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Stars Finding Defensive Groove

Renewed focus driving recent turnaround

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Dallas Stars
John Klingberg (left) and Esa Lindell (center) have been a dynamic pairing over the past few weeks.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t look now, but the Dallas Stars may have figured something out.

Tuesday night was another example of how a little defensive structure can go a long way. Dallas defeated Phoenix 3-2 in the desert Tuesday. The Coyotes added a goal on a penalty shot with 6 second remaining in regulation. Jason Spezza, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg tallied for Dallas.

However, it was Dallas defense that was the star, as they were able to foil the Coyotes attack.

Johnny Oduya played solid all night. Jordie Benn was steady, as usual. And the pairing of Esa Lindell and John Klingberg may not only be the best set of D-men on the roster, but has rejuvenated Klingberg’s season.

Since Dallas’ 4-2 loss in Philadelphia on Dec. 10, Klingberg and Lindell are a combined plus-5 and Dallas has gone 4-2-1.

Dallas - now 15-14-7 on the season - sits one point behind Los Angeles for the final wild card sport and just four points back of St. Louis for third in the Central Division.

Aside from Dallas’ 6-2 victory over the Ducks on Dec. 13, every game from Dec. 10 has been decided by two goals or fewer. This is not the same Dallas team we saw last season.

I’ll spare you the laundry list of injuries to the forwards this season. But Dallas took another hit this past week as Antoine Roussel was put on injured reserve and Stephen Johns sat again with an injury. Making matters worse Tuesday, the Stars plane was delayed heading into Glendale.

No worries. Jason Dickinson was inserted into the lineup and Jamie Oleksiak continues to impress.

What resulted was a different type of Stars game. Tuesday night wasn’t pretty. At times it was ugly, sloppy and physical. The type of defensive effort that Lindy Ruff and assistant coach James Patrick have been looking for.

Gone were the turnovers in front of the net. Instead, a flick of the wrist by Klingberg kept a first-period chance off the goal line. Late in the third period, Dallas played an old fashioned game of keep-a-way from the Coyotes as their fans showered boos at the Stars.

It’s not pretty, but it’s effective.

Dallas is surrendering 2.3 goals per game in December, much lower than their season average of 3.0, which is good for 25th in the league.

Dallas hopefully will add some injured bodies to the lineup in their upcoming home stand to close out December, as Patrick Sharp, who was hopeful last night, may play Thursday at the American Airlines Center against the woeful Colorado Avalanche.

Dallas’ first three-game winning streak of the season is within reach on Thursday. A playoff spot is also within reach. But for Dallas to continue this turnaround, they must continue their commitment to the defensive side of the game.