Game 67 Afterwords: Senators Outvoted by Former Senator
Jason Spezza reminded Ottawa why he put Dallas on his "trade me there, please" list.
This was not a statement game, first and foremost. Ottawa was on their 2nd game in as many nights, and even putting that aside, every game from here on out is just "win no matter what" until home ice in/and a playoff berth is locked down.
Of course, we'll take each such win given how 2016 has gone. We'll take an "ugly" 2-1 victory, because when Erik Karlsson takes your best players and moves them around like Harry Potter chess pieces, you're justifiably ecstatic to wind up with the victory in spite of him.
Not that said triumph was guaranteed, oh no. While the Most Ales Hemsky Play of the Game pass worked out for Roussel's latest GWG of the year, 2016 Fate had up to this point dictated that such moments become mementos of frustration. The fact that the Stars actually got a fortunate bounce and a power play goal to boot could, if we may be so bold, be evidence that the universe has moved on from its dark fascination with the Stars' woes.
Ales Hemsky will never stop being Ales Hemsky, and I, for one, have made peace with that. Everyone from Dave Strader to your halfhearted hockey fan of an uncle was ready to look skyward after Hemsky deigned not to shoot, and I can't say I didn't agree with them. But given what we know of Hemsky (which is perhaps too much for your liking, or at least some of your liking), he clearly judged that his shot would have been blocked by the sliding defender, and so his deferential preferences obtained.
Thanks to Antoine Roussel's "hit anything I see" mindset, the loose puck was instantaneously pummeled into the net. You don't need me to harp on how Roussel is literally winning a game with every other goal he scores this season. It's part luck, of course, but taking last night as an example, we can see that Roussel also has that no-nonsense, single-minded, tunnel-vision sort of determination that oftentimes comes in useful when the game has started to coagulate. I am as happy for Roussel as he was incensed at whatever poor fan happened to be sitting in the eighth row last night. Was someone holding a "freedom fries" sign up to get Roussel that angry after he scored? We may never know. (Update: Check the comments, because I am a dumb.)
Jason Spezza was a man on a mission in his old stomping grounds, and once again, the Stars' second line was first class. You may recall concerns about the Stars' being a one-line team during the 13-14 playoffs, and while those were sort of unfounded in that series-which-shall-not-be-named (or, at least that issue did not prove to be the Stars' undoing), there's no denying that Dallas was thin behind their top guys that time around. Now, we have almost too many quality forwards, and that's with the Patricks still not dressed (though Eaves should return Tuesday).
Forward ice time distribution was really interesting last night, as I suppose it's bound to be with Benn and Seguin slumping. Ruff hasn't explicitly said as much recently, but there seems a pretty strong belief that Ales Hemsky is best used in minimal ice time. He played over a full minute less than Cody Eakin (who had the second-lowest ice time among the forwards), and the Stars' third line was really used as a fourth line when all was said and done. If you had told me in August that the Stars' fourth line would be Eakin, Hemsky and Roussel, I would have assumed that they had been having disastrous seasons (not the case) or that the Stars had traded for three amazing forwards that pushed them down the depth chart (also not the case).
More likely than any other explanation is that Ruff simply likes the Fidder/Faksa/Sceviour line's game right now, and recent scoring history sort of explains why. There was at least one quality Eakin one-timer set up by Hemsky (who abhors shooting one-timers himself) last night, and that (along with Roussel's timely contributions) is probably the best sort of thing we can hope for from 20/21/83. If nothing else, Hemsky's presence there means Nichushkin is holding down the fort in the top six, and none of us are going to be unhappy about that at all.
Kari Lehtonen was, as Kathleen said in the recap, sassy. That's what Dallas will need from him if Kari hopes to re-take his net down the stretch, and it's certainly there for the taking, insofar as literally any NHL goalie providing average goaltending is all this team needs to be scary good. They certainly got that level of netminding last night, and I would think we'll continue to see Kari getting starts until he gives Ruff a reason not to trot him out there.
Kelly Forbes: someone give that man a "World's Best Dad" coffee mug. Given how out-of-sorts video coaches probably are in a visiting barn without all their usual camera angles, his was a game-saving challenge after an awful no-call on Hammond for interfering with Hemsky behind the Ottawa net (more on that in a sec). Ruff said after the game that Forbes pretty much told the bench instantly that the play was offside, and once we got a good overhead look, we all agreed. Call that the second bounce in the Stars' favor Sunday, or call it justifiable karmic regression for all the wonderful things Dallas did for the first 60ish games of the season. I'll take it either way. Three cheers for Kelly Forbes.
On the first Ottawa goal, Jamie Benn basically channeled Seguin and Goligoski's mishappy hands from Friday, and it went predictably awry. He's been excoriating himself in interviews lately, but I'm not sure a furiously frustrated Jamie Benn is what the Stars need most right now. His calm intensity is usually enough, when combined with his size and skill, to dictate a game. I don't think overtry is going to help much, but telling that to a world-class professional athlete is probably not something I will ever do if I value my life, which I do, so I won't.
On that goalie-ference behind the Sens' net, I'm assuming the officials thought the 'Burglar touched the puck, because there's no other reason for letting a WWF clothesline go uncalled there. That would be a penalty 100 times out of 100 (well, maybe 99 if we allow for the reincarnation of Mick McGeough) if it were a skater-on-skater hit, but maybe there's an Ales Hemsky exemption in the rules of which I am unaware. Hemsky must certainly feel like there is.
On the defensive side, Kris Russell is still Kris Russell, and that's been just fine so far. By all accounts, Ruff is just happy to have a Reliable Veteran Presence to add to his blue line, and whatever you think of Russell's ceiling, he is certainly a veteran who plays like one. And he, like most of the defense (excepting Oleksiak, in Ruff's view) did their jobs tonight, which is all you can ask with Klingberg out. Credit to Ruff's integrity for sticking with his "roll five defenders" plan last night, I guess. It's nice when people do what they say.
This was not the Stars' best game at all, but that sort of goes without saying when you recall that the Stars' three best players were figuratively or literally absent from it. I'm sure some of you will take the Stars' eking out a win against a tired non-playoff team as further validation of their oncoming doom come April. You may be correct! I actually do not know. But this game really was less about information-gathering than it was about just getting the points and skipping town. Dallas got another valuable ROW, and a broken Montreal team is all that stands between them and a much-needed winning streak. That is worth celebrating in spite of any concern you may have about the team at large.
If you choose to remain uneasy about how things stand, though, then you are surely in good company, as I doubt Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were much pleased with that hockey game either. Thankfully, we have the luxury of settling. And until April rolls around, I'll settle for wins as I continue to wrestle with doubt. I can't tell you what to do, though.