Afterwords: Bereaved Stars Take Another Painful Hit
The Stars looked like a team without a captain in the third. And they were.
Yeah I spent a long time down in the basement
Instead of rolling with the riff-raff
Cause I am no better, I’m no better than that
Yeah, I spent a long time trying to make it
Well, I’ve finally faced the facts
If you believe the rumblings, Gerard Gallant was the coach Jim Nill had in mind after the Stars and Lindy Ruff mutually agreed* to part ways after the 2016-17 season. Of course, that didn’t happen because ownership preferred Ken Hitchcock, and the former franchise of the future is still struggling to find an identity beyond “defend the house and hope the goalies are really good.”
*as they put it at the time
On Tuesday, Jim Montgomery’s Stars clung desperately to Ben Bishop as Gallant’s Golden Knights laid waste to the Stars in body and spirit. The Stars gave up 48 shots, topping to 40-shots on goal allowed marker for the seventh time this season. By the way, five of those seven times allowing 40+ shots have come in February, four of them in the last week alone.
As you can see from that graph above, things are dire. It’s one thing to get marginally outshot over the course of the season and ask your goalies to step up; it’s quite another to get doubled up on shots while generating essentially zero shots on goal in the third period of a tied game. At least we can take solace knowing the answers are in the organization right now, because they sure as shootin’ can’t be got from nowhere else anymore.
We really should remember that no one must be more frustrated with this team than Jim Montgomery. Quote his press conferences all you want, but this is not how he wants his team to play. For two periods, Dallas was hanging in there despite being out-possessed, and then things fell apart despite a world-class duct tape job when Bishop got caught overthinking things.
Certainly this is partly because Vegas is just a better team, with better players. Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault? That’s some kind of top six talent, right there, to put it lightly. All else aside, Dallas was entering this game as an underdog with Jamie Benn and Mats Zuccarello on the shelf, and they did well to disguise that fact for 40 minutes. How’d they do it?
Seguin and Radulov each played 22+ minutes, and they (along with Roope Hintz) were the only line that didn’t get completely buried. That the Stars were tied for as long as they were is a testament to their power play and their goaltending, along with some outstanding but too-rare individual efforts. This is a Dallas team with the 3rd-most man games lost in the NHL playing last year’s Western Conference Champion that just traded for the best player available at the deadline. It’s a tough go of things no matter how you slice it.
Unfortunately, Vegas sliced it pretty thick:
Look from above at Reaves' hit on Cogliano...looks like at least four strides from Reaves until contact with the Stars forward. pic.twitter.com/yGfIb0T16r— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) February 27, 2019
Ryan Reaves should have been penalized a couple of times in this game, but it’s not like that’s why the Stars lost this one. Yeah, that looks like charging to me (watch the bottom, wider view) given how far Reaves came to deliver the hit, but I wouldn’t expect Player Safety to get involved given the lack of any “launching himself” by Reaves that they usually look for. Yeah, Reaves intentionally got into nonsense with Ben Bishop and Jason Dickinson. Yeah, he accidentally high-sticked Oleksiak before totally plowing Ben Lovejoy up high away from the puck. The officials called a bad and loose game in this one, which officials are wont to do in a loud building. Maybe the Stars steal this if they get a couple more calls, but there’s no denying who was the better team in this one. As the Stars learned in the playoffs a couple of years ago, Ryan Reaves is just a linebacker in a sideshow if you win the game. (Aside: if we’re supposed to praise big players like Brett Ritchie and Jamie Oleksiak for standing up for teammates when they’ve fought in the past, where are those same voices criticizing them for standing down in this game? I don’t particularly care either way, honestly; it’s just curious that those players seem to get a pass, even if staying out of the nonsense was the dictum du jour from the players and the coaches.)
But the real story in all of this is the injury to Andrew Cogliano. How cursed are the Stars right now? They traded for the most durable player in the entire league months ago, and even he got injured when the Stars can least afford it. Without knowing the status of Cogliano’s shoulder, we can’t even venture a guess on whether he’ll return Thursday, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Dallas use another emergency recall.
Credit where it’s due: the Stars did score on the power play with a nice sequence. John Klingberg effortlessly entered the zone with a silkiness that made me want to grab so many people by the collar, screaming at them about how skilled Klingberg is, and how dare they ever have the temerity to yell at him for the occasional play gone awry when he, this golden gift wholly undeserved, remains in Dallas doing things unheard of for far too long before his arrival. Anyway, Spezza had a nice no-look pass through the box, and Radulov battled in front of the net until Roope Hintz got the loose puck and put it home. It was a huge goal for Dallas, but not so huge that there wasn’t room for more goals. Please, Stars; there is always room for more goals.
Further credit goes to the penalty kill, though not too much on the first Pacioretty goal, which ended up being a short-side laser that Bishop either didn’t see or couldn’t stop regardless. But that isn’t what we’re talking about.
First, the two-man advantage for Vegas started with a bad play by Spezza that looked like a penalty all day. The reward for a poke check there is more or less a breakaway, but in a tie game on the road, that’s not a play you can afford to make (although given the Stars’ inability to create any offense from their zone, maybe Spezza was just trying to make lemonade from moldy old lemons here, so let’s not be too harsh). However, things went from bad to worse when Comeau followed suit with a bad stick-reach of his own that ended up being a high-sticking call—you’ll note that such penalties are still allowed to be called even when unintentional—to give Vegas 90 seconds of 5-on-3 time.
The kill was as huge as a kill can be this time of year, and Ben Bishop’s walk had a bit of strut to it as time wound down on the penalties. Vegas generated seven shots on goal during the power plays, and Bishop and the penalty killers found a way to answer them all. That made the subsequent Bishop burp-up that much more heartbreaking when it did happen, and you can bet Seguin feels awful for it too, even if it ultimately is Bishop’s blunder.
