Game 12 Afterwords: An Infuriating Loss to an Infuriating Team
Who would like to join my Nazem Kadri Fan Club? It is a fun club where we send Nazem Kadri old celery in the mail and create the fictitious Kadri Bed & Breakfast on Yelp only to give it really unfavorable reviews.
When you outplay a team as badly as the Dallas Stars did but still wind up getting shortchanged on the power play differential, it's usually a result of undisciplined play or reputation calls. Tonight's contest involved 10 minutes awarded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and let's just talk about those right off the bat, because any time your team loses a frustrating game, the natural reaction is to find someone to blame, and if it can be someone not on your team, so much the better.
This is partly what referees are for.
There has been much talk in the wake of this game that Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov were flopping around and getting penalty calls for Toronto that they didn't deserve. There's no doubt that Kadri helped the officials notice all the fouls against him, but please step into the Penalty Call Analysis Booth with me. Important: don't listen to Erin if she disagrees with any of my assessments here. Okay, let's go.
First, there was Cody Eakin putting his stick (repeatedly!) into Kadri's hands from behind, right in front of the official. That's been all but automatic hooking since 2005, so I really can't fault Kadri for perhaps giving the Mike Modano reaction to the stick there.
Then I saw Jason Spezza halfheartedly pointing his stick at Kadri's feet as he skates by him, right after the puck had been moved. Without the puck at his feet anymore, Kadri gives his best "Heavens to murgatroyd!" and executes the jackknife reaction to perfection. Kadri can absolutely stay on his feet there, but once he sees Spezza's stick going between his legs, he does the savvy thing and gets himself spun around and down. Kadri was less happy about Jamie Benn's stick between his leg later in the game, you may have noticed.
Penultimately, I saw Alex Goligoski pull back on Kadri's hands from behind. Again, that's not a play that meaningfully impedes Kadri, but he reacts to it, and you have seen that penalty called many times before. It probably should not be called, but Goligoski probably should not be doing that, either.
Finally, John Klingberg was tired after being out for much of the final five minutes, and Leo Komarov was gaining ground on him. Klingberg subtly shifted course to box out Komarov, so Komarov just bumped into him instead of trying to go around, and oh my gracious, skating on ice is hard. I'm guessing the refs saw Komarov's superior speed going to the puck, then they saw Klingberg's shift of position before he got there, and then Komarov is down in a heap, and my oh my, we really mustn't have this, mustn't we?
Okay, back to the other 50 minutes of the game. Nuke really looked great early on, but he couldn't put either of his early chances home, and as the game wore on, it just started to feel like Valeri Nichushkin was going for his first career goal all over again. It's tough to see a player do a lot of things right when the most noticeable thing to do right isn't being done. The goals surely have to come as long as he plays on this team, though.
Toronto first goal was ugly ugly ugly. A bouncing puck/blocked shot trickled towards the net, and Boyes lifted Jordie Benn's stick perfectly before tapping the puck past Antti Niemi. It was a chance that never should have been there, but a very odd change seemed to cause some mix-ups in coverage, and the Leafs had one of their very few leads of the season. This is the type of goal that makes you check your house for video cameras, because surely somebody is relishing your reaction to this sort of tomfoolery.
Good on Tyler Seguin setting the screen for Benn right after that, for what it's worth. Don't think that Seguin isn't thrilled as long as they're both accumulating points of some kind and the team is winning games. Driving the net for your linemate like that is unselfish and gritty and every other thing that Boston wouldn't dare to associate with Seguin's name when he's in their barn tomorrow.
The Leafs kept testing the Stars' defense with their forecheck and dump-ins, but who would have guessed that Johnny Oduya would be the one to feed the puck right out into the slot for the wrong team? The Stars are okay with high-risk plays like that, but Oduya and his mates clearly got confused about who was where, and the turnover led to a shot, which led to a slam-dunk rebound for Boyes. At least, it would have if Jason Demers hadn't batted the puck down at the line when the Leafs were entering the zone. That was important, turns out.
You know how you often hear broadcasters talk about how the linesmen are right 99.9% of the time, and it's so impressive what they do? Well, it turns out that being an NHL linesman is actually very difficult, and they sometimes mess up because who wouldn't mess up at that job on occasion? It's better to accept their fallibility for what it is instead of propping them up as some sort of visual acuity demigods, especially considering what happened right after Jamie Benn's Delay of Game penalty for swatting the puck out of midair.
The Leafs went on the power play, and the Stars were able to win the faceoff and clear the puck all the way down the ice--at which time the nearside (to the camera) linesman skated down and emphatically waved off the icing before the puck got to the red line. Which is to say, he waved off the icing that wasn't in effect because it was a power play for Toronto. It can be difficult to keep track of everything going on in a hockey game, and that's okay. Probably they added the challenge rule because an offside call (or non-call) has been wrong before, but that's just speculation on my part.
Not much to say about the second goal for the Leafs. You really hate to give a bad team a gift goal like that, and there was a sour feeling about the game then after breakdowns by previously trustworthy players like Oduya and Niemi. The Leafs had already been collapsing like crazy any time the Stars got the puck, and it felt like the hill was going to be pretty steep trying to come back against a frustrated Leafs team salivating over the prospect of punching the mighty Stars in the mouth and doubling the mighty Maple Leaf Hockey Club's win total in one fell swoop. Is a "fell swoop" similar to what Kadri was doing? He definitely fell, but I don't know if there was really any swooping involved. Just wondering.
