The Stars captain has been mired in a goal-scoring slump that is reaching slightly silly proportions. Even though he's still averaging just under a point per game, Benn hasn't scored since his six-point outburst against the Calgary Flames way back on Nov. 14. That will be a calendar month by the time the Stars play their next game Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets, an 11-game drought.
Benn has four assists and a minus-3 rating in those last 11 games, a stretch in which the Stars have gone 4-4-3 and averaged 2.54 goals per game. That average is calculated with a six-goal game against the Anaheim Ducks and five-goal game against the Philadelphia Flyers included - take those out and it's a team average of 1.89 goals per game.
And it's reached the point now where you can tell Benn is feeling the pressure. He continues to create chances and is taking plenty of shots - 45 over the 11 games, including an 8-shot night against the Toronto Maple Leafs - but just can't seem to sneak the puck past a goalie.
Earlier this season, when Claude Giroux was mired in his own scoring slump to start the season, Justin Bourne wrote about the stages of slump denial. He ends the article with this nice little image, which is probably pretty applicable to Benn right about now.
But in the meantime, I'm sure he's doing plenty of damage to his knuckles and walls everywhere. He's only a bounce from freedom, but he'll feel like he's in prison til it comes.
The frustration is starting to become evident in Benn's game. Several times in last night's loss to the Nashville Predators, Benn picked up the puck in his own end and drug it up the ice as if his hockey pants were on fire. He tried to take on three Predators on a few occasions, and it almost worked until his shot rang off a shinpad or the goalie's blocker.
It got so pronounced that Stars coach Lindy Ruff flipped Benn off the top line with Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin, choosing instead to play Antoine Roussel with that duo while putting Benn, for the most part, with Shawn Horcoff and Rich Peverley.
Benn was on the ice for the final minutes as the Stars tried to get something, anything going on offense, and it's clear the switch isn't about Benn's talent. It's just about trying to get those hands, which once easily won the NHL's shooting accuracy contest at the All-Star Game, going again.
The thing is, month-long slumps aren't new for Benn. He went one game longer (and a few calendar days more) without a goal last spring as he battled a wrist injury and the Stars trading linemate Jaromir Jagr to the Boston Bruins.
This time around, the shooting percentage seems to be a bit of the culprit once again.
Benn remains one of the best possession players on the team (second among forwards in Corsi Relative, a rough measure of how a player produces positive shot differential relative to his teammates), but he has a 6.5 percent shooting percentage at the moment when he typically finishes in the 11-12 percent range. And there's no mysterious wrist injury to cast blame on this time. It's just a good, old-fashioned, pipe-ringing scoring slump.
Bourne also wrote about the phrase "gripping the stick too tight" with regard to scoring slumps during last spring's playoffs, when Jonathan Toews couldn't find the back of the net. He didn't buy the physical description, but he did include an interesting and relevant note about the mental state of slumping scorers.
What is a reality is being relaxed mentally, versus being stressed. One of the greatest things about scoring goals is what it allows you comfort within your own roster. It restarts the, "So-and-so hasn't scored since" clock for you, and the pressure is off... And that comfort can provide a type of mental clarity that leads to more goals. You don't need to press as hard, and something about that allows you to stay away from the pack of bodies chasing the puck and find the more dangerous, softer areas better.
If we're playing the body language game, Benn doesn't look relaxed. He looks like he's trying so very, very hard to score the goal that he might be outworking and out-thinking himself when those dangerous scoring chances come about.
Perhaps that's why Ruff shuffled the lines a bit - to allow Benn a mental reset button where he could focus on playing with slightly unfamiliar linemates and watching how the play develops rather than continue to try and force the issue.
After all, this is obviously not about a lack of talent. Benn isn't a player who went on a torrid goal-scoring streak and is finally coming back down to earth. He's still on pace for a 20-goal, 70-point season, which would be by far a career high in assists, thanks to his chemistry with Seguin. It's just those darned goals...
At some point, those will come. The puck will bounce off Nichushkin's visor, a defender's rear end and Benn's knee before going in the net, and he'll have that monkey off his back for good.
It can hardly happen soon enough for the fortunes of his team. The Stars are 6-0 when Benn scores a goal this season and average 4.33 goals for in those games. They are 8-11-5 when he doesn't. Dallas is 11-5-1 when Benn registers a point and 3-6-4 when he doesn't.
Of course, there are plenty of other contributors to that particular issue (and it highlights that the Stars have really had only one consistent scoring line this season), but the personnel of the forwards and some of the depth scoring issues aren't something that can be easily addressed in season without a real breakout performance.
So for the short term at least, we can probably safely say this: as Jamie Benn goes, so goes the Stars offense. And it's just not been going well as of late.