WCQF Game 3 Afterwords: Is There Cause for Optimism in Humiliation?
There isn't much, though.
If you don't want to re-live that game, I won't blame you, so I'll break this up into two parts. Part one is the quick-and-dirty breakdown, and part two take its sweet time a bit more. No hard feelings either way.
Minnesota got a gift power play after Jordie Benn was foolish enough to be near a Wild player and to possess human appendages, but Dallas's Bad PK unit showed up on that set for what turned out to be the GWG for Minny.
Kari was huge, and this game probably should have been worse than it was. Dubnyk made a couple of great stops as well, but the better goaltender has been wearing Victory Green instead of, like, fernbrush or whatever that color is.
It's a lot easier to name the handful of players who had nice games than the players that didn't. Patrick Sharp was amazing, but the team game was in shambles despite good efforts from Faksa, Roussel, Janmark, Spezza, and Sceviour.
The power play needs to score. This is a considered opinion.
The Wild ran the Stars out of their building, and they still barely beat them. I'm sure it was nice for them to see that Dallas can bleed, but it's the Stars' turn to be angry and vengeful. Wednesday should be fun.
I spent a couple of minutes wondering if there was any parallel to my watching this game in the American Airlines terminal of O'Hare and the ultimate result. All I really came up with was the fact that both the team that plays at American Airlines Center and the plane that was originally supposed to take me to my destination both failed to show up. I'm sorry if that seems hackneyed, but if you've ever watched playoff hockey on your phone surrounded by a cranky throng of folks waiting to fly home on a work night, then you know exactly what I went through and why I wanted to share that experience with you.
Anyhow, the game. Playoff Patrick Sharp is tied for my favorite Patrick Sharp (with Make A Kid's Day Pat) after his performance Monday night. It was an intimidating atmosphere for the Stars as the game began, and the Veteran Playoff Performer went ahead and shut everyone up with a fantastic tip-in and a beautiful rush goal. Dallas had been at their best in the first two games when they had the Wild on their heels with the risk of stretch passes and a quick transition game, and those were both on display early.
All the same, the Stars did not look comfortable for most of this game. Part of it was the freshly-mixed personnel, I'm sure, but the bigger issue at hand was that this was a road game, giving Minnesota the last change. In many ways, this was another Game 1, as the Stars found themselves matched up against a desperate team with nothing to lose and a brand-new set of faces across the ice from them more often than not.
Losing Seguin is rough, but Janmark really did play well. His skating has deceptively good closing speed, and he looked comfortable beside Spezza during the time they spent together. I wouldn't be surprised to see them together on Wednesday, but the Stars' third line still made its presence known, even if they weren't generating as many scoring chances as they had been at home.
Jordie Benn's game was more mixed, although the egregious errors tended to come more from the other pairs in this one. Alex Goligoski in particular had some nice highs and some low lows, and John Klingberg certainly could stand to take the next 4-on-4 set off, from the looks of things. This was, ah, not a game that's going to be in his highlight reel, to put it kindly, and the soft sauce that was picked off for the ENG was as emblematic of his play tonight as anything. He created some chances as well, but the Stars did not play like a team with a 2-0 lead in the game and the series tonight, and your top defenseman is probably the first place you look when that's the case.
The Stars really did look as bad as it is possible to look at 4v4 last night. Whether they can't utilize as many passing plays with the reduced manpower or they just don't have the personnel to play man-on-man, Dallas has miles of work to do in the older-time-hockey situations. The NBC broadcast mentioned it, but I will echo their thoughts about the impressively botched change that led to the goal against during the 4v4 play. It was effectively a 4-on-3 after roughly twelve players came over the boards and hopped back off, which might explain why Klingberg and (I think) Demers were on the ice at the same time. Good bit of Yikes on that one all the way around.