Dallas's first powerplay generated a golden chance off the jump on a wonderful Klingberg-Seguin-Benn combination, but it didn't go in because of the whole optical-illusion-the-goal-mouth-was-covered-in-mirrors that we started to notice later, and the Stars couldn't do much else. Mike Babcock's teams always seem to have a strong penalty kill, and I really think that coaches in general have more of an effect on that side of special teams, where your positioning and stickwork is 95% of your job.
Patrik Nemeth might be trying to make his mark, and you can't really blame him given the limited ice time he's seen so far. He had a particularly beautiful chance with about 12:15 left in the second period when he came down to one-time a puck around the circles. Reimer was able to kick out a pad to stop it, but it was the sort of thing you like to see on occasion from the man who scored the Calder Cup-winning goal not too long ago.
It was also great to see Nemeth break up a great Leafs chance later, until the puck bounced back to the Leafs and he then made a bad choice to leave his man in the slot and go for the puck carrier. I'll say that Nemeth still had a roughly neutral game, all-told. I think roughly neutral is usually the best-case scenario for most Leafs defencemen, now that I think about it.
To my untrained eyes, the Leafs were determined to protect their lead and sit back for a counterattack opportunity after getting their 2-1 lead early in the second. Dallas countered by dumping pucks in directly on Reimer as much as possible, seemingly content to try their luck on a faceoff in hopes of getting some offensive zone time. Luck wasn't exactly on their side though, to put it mildly, perhaps at no time moreso than a wonderful slapshot from Jason Demers in the slot. The puck trickled through Reimer's arm, but the puck got caught underneath the tip of his skate blade, and Radek Faksa wasn't able to stuff home the puck before it finally got corralled by Reimer.
It is not impossible to fathom goalie equipment made so abrasive that pucks will stop any time they touch it. It is not impossible to fathom that because that is what Reimer seemed to be wearing tonight.
Cody Eakin in His Own Zone would be a pretty good title for a hockey monograph, albeit a proscriptive one. The Stars were trying to come back against a disciplined Leafs team, but Eakin let some frustration show when he hooked Kadri. That was as benchable an offense as I've seen in a while, just because of the practically zero possible good that could have come from it, and the Leafs scored on the resultant power play thanks in no small part to the absence of the fouled Goligoski and the resulting scramble by Nemeth, Benn and Colton Sceviour to cover people in front of and behind the net.
About that goal: Goligoski's stick was obviously held, but Mike Babcock's teams don't tend to get called for too many grey-area penalties. I suppose you could say that a team as bad as the Leafs could use some breaks here and there, but I would contest that it's not really a "break" when an uncalled penalty leads directly to a goal. Anyhow, the goal was all the more infuriating because of the crossbar hit by Faksa on the preceding breakaway, so forgive me for any lack of charity towards Toronto on my part.
In fact, if you want to talk about "breaks," how about the posts hit by Dallas tonight? Reimer had certainly been positionally solid, but the Stars were as much to blame as anyone for their lack of goals through 40 minutes, and Tyler Seguin's saucy little backhand off the crossbar as he stared down Reimer was one of the most obvious such incidents. That may also have been one of Seguin's best shots, as Tyler once again racked up shots for much of the game without managing to get one past a netminder. I am unconcerned about this for the future on account of it is Tyler Seguin.
After the Stars failed to get anything going on their second power play, the universe started coming up Leafs, as it does every time the Stars play Toronto dating back to the great Dallas/Toronto Skirmish of 1838. (If you forgot your history, that was the time Spanish settlers in Texas got super lost on their way to one of those adorable old-timey saloons and wound up in Toronto instead, where they bumped into a concierge by accident. It was the biggest military engagement in Toronto for six decades thereafter.)
Patrick Sharp was stuffed on the doorstep, and he even got a rebound chance that fluttered over Reimer's shoulder, except wait, no, Reimer somehow found it, and did you catch the chutzpah he had to actually try to start the rush off of the ensuing pileup in the crease? That was a goalie who had confidence in the Dark Arts being employed around his net if I've ever seen one, and the Goligoski tip that hit the post right after that was just further evidence of it.
The Nichushkin penalty shot was also admissible as proof of devilry, by the way. Granted, as soon as Val moved the puck to his backhand I lost a lot of hope, but you still have to either laugh or cry at the puck's rolling on him just as he went to lift it. This is a reminder that it is okay to cry sometimes. Sadness is important to our core memories, as I saw in a documentary yesterday.
After Jamie Benn went full Jamie Benn on the penalty kill to set up Cody Eakin (fruitlessly, of course), Razor commented that the Stars hadn't been elevating the puck on Reimer. I have absolutely no idea one way or the other about that, because you have to assume players are going to lift the puck by default the closer they are to the net in most cases. Most of the shots I saw go off Reimer's pad were one-timers or point shots, too, so those are usually more just about getting the puck on net. So, I'm not sure it was a game plan or anything, but it's definitely fair to say that Dallas barely tested Reimer's blocker and glove hands.
Really though, that's probably for the best. After sealing his deal with whatever foul spirit protected Toronto's goal tonight, Reimer's hands were probably covered in dark spirit gunk. Best to keep those nice NHL pucks clean. There's always a subplot to these games.