Game 46 Afterwords: Stars Snatch Defeat from Jaws of, uh, Defeat
The game was there to be stolen in the third period, but Dallas once again couldn't find their killing stroke, and they paid for it in the extra frame.
All context aside, you would be thrilled about getting a point on the road in your second game of a back-to-back against a extra-divisional opponent after playing most of the game with only five defensemen.
Unfortunately for Dallas, their recent road record affords them little luxury for ignoring recent trends.
Stars 29-12-5 on the season. 1-4-2 in last seven games overall. 0-4-3 in last seven road games.— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) January 17, 2016
This is a team that needs to start winning again. Instead, Dallas spent 40 minutes tiptoeing around the ice before a Ruffle-infused third period straight from the overlords of Fun Hockey got us all out of our seats. To put it bluntly, this team abjectly failed to respond to Lindy Ruff's criticisms after the Anaheim game. They still waited too long to turn things on, and they still aren't in playoff mode.
Ales Hemsky scored a goal after some serious yeoman's work by Janmark. (Yeoman-mark?) It was a goal that taunted you with the thought that it could easily have slipped under both of Jones's leg pads and got harmlessly through the crease, but gladly that did not happen tonight.
Still, Hemsky and Janmark were gifted some glorious opportunities as the game went on, but they failed to capitalize on them. Good, but not good enough. That was Dallas tonight. Yes, they picked their game up, and yes, they weren't embarrassed by any stretch. But San Jose was gifting them pucks all night, and Niemi made some huge stops early to keep the game tight (with some help from the iron). The Stars did not respond to their goalie's solid play until the third period.
Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't happy with a lot of things about this game. The two San Jose power play goals were a result of the only two power plays they were afforded, and neither penalty call was strong. First, you had Goligoski and Hertl getting into it way behind the play, and Hertl manages to sell some kind of pointless hook that just doesn't really ever get called, and for good reason. If Antoine Roussel is the one falling down there, is that call made?
The other penalty's origins were equally sketchy, but by that point it had become clear that the officials were there to meet their two-call quotas for the game and move along. Even the Joonas Donskoi goalie interference on Niemi was pretty clearly a result of contact with Goligoski. It's a tired point to make, but offense in the NHL is a dying species, and fewer power plays are going to reinforce that trend. Que sera, sera.
Is it time to give Cody Eakin a scratch to clear his head? I have no idea, but tonight was as good a time as any to ask that question. Eakin was started on the top line because, well, just because. From there, he found himself on the ice for three of the Sharks' goals. I love watching he and Benn rush up the ice together on a shorthanded chance, but most other places on the ice were a problem for him tonight. The first Sharks goal in particular was ugly, as Eakin couldn't quite gather a tough Seguin pass and instead just hot-potatoed the puck right into San Jose's hands for a bit of bim-bam-boom passing. (I do think Niemi and Klingberg could have done better with that shot, too, but giveaways tend to catch you flat-footed.)
The second Sharks goal wasn't that kind to Mr. Eakin either:
Mike Heika has reiterated that the Stars do seem to like Eakin (which the extension kind of indicated as well), but you have to think Jim Nill's team is a bit concerned for their young center right now. Even on the OT goal, Eakin and Demers appear to have some kind of communication clarification conversation going on right before Hertl moves in for the shot. That could very well have been the perfect thing for Eakin to do, and Demers probably would say so. But why Eakin needs to tell Demers to cover the man that is five feet away from him and about to receive the puck, I cannot say. Again, this may actually positive communication, but on the heels of the other two goals-against, this is a tough one to watch.
If you're going to pick on bottom-six forwards, however, you could certainly add Travis Moen to the list. Why he was standing in the middle of the slot while Vlasic had drifted way over to the left point is a fun little puzzle, but I think "puck watching" is a good clue to start your investigation with. I had hoped Moen might be able to contribute on the PK a bit more this year after demonstrating fairly limited value last year; he still might be able to do so, but losing his assignment and opening that shooting lane was not a rousing endorsement of this course of action.
Of course, that goal perhaps shouldn't have counted, but the replay showing the entry to have been offside was apparently burned and trashed immediately afterwards. It would have been great if the league had thought about putting cameras to monitor off-side plays in every building when they decided to start performing video reviews on, you know, off-side plays. But there I go again, asking the league to prepare for other things ahead of time when they are far more busy forcing trades in order to preserve the sanctity of Pekka Rinne's All Star Game.
