Game 17 Afterwords: Skills Beat Size, This Time
Ales Hemsky paced the Stars with three points while John Klingberg did his best impersonation of, well, John Klingberg. This was the most enjoyable hockey game we've seen in a while.
When 3-on-3 overtime was introduced for this season, a lot of people joked (or half-joked) that it wouldn't take long for the coaches to "ruin" it. The principle is reliable, but Thursday's Dallas Stars game wasn't great evidence of it. Despite some calmer moments, this game was chock-full of back-and-forth action, flurries, scrambles and the like, and it was amazing. Please, NHL, take a DNA sample from this game and replicate it in your
evil lair office for game improvement.
John Klingberg made two superhuman moves with the puck last night, but he scored on a much more innocuous chance from the point on the power play. Still, his wrister isn't exactly a marshmallow, and Ondrej Pavelec never really had time to react to the deflection, and after the Toronto game, why wouldn't you shoot every puck every time from everywhere? It wasn't the prettiest goal Klingberg has scored (or will score), but he deserved to celebrate one tonight, so we'll call that preemptive universe equalization for his wonderful play the rest of the way.
Just when you thought the Stars had gotten the jibblies out of their system when it came to recovering from a goal, things went south for the winter. Drew Stafford beat a pinching Jamie Oleksiak (also known as "Jamie Oleksiak") to get the puck chipped along, Colton Sceviour was discarded by Jacob Trouba, and Jordie Benn failed to block the pass on the 2-on-1. Would have been nice to see Vernon Fiddler recover to stay with Trouba a bit more there, too. The question at that point became, how would Dallas respond?
Well, the Stars responded by battling the Winnipeg Jets for quite a while, exchanging frenetic chances for almost 10 minutes before Colton Sceviour scored his buzzer-beaten goal. I don't blame the goal horn on that one, as everyone was frozen before the audio burp when the puck banged off the post and bounced off Fiddler/Stuart to the side, but credit to Sceviour for properly taking advantage of the bespoke opportunity sitting in front of Pavelec's five hole. Is that a dirty area of the ice? Sceviour went there, if that means anything. I don't like many hockey aphorisms.
Ales Hemsky had himself a hockey game last night, yes he did. My suspicion is that Klingberg and Jordie Benn just take delight in feeding breakaway passes to players at the end of a shift, even moreso when said player is working on sore hips. They seem like the types to mess with people like that. Good on Ales for calmly going five-hole for his actual goal, seeing that dekes and slapshots proved much less effective on his twelve other breakaway chances. Given how streaky he and Patrick Sharp have been this season, did we perhaps see Hemsky take the scoring baton tonight? Hopefully there are two batons.
Kari Lehtonen gave up a really, really bad goal early to Blake Wheeler--seems to me there's been some talk about Kari getting to his post a bit more cleanly this season, but certainly that did not happen here--and as much as you hoped he would steel his nerves after that, the Stars never really gave him a chance. He certainly didn't help himself either when he went out to play the puck and got bumped after essentially giving the puck away. Lehtonen looks less confident playing the puck this year, and I'd be okay with his keeping it to a minimum despite any disgrace it does to the crease once inhabited by Marty Turco. If Kari can be a solid goalie in the crease, I'd be okay with nothing fancy out of it.
Regardless, he came up big with stops on Andrew Ladd (on a backhand chance all alone) and Mark Scheifele, twice: once with the amazing split pad save that tore my groin just watching it, and again on the late second period opportunity from the doorstep. Those were game-savers, and they actually made you want to be happy with a goalie who allowed three to a division opponent. Given this offense, holding the other team to three goals or fewer is going to be good enough. That is crazy for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Dallas has had to shell out over $10 million to get that rather unremarkable level of goaltending this year.
Also, is Jason Demers the Stars' emergency backup goalie? I can't think of an instant more emergent than when a puck is shot at your empty net while your prone goaltender reacts helplessly yards away like a misplaced video game netminder. I hope some of those fun-loving scamps in the Stars' locker room get Demers a goalie stick for Festivus or whatever, just to make it official. Tyler Myers unknowingly matched Demers's skate save with one of his own, but it's far less impressive when your massive clodhoppers just happen to get in the way of a puck than when you go full "kicksaveandabeauty" like Demers did. You tell your grandkids about those moments.