It’s not like that was the only crazy play of the game, though. Bishop had an absurd save after nearly blockering a puck over his own head and into the net in the first period. But he spun the puck off the back of his pants and out of the crease somehow to keep a clean sheet. Great awareness that a lot of goalies just don’t have.
Acrobatics from Bishop. pic.twitter.com/J5Z5IDRecX— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) February 27, 2019
Also, I don’t really have a place to put this, but Marc-Andre Fleury got donked in the head with the puck on a dump around the glass, and it was hilarious. Really, I recommend hockey to you, lumps and all, for plays like that.
DOINK pic.twitter.com/aTf3q9oUpI— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) February 27, 2019
Oh, and before we forget: Radek Faksa’s collision with Fleury seemed much more incidental than Reaves’s with Bishop early on, but who really knows for sure? Still, it was weird to me that Reaves’s contact garnered just the armbar from Janmark, who was quickly dismissed, while Faksa got attacked for his.
Ritchie did have kind of a kind of random bump away from the puck on William Karlsson that wasn’t called later on, so perhaps the Stars were trying to be physical, just haphazardly so. You figure it out.
The bad things in this one didn’t end badly until late, but there were plenty of almost-garfs. Ben Lovejoy had one of a couple pretty baffling turnovers right to Bellemare between the circles on an attempted breakout pass late in the first. I’d think we see Taylor Fedun back in before long, but one must kick the tires of the new car, I suppose. Still, when you combine the hiccups in his game, it’s clear that the Stars are willingly setting themselves some hurdles in hopes of a greater reward down the road. This team loves it some veteran defensemen.
In the interest of fairness, Esa Lindell also had a bad turnover of his own in the third, with a whiff on a long pass that gave Marchessault another great chance, but Bishop again answered it. Bishop had to clean up so much stuff in this one that maybe he just wanted everyone else to know how it felt to have to clean up one of his messes for while. This is a working theory that is bad.
Val Nichushkin had a solid game as far as that goes, but man, that’s a player who doesn’t expect to score a goal again. After a great shift by Ritchie, Nichushkin and Dickinson, only a really sharp poke check by Fleury kept Nichushkin from scoring his first of the year. Nichushkin seems like a player who still has those tools, but they’re locked up tighter than ever, and I doubt Dallas expects to find the key.
As for a player on the other end up things chronologically, Blake Comeau was denied by Fleury on the doorstep off a great feed by Dickinson, then he almost stuffed a puck in behind the goaltender on a delayed penalty call in the second period. If ever there were a time for Blake Comeau to step up and add some depth scoring for Dallas, now would be it. He did not do that in this one. Taylor Fedun is just 3 points behind Comeau’s 11 for the season, and a) it is February 27th, and b) Comeau has played 21 more games. And is a forward. Still, gotta have that defensive responsibility late in games you are leading, which happens occasionally.
Hintz continues to look faster than the other guys on the ice at most times. It’s fun to think of how good he might become, so maybe take comfort that he is still here instead of traded for someone else. This is a good player who does good things. Be happy, about this specific fact.
Random thought: During the Stars’ fruitless power play late in the second period, it really surprised me that Dallas didn’t make more of an effort to run the power play from behind the net. Vegas runs a fairly high PK that allows them to close the middle of the ice quickly, and forcing them to defend the other direction might have been a good way to open up some other shots. Just some musing from the cheap seats over here, though. Vegas seemed reticent to bring its defense down below the red line, so I would love to see Dallas use that as an office of sorts just to get other teams off-kilter.
The Stars can’t force other teams to be uncomfortable, though. This is a team ravaged by injuries to (largely) middle-of-the-lineup players, and with no real way to control games outside of dominant goaltending. That’s really concerning for a team clinging to a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth. It’s precarious, really.
Oh, and yeah, I’m pretty sure Lovejoy got clocked in face with the shaft of Reaves’s stick here, but you know, hockey. I take it back: maybe I do see some “launching” of Reaves here as he clobbers Lovejoy. You tell me.
Honestly, if you can just go around indiscriminately hitting a reverend in the face away from the puck, I don’t even know why you bother with dressing the officials at all.
So anyway, the Stars gave up 48 shots and didn’t generate squat on offense in the third period, but their best weapon, which is by definition more like a shield than a weapon, kept them in it until it, too, failed them. Miro Heiskanen is looking decidedly average again, which probably means he’s playing at like 30% capacity, for him. Roman Polák is playing 20 minutes a night and beginning to turn the puck over on a more regular basis. The team doesn’t trust Oleksiak, and Lovejoy isn’t exactly turning heads in his favor through two games (though it’s early days yet). The Stars spent most of this game with 11 forwards for the second game in a row, and eight of those forwards seemed overmatched a lot of the time. It’s not great, is what I’m saying; I suspect this is not a radical bit of news.
Congratulations to Jason Spezza, who has equaled his scoring total from all of last season in just 61 games. Honestly, on this team, I call that a rebound. It is unfortunate that 26 points is a rebound. It is unfortunate that this is the best kernel of positivity I could find to wrap things up with. Losing is always unfortunate. It’s pretty great for the other team, though.
Dallas can make the playoffs. They probably (and I mean that word as literally as one can mean a word) will. They just are a little less probable to do that today than they were before yesterday. That’s not great. Pain is not great, but it is supposed to be just a signal system. Maybe the Stars can do some preventative maintenance this year to achieve something cool, but you could be forgiven for preparing for the worst. It’s always good to be prepared instead of waiting for the danger signals to arrive.