I sometimes get caught up on how easily an ugly game could have turned out all right, and there were a few pivotal instances last night that didn't go the Stars' way. The power play got some good looks (while also looking less than good) later on, but we've yet to really see it do for Dallas what it did for Minnesota tonight: create a cushion. I know Dallas doesn't have a Matt Dumba to blast the puck at the net (and don't bother bringing up Johns in this conversation yet, as his special-teams time is probably going to have to wait until next year), but I was baffled at how hesitant Dallas looked even after completing some cross-box passes. Those are great if you can get them, but Dallas had trouble putting the most important nail in the coffin on those passing sequences, and the Zombie of the Wild's Hopes escaped its foul crypt for at least another game or two. Dallas could have been pumping shots on net after rattling Dubnyk early, but instead they tried to overbake some chances, and Minnesota happily took the puck the other way.
My gut reaction to this game is not to overreact. It was embarrassing for Dallas, but this was a wounded animal they stumbled upon, and Dallas seemed almost shocked by its good fortune at their early lead. Minnesota's playoff life was flashing before their eyes, and they pushed until they got Dallas to break. It's one game.
By the way, Kari Lehtonen actually had a fabulous game as far as I'm concerned. He hadn't a prayer on those tipped goals, and his defense more or less found themselves cheering him on while he faced down Koivu from the doorstep. More than once, Kari bailed them out, but again, this was an embarrassing game for Dallas, and allowing gold-plated chances is usually what comes of playing as badly as the Stars did on Monday.
We all tend to enjoy assigning blame along with exonerating folks, but when you aren't generating shots in the offensive zone or getting the puck out of your own, then there are probably more than one or two folks struggling. You can add a coach or two to that list as well, as this seemed (on my cell phone screen, admittedly) to be more than just an execution issue tonight. I'm certainly open to that possibility, though. Road game and all that.
Minnesota did a great job of generating offense for a change, as their four (real) goals attest. Dallas had spent 120 minutes of more or less saying "neener neener" while hoarding the puck, and the script was somewhat flipped at about halfway through the first period. If I were the Stars, I don't know that I'd be totally ready to handle that sort of role-reversal either. "Wait, they're allowed to get rebound shots? We just assumed that was illegal up here in Fake Canada."
Antoine Roussel is still earning his keep, as his Ultimate Net Drive Into the Post showed. (How did he not hurt himself on that play, by the way? That was amazing.) He did a fantastic job of Being a Pest, and Jason Pominville committed a stupid penalty (that Roussel, er, highlighted) that could have given the Stars some early third period life as a result. It didn't, of course, but Faksa-Hemsky-Roussel is still a good line on the road, even if they didn't beat the world tonight.
Jamie Benn needs Tyler Seguin to get healthy again. I don't say that so much because Benn can't be otherworldly without himâ€--he obviously can--€”but because it means so much to have two top-line folks to share the Scoring Load. Despite Sharp's goal bonanza early, it would have meant the world to have a healthy Seguin as another option for Minnesota to figure out, but it doesn't seem like that's going to be an option in the immediate future. It remains for the rest of Seguin's mates to prove him temporarily dispensable, and I suspect that will mean some line shuffling come Wednesday.
If you're going to Blue Sky for Game 4, you might also start with the breakouts. Much has been made of the Minnesota forecheck, but a heavy forecheck is easily beaten if your players adjust and provide the requisite options. Keep the bodies where they can be passed to, or skate around your man if you can. Both require more work than threading a trap, and Dallas started doing a better job of this as things progressed, but how much of that was the 4-2 score in the Wild's favor and how much was a strategic improvement by Dallas is tough to say.
I'll reiterate here that Derek bought his ticket for Game 5 like two weeks ago. So if you're looking for a scapegoat, have at him. Karma is a tricky little beastie, but I know enough about it to be confident in saying Derek lost this game before it had ever been played. Now it's his job to make sure Game 5 is the last game of this series. Don't let us down, Derek.
Minnesota hadn't won a hockey game in a pretty long time before Monday. (No, seriously, this is their first win in April and change.) Either this will be a bit of a turning point in the series that makes it far more interesting than it should have been, or it will end up being just a good-try-Minny bump in the road. Here's hoping the Stars barely even remember this jolt by the time Game 5 has come and gone.