Oleksiak was either punished or just used according to his current abilities when Ruff sat him for most of the third period. They kept him off special teams, but you still have to wonder what the plan is with Oleksiak. I still can't see him as part of this team's long-term future, but I've been wrong before*. At this point, I'm rooting for the kid, and let's hope his next game (which may be soon if Jyrki Jokipakka isn't healthy by Saturday) takes all the good from this one and none of the bad. There were measures of both tonight, certainly.
*haha, just kidding
When the Jets tied things up in the third, it felt like the Stars had accidentally wandered into a final Zelda dungeon way before they were equipped to deal with it. A non-call on an obvious slash, a tying goal, and a double minor? That's backbreaking stuff right there, and the game seemed there for Winnipeg to take. If you want a crucible for your team, there it was, and unlike so many years past, Dallas not only met the challenge, but did so with a vengeance. Weathering a double minor against a good team like Winnipeg is no easy task, so you have to hand it to the Stars' perfect PK in this one. Everyone was good, and that includes Kari. Given the generous penalty kill the Stars have iced in the last ten games or so, it was great to see it come up big last night.
I know we're all wishing for a month of Sundays when we decry the lack of penalty calls in the game today, but no one should be happy about how the Stars got on their final power play. That's a L'Oreal call if I've ever seen one, and it's a sign that the officials aren't confident. You are going to need confident officials in Central Division matchups this season, especially when Dustin Byfuglien is involved. Poor guy got hosed there, no two ways about it.
It evened things out a bit considering the missed slash on Demers, but I still don't care for that sort of officiating. Sure would be neat to see what happened if the book was called impartially instead of magically making penalties even out by the end of the game every night. The Stars only drew a single power play on Tuesday, and that was a major factor in their inability to get back into the game against a methodically desperate Toronto team. Tonight they went 2-for-4, and that was your non-empty-netter difference. Those extra opportunities make a big difference, especially with this year's nitro-fueled power play.
Don't discount Jason Spezza's deft little feed back to Klingberg that led to Jamie Benn's goal, either. Moving the puck quickly is the biggest asset any power play has, and Spezza's great reach after corralling the missed shot got the puck back up in time for the quick pass to Seguin. That passing lane for Klingberg (and, more importantly, Seguin's shooting lane) closes down if the puck takes its time getting back to the point, but Spezza knew exactly what he had to do, and he found a high-skill way to accomplish it. A lot of players would turn to protect the puck there and try to shovel it with the backhand, but Jason Spezza does not have time for shielding pucks and shoveling when there are power play goals that need to be scored.
That said, Tyler Seguin's one-time ability is just something else. That pass was whipped over from the point with a lot of pace, and when he actually wound up to shoot I was certain the puck was headed into the netting. I was right about the material and wrong about the location. What a shot, even though it didn't go directly in. And what better accoutrement for such a shot than the assertive rebound dunk by Benn? The joy was palpable after that tally, and while it wasn't quite the Pittsburgh goal of yesteryear, it might have been more satisfying given the context. Dallas had to show that they could beat the good teams in their division, and they did that tonight.
Valeri Nichushkin and Radek Faksa continue to look great together, but you have to think Eaves and/or Moen will eventually force Faksa's (temporary) relegation. Still, given Ruff's consistency on the defense pairs, it wouldn't be the most shocking thing in the world for him to keep Faksa up in Dallas playing regular minutes. Being entrusted with PK time bodes well for any young player, and Faksa deserves it. It's a good problem to have, really.
The weirdest thing about this game was how Dallas almost seemed to dare Winnipeg to amp things up from the opening faceoff. Things got crazy, but Dallas seemed comfortable with it despite some great chances being given up. Maybe they shouldn't have been so comfortable with it? I don't know.
When the dust finally settled at the final buzzer, Dallas had outchanced Winnipeg pretty significantly at even strength. Lots of writers have praised the Jets' youth and size, but high-class talent wielded well might be the toughest thing of all to defend, even if it can be volatile. The Stars have invested quite a bit of budget into mitigating that volatility this season, and you can't really argue with the results. Well, I guess you can argue with anything, but I don't think 13-4-0 is really worth arguing about. It's just great.