Game 58 Afterwords: Hockey Fans Everywhere Demand Apology for Whatever That Was
That was not good.
First, best wishes to Dave Zeis after taking a puck to the face in St. Louis. That was a frightening moment, but it was good to see Zeis heading down the tunnel under his own power. All the best, Dave.
Hockey games are expensive things. With the effort and expense involved in getting that big hunk of ice in place, convincing all the fans to buy tickets, and preparing dozens of full sets of top-of-the-line hockey equipment, you'd expect the end result to be more appealing than getting beaned in the face with a bowl of soggy Life cereal. You'd expect, in short, a contest; and you'd expect a fairly good one when the combatants are two teams near or at the top of their conference.
Well, a contest was the technical result of this event, but I am not sure that it was actually hockey. Dallas had fewer shots on goal in the first period than they had penalties, and the Blues legitimately broke the rules seven times in total. It was a farce, except a farce is usually funny or critical. This was just pitiful. I guess it was implicitly critical of both teams, at times, though.
Four penalties, but just about zero faceoff wins and minimal zone time meant that the first period was not a good one. A crucial faceoff loss on the brief 5v3 meant they didn't get to exploit their 20 seconds of 2-man advantage, but it probably just saved us the agony of a dented post, so skip it.
Meanwhile, John Klingberg managed to break up a shorthanded 2-on-0 slam dunk on Lehtonen's back door after the Stars decided to forget everything they ever learned about entering the zone on the power play, so kudos to him. Question: did Jason Spezza bind his teammates to an unbreakable vow never to use the drop pass entry until he returns? I know it didn't always work, but the Stars were as inept as it is possible to be when it came to entering the zone tonight. They could have used Spezza, which is a massive understatement every single game.
If fatigue was the main issue for Dallas in the first, fate took its turn plaguing them in the second period, which started about as badly as any second period can. I bear no ill will towards Kelly Sutherland as a fellow human being on this rocky blip in the great void of space, but channeling Lionel Messi right out of the gate was really a bit too obvious a balancing effort in a period that was doomed to see St. Louis going on the job regardless.
As the game went on, Dallas actually began to out-Blues the Blues, at least in terms of defense and goaltending. Kari Lehtonen? He got the Stars a point tonight, and that's no small task for a goalie behind a team that writes the most boring of penalty-inflicted septologies you've ever seen. Niemi has had a couple of bumpy games lately, and Lehtonen is picking up the slack. That's how it's designed to work.
On to the third period, then. Here is St Louis's strategy defending a 1-0 lead against the top team in the conference:
This was a criminally low-event game for how many power plays were handed out, but the Blues generated a grand total of a hit post and a bruised Radek Faksa (who had a rather heroic block) on their first two power plays, which included a full minute of 5-on-3. The Stars' penalty kill really did lead the way on their special teams, and it's a shame that it had to be culpable for the overtime tally. Kari Lehtonen was, of course, the best penalty killer, and I am just about positive that the Blues' last goal did tick off Faksa's stick before going in.
Patrick Eaves swapped out for Nichushkin on the top line in the middle frame, but that led to quite a shift for him on the lower lines: two great chances on the same shift, which both missed the net, then a surprising satisfying hit on Robby Fabbri. Patrick Eaves! Patrick Eaves.
Jason Demers had a bit of a rough one tonight, which has become surprisingly not anomalous lately. Demers let Tarasenko get behind him early, and he had to take the Stars' fourth minor of the second period. Frankly, all four penalties were well-deserved, so it wasn't like the officials were just calling things to even it up. Come to that, I thought the officials nailed every single penalty call until the very last one, which was an awfully harsh one to dole out right before the end of regulation. Demers looked to be trying to stay onside when he stuck out his leg, but even if he knew exactly what he was doing (and he may have), you can't really debate the fact that St. Louis only got their goals because of glorious chances given them by the zebras. If that is a recipe for playoff success against Dallas, then I wish St. Louis all the best. They were not good tonight. Dallas was also not good tonight, but I think perhaps they were less not-good than our indigo buddies. You can trust this opinion to be objective, because it is on a web site.
If this game were a command console, I believe regulation would have read like this:
*****System check*****Kari Lehtonen status: SassyPatrik Nemeth status: ACTIVATING YES I AM ACTIVATING HERE I GOPower Play status: File Not Found
Patrick Sharp still can't buy a goal, though he almost set one up off a nice rush play later. Even after a Cody Eakin shot during the delayed penalty to Lehtera trickled right behind Elliott, Sharp just couldn't quite get to the loose puck for a tap-in goal. It was right there, just begging to be put away, but Sharp couldn't get his stick freed up, and the chance withered on the vine.
Nichushkin probably didn't acquit himself all that well when he surrendered a shorthanded opportunity to Troy Brouwer at the blue line. Kari once again kept the Stars in the game, of course, because he was not going to just walk away from this match after the malapropalooza that was going on in front of him.
Radek Faksa also got robbed by Elliott on a rebound chance, then the same glove hand stopped Jamie Benn right after that on a decent shot from the circle. Brian Elliott has not given up the goal crease in 16 games or something like that, and tonight was further proof of why. The Blues have all the disparate parts required to be a Top Hockey Team, but it's hard to see them doing anything more in the playoffs than they've done in the last 12 years. That isn't unlike what a lot of folks are saying about Dallas, but if I start to hamper my enjoyment of this wonderful season by fearing the unknown results of the playoffs(!), then please put me on waivers.
Mattias Janmark's goal was totally set up by Klingberg, who grabbed the puck and circled the zone before feeding Goligoski for the one-timer. John Klingberg is a wonder, and he skated the puck out of danger in his zone more than once tonight. He generally did a glorious job of being the Stars' best defenseman. He and Goligoski were a top pairing tonight, and it's looking more and more like they'll be the top pairing we have come game 83.
This game was terrible, and I think that means that getting a point out of it for the Western Conference outright lead is a wonderful gift indeed. Dallas was pooped, and the product on the ice resembled their respiratory state all too well at times. They battled St. Louis on the road in their third game in four nights, and they got another point from the division. If there was that bit of success in tonight's failure, then how can you call it a failure at all? Probably the same way you can call those seven "things" power plays. Definitions have a rather limited utility at times.