John Klingberg left last night's slum-buster against the New Jersey Devils after a handful of shifts. Several minutes later Razor somberly announced that it was a lower body injury, and that the young defender would not return. As of this writing, there's not a lot of data beyond that. Klingberg will be evaluated, and the already-beleaguered Stars defense will need to quickly adjust to a new reality. With 16 games remaining in their regular season, there simply isn't time for anything else.
Obviously, any prolonged absence is going to fundamentally change the Stars. Klingberg simply did too many things at too high a level for it to be otherwise. They're better with him on the ice. Full stop. With that said, several factors have aligned to make his absence fascinating. The Stars, simply put, cannot try to be the same team they were with Klingberg in the lineup. So what can they be?
We'll start with the announcement that, for Sunday at least, Jamie Oleksiak is likely to tag in. Physically, that's a night/day change. The Stars will go from a magician to an 18/00 strength barbarian. At 6'7" 260 lbs, adding Oleksiak is like adding 1.5 John Klingbergs into the lineup. He gives the Stars something entirely different, and he's not alone. A recent injury (Jordie Benn) and the Stars' lone deadline move (Jyrki Jokipakka) have placed Patrik Nemeth back in the active lineup. Though he is not a human/titan hybrid like Big Rig, the Swedish defender does tip the scales at a healthy 6'3" 230 lbs.
In Oleksiak and Nemeth, the Stars have added nearly 500 lbs of meat to their backline. For Stars fans grieving the loss of an All-World defender that might not sound like much of a consolation prize, but it shouldn't be dismissed. With both Oleksiak and Nemeth in the fold, the way you gameplan the Stars changes. They're going to hit you now, they're going to beat on you, and they're going to have to add simplicity to the attack. That sounds an awful lot like playoff-brand hockey.
This change is further reinforced by a series of moves up top. Jamie Benn (6'2" 210 lbs) might be slumping, but Valeri Nichushkin (6'4" 205 lbs) and Jason Spezza (6'3" 220) are not. Brett Ritchie (6'3" 220 lbs) was recalled last night, and Radek Faksa (6'3" 210 lbs) sure seems here to stay.
No, Spezza and Nuke aren't glass-shattering bangers, but they're comfortable along the walls. Ritchie and Faksa, meanwhile, bring the pain. Had she been wearing a Devils sweater last night, I honestly think Ritchie would have run his own mother, and Faksa has been leaving a trail of bodies in his wake for about the last month. Benn, though struggling to score, remains happy to mix things up physically.
That's a different sort of Stars, isn't it? They're going to miss the fluidity Klingberg brings to the breakout and power play. They're also going to need to find a counter to speed around the edges. In particular, Nemeth and Oleksiak are going to need to display a higher level of concentration. But what if they rise to the occasion? There is a nastiness to this roster, now. If they can harness it, we might wind up with a version of the Dallas Stars better suited to win a street fight.