In hockey vernacular it’s called a trap game. Everyone knows about it, but there doesn’t seem to be a cure to stop it from happening. The first game after a long road trip is always filled with landmines to be avoided. Whether it’s body fatigue, mental tiredness or just the normal desire to exhale after a week of pressure, the trap game happens to every team at every level. This was the biggest obstacle to overcome last night. Wait, there was one other obstacle and much like the trap game, everyone knows what needs to be done, but there isn’t a coach in the NHL that has come up with an adequate solution.
The assignment seems straightforward enough. Stop Connor McDavid, win a hockey game. Then again, that’s how 31 NHL teams game plan when the Edmonton Oilers are the opponent, but not many are able to execute. Knowing there is an irresistible force heading your way doesn’t mean it’s easy to become the immovable object. The numbers are reminiscent of another Oilers great—one Wayne Gretzky.
Only two players in NHL history have averaged two points a game for an entire season, Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Super Mario was the last player to accomplish that feat in 1991-92. Thirty years later, McDavid currently is averaging 1.94 points per game. The first overall pick in the 2015 draft leads the league in goals, assists, points and highlight reel moments. One other not-so-fun-fact—Mc David scored his first NHL at the American Airlines Center against the Stars. One year later, he scored his first career Hat Trick in Dallas as well. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to stop McDavid. If you fail, we will disavow any knowledge of your actions, but it will be seen on national television and replayed across numerous social media platforms.
That’s what makes the Stars 6-3 loss to Edmonton so hard to swallow. The task was to keep the NHL’s leading scorer from being a major factor in the game. Dallas accomplished that part of the mission, but made two mistakes in the defensive zone that led to defeat. For a team that played so well defensively on their recent road trip, mistakes of this magnitude were a run against form.
The first goal was a mistake on two parts, Colin Miller was not able to stay with Klim Kostin as the Oilers center walked out around the net and passed the puck to a wide open Mattias Janmark for the easy tap-in goal. The former Star was wide-open on the back door, as Tyler Seguin did not realize Jamark had broken to the net until it was too late.
The biggest misjudgment came from the Stars defensemen least expected to err when the game is on the line. Miro Heiskanen had a stellar defensive effort up until the 11:43 mark of the third period. The Finnish blueliner had been crisp with his puck movement and decisions as to whether to skate with possession or make a pass to exit the defensive zone. Then, something happened that is a rarity. Heiskanen made an unforced error. His pass out of the zone went directly to Leon Draisaitl, the NHL’s second leading scorer, a quick pass to Warren Foegele, and the game winning goal was in the net.
Miro’s miscue hurts on a couple of levels. Allowing the game winning score is difficult enough but it happened on the national stage. Dallas fans desperately wanted the Stars top defenseman to get the notoriety that comes with being elite. To gain traction in the Norris Trophy conversation, Miro must shine when the spotlight is focused on Dallas. He played excellent, but the one moment late in the third will be the lasting impression on some Norris voters.
As for McDavid, the Stars held him in check for 56 minutes. No shots on goal and no quality scoring chances for the NHL’s best player. But with under four minutes to go, Dallas pressed at the offensive blue line, a 2 on 1 resulted, with the puck on the stick of the player no one in Victory Green wanted to see get a chance to plunge the dagger. Great players make you pay when it hurts the most. Mc David shot 5-hole for goal number 29 and put a realistic end to the night’s proceedings.
The silver lining to the night was that the errors made by the Stars were mental and can be cleaned up. Miro is still the man you want on the ice and with the puck when the game is on the line. One play doesn’t change his status. Trap games happen and are best put in the rearview mirror. One game remains before a much-needed Christmas break. The good news is that neither a trap nor Connor McDavid should be found anywhere near the AAC come Friday.