Game 76 Afterwords: Antti More Than Okay While PK Kills Gills
The ice seemed tilted after a horrible giveaway, but your 2015-16 Dallas Stars held their ground behind a reinvigorated Antti Niemi.
Games against the Sharks always seem to have that feeling about them. Even after the Stars walked away with five of six possible points against SJ this year, there continues to be an air of impending doom about HP Pavilion (maybe it's the horrible lighting?) that only gets amplified by the Jaws theme introducing a Sharks power play.
In all, six power plays were awarded to San Jose, and the Stars took the opportunity to purge some bad winter memories once and for all. Antti Niemi had an absolutely marvelous game despite the Stars' giving up scoring chances today like a *hits Topical Simile button* damaged boat taking on seawater, and that in back of a mostly in-control killing unit. And good thing, as they needed every bit of it on a day when their 5v5 play was rather less than exemplary.
As an aside, if you had said in late January that goaltending and the penalty kill would be looking really good in late March, would anyone have believed you? Probably you would still be in stocks in the town square right now, wherever the town square is. (Maybe near that one Chipotle downtown?)
I was laughing with each stop Niemi made through the first two periods, and how could you not? I've read a bit too many "Niemi was good for the Sharks, but not great enough to get them to the Final" diatribes, perhaps; but this Sharks team has had some odd chemistry (or something) issues for years now. To walk into their barn sporting a goalie who hasn't won in over a month, play like Dallas did for much of the game, and walk out with all three stars of the game? That's downright salty.
And speaking of which, Mattias Janmark wasted no time in reminding Stars fans of the fact that he has actually been one of their best forwards this season (and that's a competitive category). His first goal was a tip so deft I swore that it hadn't been touched on the Sharks broadcast, but again, maybe that's the lighting.
As for his second goal, I will never be upset to see Jason Spezza carry the puck down the right wing. Whether he's scoring a crazy sharp-angle goal or pulling the goalie out of position for a beautiful assist, I trust that man with the puck on his stick. Two Primary (with a capital "P") assists today were ample remuneration for Spezza's below-average game in Glendale.
Have we talked about the Stars' ridiculous forward depth lately? Probably, but let's do so again. Patrick Sharp looked to the heavens in glorious relief after a beautiful one-timer, and it would prove to be the game-winner. Despite having a top-five power play for basically the entire season, it's hard to remember too many power play goals that put the game out of reach. And again, this goal came from a forward that you could slot anywhere in the lineup without significantly weakening this team's forward corps. I still strongly suspect that we'll see Benn-Seguin-Sharp in Game 1 of the playoffs, and today seemed further evidence for the legitimacy of this suspicion. But don't take that as my predicting what Lindy Ruff will do with the lines, because come on, we know better than that by now.
Let's talk about Jordie Benn, because we sort of have to. It seemed like his unforgivable turnover (second assist of the game, though) was destined to cause this contest to slip away, and while it didn't (again, thanks to Niemi and the PK), you simply cannot do the thing that he did. Here is what he did. (You'll have to tolerate the severely confused Sharks broadcast for lambasting Cody Eakin if you click that, so I'll just put a screenshot below. You can lambast Cody Eakin for his role in the 2-on-1 Pavelski shot that Niemi saved, if you want.)
My best guess here is that Jordie Benn was trying to lay it over for Johns on the far side of the net, but the puck slipped off his stick. Certainly I cannot in good faith say that Jordie Benn passed to Joel Ward on purpose.
It's also not impossible for him to have lost track of Ward altogether--well, certainly he lost track of him--and to have assumed that it was a Stars player breaking out from near Niemi. Either way, I will just note two things: First, that Jordie played the fewest minutes of any defender today. Second, that the Stars have Kris Russell (probably ready for Nashville) and Jason Demers (hopefully ready for at least some of round one) slated to return in the not-too-distant future (fingers crossed for Demers, though). You can do the math.
Additionally, I'd love to hear why the Stars didn't challenge for goalie interference, although I suspect Kelly Forbes and/or Lindy Ruff would respond by laughing hysterically the minute I finished the phrase "why not challenge for goalie interference." Interestingly, Ruff turned discussion of that goal to his disbelief at the non-call on the Tommy Wingels headshot on Roussel, which he said could have knocked Roussel out of the game. One could also have asked what on earth the "elbowing" penalty to Stephen Johns was later on, but the Stars certainly didn't do themselves any favors with penalties like the Jamie Benn hook to start the third period, so one can hardly whine about calls today. Thankfully, their penalty kill picked up the slack, which it has been doing for a while now.
Roussel, by the way, was the benefactor or beneficiary of the first six penalties of the game. He made sure this contest got chippy early, and you have to think Ruff would have said something to Roussel had he not wanted that to happen. It would have been almost too sweet had Roussel score on his chance after the empty-net goal, but that's the sort of greed we fans can live with.
Johnny Oduya wasn't the only one to blame for the second Sharks tally, but you would really like to see him make up his mind more quickly there. He had Patrick Sharp open for a breakout pass up the wall, but instead he held onto the puck, had to give it away, then got diving out of position only to see his side of the net be the subsequent location of the dunk. Shake it off, right?
Today was either karmic justice for the loss in Arizona or a giant bucket of well-deserved positive regression for Antti Niemi. It may have been both, or the Stars may have simply played well enough to win at the decisive points of the game. It reminded me a bit of the Halloween victory in Dallas against San Jose, actually. Dallas took advantage of their opportunities early, then had to hang on and scrap for a victory as the game got tighter. It's not how you want to win games, ideally. Then again, maybe watching Antti Niemi come back in dominant form is exactly how you would want to win at least one of these games down the stretch. Confidence matters, probably.
Finally, for those concerned that Dallas can't "close out" games, I have only this to say:
The @DallasStars PK has killed 34 of their last 35 times shorthanded. Team is now 30-0-2 when leading after 40 minutes. 1st place, 6 to play— Bruce LeVine (@BruceLeVinePuck) March 26, 2016