Ultimately, a hockey game is nothing more than a collection of moments. Some of these moments are obvious (goals, crucial saves) while others are a bit harder to discern (a well-timed shift or crisp zone exit). Among the more controversial are fights. Recently, debate has raged over fights, and the role they play in the modern NHL. The #fancystats crowd would have you believe they’re superfluous violence only tangentially related to the action on the ice, but that idea is clearly wrong. To understand why they're wrong, we need look no further than last night’s dramatic victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
First, we set the stage. The Dallas Stars stumbled into Arizona last night in a full-fledged panic. After winning the
gimmick shootout in New Jersey, they dropped seven straight. More critically, Dallas had only a pair of points to show for the stretch, valuable ground lost in the packed Central Division. The defense was a mess, their goaltenders were struggling, and outside of a Tyler Seguin hat trick, the offense was on life support.
Countless arm-chair coaches leapt to offer solutions, but what the Stars needed was a hero, a leader. In Jamie Benn, the boys in victory green got both. The Captain wasn’t willing to wait for the game to develop. There wasn’t any time to lose. Instead, the dynamic forward squared off against fellow superstar Martin Hanzal and began to chuck knuckles. It’s a type of bold action we’ve seen before from the Stars unquestioned emotional center. Sure, the goals, assists, and points are nice (121, 163, 284 respectively), but none of those stats count heart.
That Arizona scored before Benn could rejoin his team was inconsequential. Sure, the Coyotes were winning on the scoreboard, and well on their way to a 13-6 advantage in shots on goal, but neither of those things mattered. It wasn’t about the lead. The critical thing was sending a message, which Benn and later Brenden Dillon had accomplished. True fans knew the damage was done. Like wildfire, you could see inspiration spreading throughout the Stars lineup.
Arizona scored again in the second, but it hardly mattered. The now-galvanized Stars rewarded their captain’s selflessness with a pair of late-period goals, and a third to start the final frame. Even when Arizona struck back to tie, like a Kyle Chipchura punch to the face, the Stars simply squared their shoulders and responded.
This morning, there is a palpable sense of relief in Stars-nation. Justifiable accolades are being heaped on Kari Lehtonen, and the ongoing scoring exploits of Seguin are hard to ignore. Even Erik Cole is officially off the schneid. These are good things, but they’re not the only good things. Without Jamie Benn, Dallas’ best player, taking himself off the ice for the first five minutes of a critical road game against a team likely to battle the Stars all season for one of the Western Conference’s playoff spots, things could have ended in absolute disaster.