When Murphy’s Law is applied to hockey, the results are a mixture of tragedy and comedy. How else can you explain last night’s quick expulsion of Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin, which forced backup goalie Landon Bow to play net in his second-ever NHL appearance against the highest scoring team in the NHL? It didn’t go great, and it wasn’t Bow’s fault. The Lightning stomped the Stars 6-0, and the lead became insurmountable with a little more than five minutes left in the third period. Khudobin would squander a second opportunity in goal, and get pulled for Bow again.
On the Mikhail Sergachev goal, the first of the Lightning’s three-goal blitzkrieg in a span of two minutes (and one second) that expanded the lead from one to four goals, the offensive zone pressure began off a cross-corner dump-in by Yanni Gourde. This dump-in forced Khudobin to try to play the puck as it caromed in front of the net. Khudobin nearly whiffed on the effort, which led to Braydon Coburn stepping into a one-timer.
After Coburn’s shot attempt, Brayden Point initiated the cycle when he won the battle for the puck against Miro Heiskanen, smacking the puck to Nikita Kucherov. The puck would bounce from Kucherov to Coburn to Sergachev, who would whip a shot attempt on goal that missed the net. But the Lightning offensive attack would persist because of Stars defenseman Roman Polak.
Polak tried to put the puck off the glass to clear the zone, but it took a strange bounce, landing instead in Point’s lap. At that moment, the sequence sped up. Point dropped it to Kucherov, who fed Sergachev as he was lined up on the weak side, all alone. Sergachev walked into the right circle and picked the top left corner in stride with a piercing wrist shot.
Encouraging tidbits can be gleaned from this goal. The Kucherov line, which gets criticized in this space frequently for its insipid forecheck and cycle, retrieved pucks and forced turnovers. Sergachev has a missile for a wrist shot, but there are scenarios where, instead of shooting it in stride from the top of the circle, he lowers his head and drives down the fringe of the slot and tries to thread a pass to a Lightning forward in front of the net.
A theme of the Lightning’s three, quick, first-period goals is the capitalization of Dallas’s poor puck management and lackluster effort. On the Tyler Johnson goal, a neutral-zone turnover off a faceoff won by the Stars allowed Ondrej Palat to gain possession of the puck. When he assessed his surroundings, he realized Steven Stamkos was behind him, ready to shoot through the middle, so Palat bought a second and fed Stamkos. Stamkos watched three Stars skaters converge on him as he crossed the blue line, and demonstrated poise and command in his puck-handling as he calmly navigated the intensifying pressure. The concentration of Stars skaters on Stamkos left Johnson unmarked on the left side, and once Stamkos provided an area pass into the slot, Johnson darted to the puck and, with one hand, shoveled it past Khudobin. Foolishly, Khudobin went for the poke check.
This ghastly play led to the aforementioned goaltender being switched for Bow, partly because of Khudobin’s appalling play, and partly as a plea to the Stars to offer a better effort because this type of listless performance is deadly against the Lightning juggernaut. But alas, the bloodshed would continue.
One of my favorite Lightning quirks these days is Kucherov setting his own line changes. It seems pretty clear that the coaching staff would let Kucherov play through all four lines if he wants to, so it is always amusing to watch Kucherov stay on the ice for an extra twenty to forty seconds with the subsequent line to see if he can collect any offensive traction. Between the autonomy he has with his ice time and his commandeering of the power play, he really plays the role of another coach.
On the Kucherov goal, Point and Gourde had gone for a line change, and Dan Girardi hurled a stretch pass up the boards to Kucherov, who proceeded to pull a cheeky pokecheck on Mattias Janmark, allowing the Lightning to open up an odd-man rush opportunity and mini two-on-one because Anthony Cirelli had his man tied up in front.
This was just sloppy hockey from the Stars. Kucherov might always win that battle against Janmark, but Stars forward Denis Gurianov sailed past Killorn, and that poor positioning is unacceptable against the Lightning. The game ended quickly because the Stars repeatedly surrendered the puck in prime real estate and didn’t have the defensive effort to mitigate their loose play.