Last night’s victory over the St. Louis Blues was instructive. For fans of the Dallas Stars, it was an Aaron Rodgers moment: Relax. For their foes, and for the rest of the NHL, it should stand as a sobering reminder that this team hasn’t been “figured out.” No system has been cracked. Injuries have disrupted the start of the season, but there are still reasons for significant optimism.
We’ll start with the standings. Last night’s win left Dallas 7th in the Western Conference and 4th in the Central Division. For better context, the Stars are five points behind both the conference-leading Edmonton Oilers (in and of itself a sign of how little attention we should pay standings at this point of the season) and Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks.
Playing with one skate un-tied, the Stars remain firmly in the thick of things. Given the context of the first 11 games that’s a good result.
Part of why the Stars have been able to linger is their high-end skill. Yes, the “injured Stars” macro is almost as long as the “Stars’ defensive prospect” macro these days, but when a depleted lineup includes Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg , there’s a limit to how far you can fall. Last night, the foursome registered ten points (3 G and 7 A). Benn struck for three helpers, Seguin had four, and Klingberg’s first goal was of the “No, there isn’t going to be a comeback tonight, actually” variety.
Outside of last night’s 4-spot, Seguin has goals in three of his last four games and somehow feels underrated so far this season. Spezza has goals in back-to-back games and has scored in as many games (4) as he has failed to score (4) this season. Klingberg’s point streak is at three games (2 goals, 1 assist), and Jamie (4 assists in the past two games) was back to his old dominant ways against the Blues.
The Stars aren’t going to get Ales Hemsky back this season, and it seems unlikely Mattias Janmark will arrive in time to make any kind of impact. That stings, but it’s offset by the fact that Jiri Hudler cannot possibly be sick forever, and Cody Eakin could return before the end of November. Concussions are trickier to predict, but reports have Patrick Sharp at least shooting the puck.
In their absence Radek Faksa has taken yet another step forward and Devin Shore looks exactly like a full-time NHL player. You could argue that Faksa’s emergence happened last season, but is there any way Shore is third in team scoring (1 G , 5 A, 6 Pts) without holes above him in the lineup? Knowledge is power, and the Stars have learned a ton about their roster over the past 11 games.
Defensively, it feels like things might be clicking into place a little bit as well. Stephen Johns scored again last night, and is 6th on the Stars in terms of SAT (53.7%). His partner, Johnny Oduya, is at 53.23%. Esa Lindell’s name also keeps popping up in connection with solid play, and good decision-making.
Coach Ruff is rotating more this season (outside of Jamie Oleksiak, every Stars defenceman has played in at least 6 games) and comfortable pairings are beginning to emerge. As of press time, the Stars had moved to 50% SAT for the season despite a down start from Klingberg and company. Again, under bad circumstances they’ve been fine and flashed signs things could get much better.
Last night was a huge test – a divisional game on the heels of a dispiriting OTL – and they passed. Their next test – a home-and-home against the Blackhawks – is looming. After that they get another divisional game (Winnipeg) and a swing through Canada (Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver). Keep an eye on November 15th. By the time the will they / won’t they Stars return home to face New Jersey we’ll be nearly at the season’s quarter-point with (maybe) a much better picture of where the season is heading.