Afterwords: Klingberg, Khudobin Are Money against Golden Naughts

sorry, trying to fix the terrible headline, sorry

[Klinbgerg] came along y’all

To add a couple lines or so

I got one I finished yesterday

And I got three-point-six to go


After all the insanity of the Colorado series, Sunday night brought a different kind of craziness: Vegas, looking offensively inept.

Of course, there are always multiple reasons for these things. A goaltender “stealing” a game is, most often, also a result of that goalie’s offense failing to generate chances against a likewise stingy defense on the other side. Nothing in a vacuum, no effect without cause.

So while a 1-0 victory is 100% nutso against a team as potent as Vegas, if you watched this one, then you kind of get it. The Stars did what they knew they’d be able to do, and Anton Khudobin was good enough to make it hold. He has been good enough to do quite a bit in these playoffs.

The most interesting matchup of this game to me, with all the talk about Vegas’ forward corps, was actually the defensive pairings of Heiskanen-Oleksiak vs. Theodore-Martinez. It’s not quite Cale Makar vs. Miro Heiskanen, but HockeyViz shows us just how dominant the Stars were when they had their best defenseman against Vegas’s best defenseman: very.

John Klingberg was the louder hero in this one though, as he looked like the Klingberg of years past, wafting all over the ice with a shrewdly lethal approach. Whether he was up on the play enough to find a rebound for the game’s only goal, walking the blue line, finding dangerous shooting lanes, or laying a mammoth hit (?!) on Reilly Smith, Klingberg looked like he was playing against his younger brother’s schoolmates on his backyard rink. He was everywhere without being out of position, and he was doing anything without needing to everything.

Klingberg was also great exiting the zone, but that was hardly just him. The Stars as a whole were able to exit the zone through the middle of the ice, foiling Vegas’s attempts to hem them in the zone along the boards. This, more than anything else, is something I’d expect Vegas to change in game two. It’s guesswork, but don’t be shocked if Vegas’s F3 lingers closer to the blue line instead of the half wall, ready to step up on a pass to the high slot and pressure the Stars into icing, or at least dumping it out.

Jamie Benn was leading the charge in the physical department, and we can forget how big and strong this Stars team is even without Stephen Johns. Klingberg’s hit was the most outlandish of the bunch, but Benn bounced back from a huge hit by Cousins to continue dishing out some punishment, and Radek Faksa was following Benn’s lead, too.

Benn on that line’s wing has been good for them and him so far, and you wonder what that means for Andrew Cogliano, who is probably healthy and not healthy at the same time. The cynic in me says Benn might not make it a full series with this kind of Alpha approach, but then again, this team has a way of waking up the Stars for good and ill. You can’t count anything out.

The line that really needs to be talked about though is the same one that won the game before this one: Hintz, Gurianov, and Kiviranta. This line was absurdly effective (as you’d expect, with their speed and size and scoring ability), even if they didn’t score. They generated five high-danger chances at evens and allowed only one. They nearly scored on a couple of those chances, and you start to realize, when you think about it, that the Golden Knights might have a matchup issue on their hands. When Tyler Seguin is playing on effectively the fourth line, you begin to see the issue, right?

The penalty kill once again had to do a lot more work than its counterpart, which is something Dallas really could stand to avoid. That said, if the Stars are going to staunchly refuse to draw more penalties, they are at least balancing it out with a brilliant penalty kill. Again, Vegas was struggling to get shots from the guts of the ice, with Nate Schmidt having a couple of dangerous chances but with no result. Radek Faksa encapsulted the Stars’ effort with a huge block and diving clearance at one point, and you really can’t say enough about what the Stars’ PK has done through the last eight games. It’s fair to say that Dallas generated just as many dangerous power play chances as Vegas in this one, which is impressive for a team that had roughly 15 seconds of functional power play time.

Andrej Sekera continues to impress me, also since the Calgary series. For a player who doesn’t have the raw physical tools of a lot of other guys, he’s using his brain and his skating to make plays look easy that really should be more of an issue. Maybe that game-winner against the Avs was evidence of something we should’ve picked up on a while ago.

Vegas needs better shooting talent. That’s crazy to say, but it’s pretty evident when you look back at their series against Vancouver, and at what they did in this one. Khudobin’s tummy got quite a workout in this one when he had to do anything, and that’s not a great way for a team to take advantage of puck possession at all. Sure, Mark Stone is a beast (though Kiviranta! also dealth him a tough hit, which is just delightfully absurd), and Reilly Smith has been lethal these playoffs, but if Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson aren’t going to turn over a rock to find a shooting percentage juicer, the Stars are going to continue looking incredibly comfortable playing this sort of game.

Comfortable is the word, too. From Klingberg’s unmolested cleanup in the slot (and how much fun is it to watch his gangly frame whip pucks past a goalie, every time?) to Khudobin’s rebound control and lack of any second chances to save, the Stars handled Vegas.

If the last two series were, in part, about getting Calgary to doubt themselves and about getting Colorado frustrated whenever MacKinnon was off the ice, then this series has begun with a statement of purpose. The Stars have determined they don’t need to do anything remarkable other than containing Vegas, which should be remarkable in itself. It’s incumbent upon the Golden Knights, now, to find a way to shake things up.

It wasn’t much of a turtle that Dallas employed, even with only two shots on goal in the third. Dallas didn’t allow any grade-A chances, and this was much less nerve-wracking than probably any of the 5-4 wins against Colorado. The thing about dominating the neutral zone is that it’s fun for a team to drive the other team that bonkers. Vegas was even having trouble dumping the puck in with enough speed to retrieve it, and you can bet that’s something else they’re going to carve into their whiteboards today at practice. Ryan Reaves and company will be doing everything they can to turn around Klingberg and Heiskanen and Sekera and The Amazing Joel Hanley to retrieve pucks against the end boards, and either rush their passes or punish them after the fact.

No, I don’t expect to see another 1-0 shutout, by either team. But a victory is a victory, and this wasn’t theft. Vegas is finally encountering a rather good team in a seven-game series after facing the Blackhawks and the Canucks, and they just got punched in the nose. The Stars can and should revel in that fact, for this is already different from 2008, when it was apparent from the getgo that those Detroit Red Wings were of a different magnitutde than the heavily weathered Dallas Stars.

This summer, the Stars have been whatever they have needed to be, and yes, sometimes completely not. But in this game, they took careful aim and released an arrow straight into the bullseye, walking off the archery range before the point had even struck. If they had only needed to win one game, they would have been crowing like Cousins at Jamie Benn. But to brag about victory with many battles left to fight is foolish indeed, and Jamie Benn knows this as well as anyone. He just has to keep his team cognizant of what it takes for seven more wins. All of a sudden, that doesn’t seem entirely ridiculous.