As we have undoubtedly covered before, winning in the National Hockey League is a very difficult thing to do. Like, it’s just really freaking hard to come out with two points in arguably the professional sports league with the most parity. Add in a team missing key pieces up and down the roster, and the odds of winning drop even further.
This is what makes the Stars recent string of wins and their position in the Western Conference playoff picture even more surprising.
The cast of walking injured have been listed ad nauseam: John Klingberg, Connor Carrick, Marc Methot, Stephen Johns, and in the recent past, Martin Hanzal, Devin Shore, and Ben Bishop. Yet, the team still remains competitive. It is actually unbelievable. The Stars have absorbed body blow after body blow, and yet they remain standing, albeit bleeding, all the while checking off games and collecting important points.
So how are they doing it? Well, they are winning in the ugliest of ways.
Since the injury to John Klingberg, the change in the Stars’ game has been apparent in almost every area, except one: defense. It should be shouted from the highest point in Dallas that Joel Hanley, Taylor Fedun, and Gavin Bayreuther have literally kept the Stars from implosion on the backend. Combined with Esa Lindell, Miro Heiskanen, and Roman Polak, the Stars defense is still top 5 in the league.
Now, they are giving up a ton of shots. (Surrendering over 40 against San Jose on December 8th alone.) Dallas is doing a good job of limiting a lot of those to shots from distance, keeping guys out of the high danger scoring areas. Thanks to the patchwork defense, not many pucks have been going in.
It’s more than just defense, though.
Ben Bishop is quietly having a fantastic season. As of this writing, the Stars 6’7” netminder ranks 8th in save percentage with a .925 mark (among goaltenders with at least 10 games played) and third in goals against average (a sparkling 2.28).
Safe to say that Bishop has been good since the drop of the puck, and the Stars have needed him to be. It’s no secret the Stars are winning games that they shouldn’t, maybe in spite of themselves, because the goaltending has been so good this season. How many times have you heard that around this town?
And that is the theme of this stretch of hockey. Where one area has sagged for the club, another area has picked them up. i.e. the special teams.
The Stars penalty kill has been a saving grace during a stretch where the powerplay has been largely ineffective. The Stars rank 5th on the PK with a 83.9 mark while ranking 15th on the powerplay (converting on 19.5 percent of their chances).
The struggling powerplay might be the one glaring example of where the Stars miss John Klingberg the most.
The powerplay really seems to have no sense of direction at the moment. Which is strange to say considering Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov exist on the top unit. However, they are missing their quarterback and, make no mistake, the longer the team is without Klingberg, the more we realize that he was the one who stirred that drink.
And still, the Stars continue to win hockey games in spite of a struggling man advantage.
If at the end of season we take one thing away from this stretch, it’s that the Stars are capable of winning games in a myriad of ways. The Stars are being well coached and learning how to win. We will also appreciate the key points that they have picked up for themselves when the regulars do find their ways back into the lineup.
At that point, how good can this team be?
We can’t really answer that question at the moment, but we can predict. The Stars with a healthy roster will probably roll out a line up that looks like this:
Jamie Benn- Tyler Seguin- Alexander Radulov
Devin Shore- Jason Spezza- Brett Ritchie
Blake Comeau- Radek Faksa- Tyler Pitlick
Jason Dickinson- Martin Hanzal- Mattias Janmark
John Klingberg- Esa Lindell
Miro Heiskanen- Stephen Johns
Marc Methot- Roman Polak/Connor Carrick
That lineup looks incredibly talented and tested on the back end and pretty even upfront. Combined with the goaltending the team has been gifted, are the Stars one of the most dangerous teams in the West with a healthy lineup? (A luxury the club has enjoyed at no point during this season.)
The answer? Who knows.
What we do know is the Stars currently sit in the first wild card spot with 35 points and a record of 16 wins, 11, losses, and 3 OT losses. The Stars are also 8-5-2 since the Klingberg injury.
They have played themselves into the playoff discussion in spite of a poor luck on the injury front and, at times, in spite of themselves. (We haven’t even mentioned the goal scoring drop off of Tyler Seguin either.)
Stars fans should relish what they are seeing right now because by all advanced metrics and having numbers 12 and 13 on the depth chart playing regularly on the blueline tells us that this isn’t supposed to be happening. The one-goal games that they have won, the comebacks on the road, and the fact that none of it looks pleasing to the eye, is actually a very pleasing sign for the future.