become less-than-awesome hockey players on a random road trip to the desolate land of exorbitant housing and grocery costs. Once they find their way again, so will the Stars.