Still, my grousing is pallet-cleansing in nature, and there was plenty more to like about the Stars' game in San Jose than the one I paid a lot of money to watch in person Friday night in Anaheim. Dallas was skating well for a lot of the night, and they traded chances fairly evenly with San Jose. This isn't great, as Dallas is kind of supposed to own the majority of those chances, but it is at least not very, very bad. Again, that was Friday. This was not Friday.
The power play finally looked sort of okay, especially on its second (and last) opportunity. Jason Demers is probably not a long-term replacement on the top unit for John Klingberg, but you can't deny how pleasant it is to watch him keep things simple back there. Klingberg can lose his man as well as any blueliner in the NHL, but Demers does a good job of moving the puck swiftly enough to render such evasive maneuvers unnecessary.
So, yes, that second power play was quite pleasing to the eye. But when you allow two power play goals and you end up scoring zero power play (or shorthanded) goals, you are probably going to lose the hockey game. The Stars didn't have to lose this one, but they certainly increased their odds of doing so by failing to capitalize on a few chances.
They certainly did capitalize at other times, though. Seguin's goal to start the third period was a gift from San Jose (although Oduya wrapped said present with his nice pinch). Seguin kept the puck in after a meek clearing attempt from the Sharks, and quickly found himself fed by Benn as he broke for the slot. Vlasic then politely removed his stick from the shooting lane, and Tyler Seguin's shot will rarely miss from there. It is one of the very best such shots in the world.
Speaking of best shots in the world, that Spezza goal was up there, too. Would you like to try to stop that puck? Well, all you have to do it watch as the forward spins around, hiding the puck right up until the moment he releases the shot, then react in time to blocker away a puck that paints the far top corner of your net. What's that, the fist-bump-line is already happening, and you didn't see Spezza's shot? Yeah, a lot of people don't when he shoots it that hard.
The two San Jose players that caught my eye tonight were Burns and Dillon. The former because yes, he is one of the most tantalizing defensemen on a maybe-not-contending team. The latter because he certainly is still missed in Dallas, even if Demers is (usually) a more valuable player to the Stars in terms of minutes and statistics. But I'm not ready to write the book on that trade until the Stars' future with Demers has been decided. I think that's still very much in flux right now.
Even in overtime, this game could have been won. If that Seguin pass to Klingberg just looks a tad more like the pass from that glorious night against Minnesota so long ago, we all feel a little bit happier and a tad more hopeful as Dallas prepares to face the Kings. Instead, everything continues to sour; tonight is just a little less sour than nights previous, and that's not a ton of consolation.
It's a shame if Jordie Benn misses time, because Oleksiak had the chance (carefully planned in accordance with the AHL schedule) to play a good, long stretch of games for Texas. If he gets called right back up and eats a few more scratches, that blows that plan to shreds a bit. But we're stuck in wait-and-see mode until we get Ruff's standard lunar-phase-based timeline for Benn's recovery.
I felt great about the Super Line/Basket Line starting the third period. The bench needed shortening anyway, so why not make a first line of doom for your last big push? Top players playing with all top players is a glorious sight indeed. As if that weren't sweet enough, the new* line combo of Eakin, Sharp and Nichushkin almost gave the Stars the lead right after Spezza's tally. The Stars owned the third period, but they did not actually receive the deed from the bank until the Sharks had broken a few teacups and stained the carpet when they left in overtime.
*Mark Stepneski is keeping a huge tally of every unique line Ruff puts together this year, but 20/10/43 could totally have already happened. I give up even trying to remember.
A glorious sight is also what overtime is supposed to feature, except not for the other team. And while no penalties were called, it does occur to me that it might make more sense for penalties in OT to be automatic penalty shots instead of the less-exciting 4-on-3 advantages. Yes, that does mean I am trying to resolve overtime with basically a shootout, but you know what? Shut up, that is what.
Saturday night wasn't a huge problem; it was just not enough of the solution. The bummer for Dallas is that now they have to go face LA in Staples Center and try to do better. Los Angeles is one of the best teams in the league, especially now that they've remembered that fact.
But if you'd rather not dread Tuesday for two days, just go watch this Spezza wrist shot twenty times and marvel at the fact that you just might actually kind of feel pretty okay about his contract extension right now. Have a nice day.