It's always easy to focus on like-for-like replacement. Someone leaves the lineup, and immediately, speculation begins about who is going to take the vacated spot. Who will take Hemsky's place? Who will score Seguin's goals? In Dallas' unfortunate situation, the impulse becomes acute. We're talking about three separate lineup spots, half of the established top six.
Such thinking is further encouraged by Jamie Benn's blistering post-ASG streak (nine goals since the All Star Break). Isn't he actively picking up the slack? Don't we just want more of that? Well, yes. Stars fans would love an endless procession of Jamie Benn hat tricks down the stretch. Furthermore, my bet is the team would be rather successful were that to happen, but that's not the only path. To keep this boat moving in the right direction, the Stars are going to need some other areas of their game to improve.
The first is obvious enough: goaltending. Whisper it, but after last night, embattled starter Kari Lehtonen has quietly strung together a sequence of four good starts and six of his last eight. It began with a struggling win against Ottawa, got better against Winnipeg, and reached a crescendo during a four game stretch against the New York Rangers,Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, and St. Louis Blues.
Jonas Enroth, despite the exhausted team in front of him, also seemed more than capable of providing quality from the backup position versus the Avs. Anecdotaly, we're starting to see That Save with a little more frequency, and if we look at Stars goaltending as a whole, 12 of the Stars last 15 games have stayed below this season's current average of 3.12 goals against per game. This is important because, even without Tyler Seguin, the Stars offense seems more than capable of generating chances (47 shots in two games since the injury).
As easy as it is to focus on goals-for, it's really all about the differential, always has been. What if, instead of replacing Seguin's offensive production outright, the Stars are able to shave their goals against column? There's certainly more ground to make up, that's just the reality of a 3.10 Goals-For-Per-Game (4th) / 3.12 Goals-Against-Per-Game (27th) split. More than any other players on the roster, Lehtonen and Enroth hold the ability to offset Dallas' trio of offensive departures.
That's two names, for this thing to really stay on track; I'll have to give you six more. After a season of moving pieces, it seems like Coach Lindy Ruff has finally settled on his ideal defensive alignment: Trevor Daley, Jyrki Jokipakka,Jason Demers, Jordie Benn, Alex Goligoski, and John Klingberg. We might see a little bit of David Schlemko or possibly the return of Patrick Nemeth down the stretch, but at this stage I think the hope is that Lindy has largely found the horses he's going to ride.
On defense, the blueprint for success mirrors the diverse range of abilities at the Stars' disposal. Trevor Daley must continue to generate the offense and special team scoring that makes his frenetic game work. Demers and Goligoski have to keep soaking up tough defensive assignments, limiting chances against, and generally enabling their respective partners to be successful. Jordie Benn has got to find a way to focus on the solid play that made him such a pleasant surprise last season, rather than fixating on the Hollywood passes that all-too-frequently turn into crushing mistakes. Jokipakka's earned his spot in the lineup, now he's got to keep it, and John Klingberg, woah boy. All Klingberg has to do is continue his charge up the rookie scoring rankings.
This is the reality of losing a cumulative ninety-five points of offense. No one player can just step up and fill that gap, and realistically, if an NHL team could just produce an extra hundred points or so worth of offense mid-season, that team wouldn't be stuck in the much beneath the playoff line. That's GM of the Century type maneuvering. It's not like the Stars were making anybody remember 1999.
So, yes, celebrate the offense, it's historic and wonderful. Also, hope Hemsky sticks to the aggressive timetable the team seems to have set, that Seguin heals quickly, and good gawd, is that Val Nichushkin's music? Just don't forget, when you stop to make "can they make it" playoff calculations, to factor in the rest of the bunch as well.