New Look Stars Gaining Momentum
It is funny how sometimes when a situation appears beyond repair, that a team can finally just settle down and start playing without inhibitions. This appears to be the case with the Dallas Stars. There is currently an undoubted joy and innocent freedom to their game. Only one week ago General Manager Jim Nill auctioned off every tradable asset on the team to the highest bidders. This saw the departures of key stalwarts Patrick Eaves, Johnny Oduya, Jordie Benn and Lauri Korpikoski. The Stars were a “selling” team at the deadline. This if often code for the team has packed away any hope for the playoffs but it doesn’t appear to be the case here.
One player significant for the fact he wasn’t traded was Patrick Sharp. In the eyes of most, Sharp appeared to have the most value to a team looking to make a splash in the playoffs. After all few players have as much experience in the post season as what Sharp possesses. However, due to a lingering injury of the undisclosed nature, Sharp was deemed un-tradable. Therefore he stayed in Dallas and remains in the lineup on a daily basis.
Not only has the winger remained in the team but Sharp is playing some fine hockey at this moment in time. Playing on a line with Radek Faksa and Curtis McKenzie is paying dividends most notably for Faksa’s highlight reel goal against the Islanders. A more unique goal, you’ll be hard pressed to find!
On the back end the Stars still aren’t perfect. Inexperience is the name of the name for the Stars blue liners. Veteran Dan Hamhuis has actually played in more NHL games than the rest of the group combined. Second in experience is third year player, the enigmatic John Klingberg.
Despite his perceived lack of experience, Klingberg has quickly become an instrumental part of the Stars offense. He had a very disjointed start to the season however, clearly missing his old partner Alex Goligoski who departed for the Arizona Coyotes as a free agent. Sanctuary for Klingberg has been found in the form of rookie Finnish defender Esa Lindell who has worked through his own growing pains to form a very strong tandem for Lindy Ruff.
The Stars are at their best when the quartet of Klingberg, and forwards Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, and captain Jamie Benn are functioning at optimal levels. Currently that is exactly what is happening for the Stars and the results show.
Klingberg celebrates his winner against the Panthers (GettyImages)
Three wins in the last four games is an impressive run for a team that badly needed it. Who they have beaten has been even more head turning. To kick things off, they overturned a third period two goal deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 at home, and over the weekend they recorded back to back road wins at Florida and at Washington. The Capitals were riding a 15 game home winning streak which dated back to 2016 and the Panthers too are fighting for playoff survival. These were two serious victories.
On this run, the key quartet has been providing the fuel to the engine for the Stars. Spezza has 5 points including the game winner at Washington. Seguin has 5 assists thriving in his currently more creative role. Klingberg has 8 points in his last 6 games and also got the game winner late on against the Panthers. Benn continues his torrid run with points in 15 of his last 17 contests which has pushed the former Art Ross winner over a point per game on the yea,r and back into the top 10 in the league in scoring.
Benn, Seguin and Spezza are stepping up (GettyImages)
That is not to say that the supporting cast hasn’t been stellar too. As previously mentioned Faksa and Sharp are chipping in, rookie Devin Shore scored a big goal in D.C., and the return finally of Ales Hemsky has gone a long way to helping the Stars have a more vertical, and mobile threat which is of course their bread and butter.
Another who has been impressive of late has been Remi Elie who only recently made his NHL debut after the deadline. While he has not yet made it onto the scoresheet his play has been noticeable and he is being tested in all situations. With the absence of Antoine Roussel until the end of the season, Elie will be asked to fill the Frenchman’s shoes as the man for any task in the Dallas team.
Remi Elie (40) has made a positive early impression (GettyImages)
I cannot comment on the recent performances without giving credit to the much maligned Kari Lehtonen in the net. He has put in back to back 40+ save performances to win two huge road games for the Stars. They return home to face Ottawa next but following that they have 10 of 12 away from the American Airlines Center. If the Stars have any chance of sniffing a playoff spot then Lehtonen will need to be a huge player in the coming weeks.
Not much has gotten past Kari Lehtonen lately (GettyImages)
The Stars seem on the surface at least to be playing a more relaxed game recently. They have that belief back in the group that they can find ways to score the timely goal and win games that maybe they haven’t deserved. That is the sign of a team ready to fight for a spot in the post season. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out but with plenty of players now gaining valuable experience, this can only help the Stars in the long run.