This was a tough stretch on the ole schedule. Last week saw our Dallas Stars play three games, including a pair back-to-back, all against serious divisional foes. Ever since the Stars' stunning start the idea of sustainability has been a major talking point. Yes, they won early, but were they winning against good teams, in the right way, to the degree that fans could view to-date success as sustainable?
While it's true that no single stretch this season is going to provide a definitive answer, the fact they drew five from a possible six points is a pretty good place to start. Think about the fact that, on either side of Christmas, the Stars shutout both Chicago and St. Louis. Those are big boy games against big boy teams. Jamie Benn? Still scoring. The defense? Still stingy. The goaltending? Getting the job done.
It's no surprise to see the beat go on in this week's Up/Down analysis.
Milk and Cookies
Kari Lehtonen (1 GP / 0 GA / 1.000 SV%) - If you're only going to play once, I guess it's best to make it a doozy. This was a necessary bounce-back after two nasty goals against in Minnesota. Here's hoping it's the start of run.
Antti Niemi (2 GP / .965 SV% / 1 SO) - The trick here is figuring out how many points to dock Niemi for looking somewhat suspect in a shootout the Stars probably had no right to reach in the first place. Thank goodness he shutout (and shut up) the front-running Hawks in Big D to start the week. It makes things easier.
Patrick Sharp (2 G / 5 Pts / 65.2% CF) - I'm sure scoring in each of last week's big games is a close second to this Up ranking on Sharp's birthday list.
Jamie Benn (1 G / 4 Pts / 57% CF) - Points in each of his last five games, and Captain Benn hasn't been held off the scoresheet in consecutive games since an ice-cold three-spot to start the month. Did the dirty work against St. Louis.
Antoine Roussel (0 PIMs / 1 Penalty Drawn / 5 Hits) - Three tough divisional games and Rooster didn't take a single penalty. The aggro-ledger loved last week.
Colton Sceviour (2 G / 15:06 ATOI / +10 High-Danger Scoring Chance Differential) - Sceviour stepped up and made a difference this week. He's even made himself a part of the Stars' suddenly-better penalty kill (2:24 ASHTOI).
Vernon Fiddler (51.6% FOW / 46.2% ZSO / 55.7% CF) - Steady, mostly good, just another in a long line of effective-yet-understated weeks.
Ales Hemsky (0 G / 0 G / Seriously, 0 G) - Brian Elliott is a mean, nasty man. Jokes aside Hemsky jumped over 15 minutes ATOI this past week, and in that time produced 11 shots on goal, a 53.4% CF, and five individual high-danger scoring chances.
Jordie Benn (44.7% ZSO / +11 Scoring Chance Differential / 9 Hits) - A big, physical week for Yukon Benn this past week that included 14:58 TOI, four hits, and two blocks in the shutout win over St. Louis.
Jason Demers (20:42 ATOI / 2 A / 46.9% ZSO) - Picked up a pair of assists against the Blackhawks which is equal to the number of points his unit surrendered in three games last week. Six PIMs is a little high for my tastes, but all-in-all a good week.
Alex Goligoski (23:24 ATOI / 2 A / +15 High-Danger Scoring Chance Differential) - Another defender doing the business for Dallas lately. No complaints this week, just quality.
Jyrki Jokipakka (3 GP / 14:12 ATOI / +19 Scoring Chance Differential) - Kevin played decent minutes and kept his would-be-competition on the bench despite a very difficult back-to-back this week. I don't know that revelatory is the right word, but he's definitely having a season worth noticing.
John Klingberg (22:48 ATOI / +19 High-Danger Scoring Chance Differential / 1 A) - More than a single Power Play Point would have been nice considering Klingberg averaged three minutes with the extra man, but overall, hard to fault the defense this week.
Travis Moen (1 GP / 7:42 ATOI / 1 Fight) - The second night of a double header is usually tougher, so it was interesting to see Moen tag in. Still, he did his part beating on the pesky Blues. Back in, back up.
Mattias Janmark (1 G / 13:00 ATOI / 56.5% ZSO) - Even though his scoring has tailed off a bit (five points in December), the rookie's diligent attention to all facets of the game continues to draw justifiable praise.
Cody Eakin (2 Pts / 60.5% FOW / 2 Drawn Penalties) - Eakin has finished better than 60% in the faceoff circle (5 times) more than he's finished below 50% (4 times) this month. That's an area of his game that had to improve.
Tyler Seguin (1 G / 63.7% CF / 9 SOG) - Seguin did not manage his usual level of production, but the goal against St. Louis was big at the time. Interesting did you know... if you look at the top 10 Power Play scorers over the past season, Seguin has scored the lowest percentage of his total points with the man advantage (43 of 124 points).
Johnny Oduya (20:36 ATOI / 44.3% CF / 44% ZSO) - As much a part of the resurgence Stars D as anyone. Oduya is throwing the body around (6 Hits) and throwing himself into shooting lanes (12 blocks). That's how you win over a new fanbase, folks.
Lumps of Coal
Patrik Nemeth (DNP) - If the Stars stay completely separate from the pack, how do you justify shaking up the D to give Nemeth a chance? We're trending towards lost season territory.
Jamie Oleksiak (DNP) - What I said about Nemeth? Repeat it here. Also, as the more heralded prospect, how long until Big Rig's name starts coming up in trade rumors? If Nill is going to make a major move, is Oleksiak a piece of the puzzle?
Patrick Eaves (66.7% ZSO / 0 Pts / 1:42 APPTOI) - Tagged out in game 2 against the Blues, and played just over 11 minutes in the two previous games (11:04 against Chicago, 11:13 against St. Louis). He's having a bit of trouble sticking at the moment.
Valeri Nichushkin (0 Pts / 2 High-Danger Chances / 4 SOG) - Nuke's ice time dropped last week (12:12 ATOI) versus a stretch of five games above 15 minutes to start the month. You could argue he should have scored, but then again, you can make that argument most weeks. Incremental progress can be so frustrating when it's surrounded by excellence.
Jason Spezza (1 G / 53.1% FOW / 2:54 APPTOI) - A seeing-eye goal against Chicago, but then not much else made the actual scoresheet. All of this despite playing 4:25 on the power play in Chicago and 3:21 at home against the Blues. Good, not great.