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Game 22 Afterwords: The Stars Are Really (Actually) Good, Now

As the Vancouver Canucks can testify, many times over

Vancouver Canucks v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

No, you can’t stop the music

Nobody can stop the music

Take the spark from love

Make the rain fall up

’Cause that’s easier to do.


It’s common practice in hockey to give boring quotes to the media. While you can argue about the underlying causes of this unfortunate homogeneity, you can understand teams’ reluctance in giving what might turn into “bulletin board material” for the other team’s locker room. Even one small quote can turn into a t-shirt campaign.

So when your team is riding a hot streak the likes of which you see once every few years, if you’re lucky? Well, even in a vacuum, you can understand why fans might be a tad reticent to start crowing. And when you contextualize that hot streak with the paper-thin job security of some folks in the organization just three weeks ago after the horrific start, well, then it becomes even more understandable that some national writers weren’t quite up to speed on how good the Stars’ had been just a couple of days ago.

Heck, maybe it’s even excusable that ESPN—the World-wide Leader in Sports©—even dropped the Stars in their power rankings last week, from 22 to 23. We get it, the Stars can’t make everyone forget about their dreadful start, the top guys weren’t scoring much, Roope Hintz and Klingberg were hurt, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

But the nice thing about being a fan is that you don’t really have to worry about bulletin board material. To enjoy your team’s success is to flout death itself; for all teams will rise and fall, and all of us will one day pass away. To live our lives as fans, or as people, seeking primarily to minimize the whiplash when things inevitably turn is to die our death prematurely.

The Stars are tied for the third-most regulation wins in the NHL. Yes, they are “only” a wild card team right now, thanks to that dreadful beginning, but that—combined with their stellar underlying differentials—should make their 2nd-overall xGF% ranking that much more impressive, shouldn’t it? This isn’t a team juicing its Corsi numbers by flinging pucks on low-percentage shots; this is a team that is figuring out how to score goals, and doing it in spite of Roope Hintz and John Klingberg’s absences.

The Stars have scored at least four goals in six of their nine games on this points streak. Since that miserable showing in Buffalo that seems eons ago, the Stars have been held to fewer than two goals only once. They are defending as well as any team in the league, their goaltending has looked more and more solid as the year has gone on, and Jamie Benn has finally shaken the frost off his mane, and roared.

This is a team to be proud of, right now, and I think even moreso because of their start than in spite of it. Pick your sports aphorism of choice: overcoming adversity, playoff mentality, whatever. The Stars are playing with the skill, tenacity, and confidence of a team that knows its weaknesses and doesn’t care one whit about them, because they are going to overwhelm you with their collective strengths.

This isn’t a team that’s hanging on and getting points out of overtime and the shootout, either. As much as the Stars would have benefited from some loser points during their opening slog, this recent run has been largely a regulation victory fest. They are getting the lead at evens and holding off the other teams’ charge. That breeds confidence.

Take that 5-on-3 penalty kill, for instance. That could have been a “here we go again” moment, where the Stars lose a special teams battle after a specious penalty call to put them down two men. Instead, they come up huge, and respond just a few minutes later with their own power play goal on a beautiful Jamie Benn snipe.

In the building, I have to say that it felt like Dallas’s game for about 58 of the 60 minutes. Even after the disallowed goal early—what an exciting play to monitor inches of a skate’s zone entry, love that rule, hockey is so much better for it—the Stars were still very clearly outplaying the Canucks. This was a game the Canucks only ever looked like they had a chance to steal, not win outright. And Jamie Benn’s swagger in this one reflected the Stars’ mood as a whole. They knew they were the better team, then they went out and proved it.

I did sort of groan right before Benn’s first goal, as it looked like he was passing up a shot in favor of a backhand five-hole move that evoked far too many painful breakaway memories. But Benn didn’t score 40 goals by pure chance a few years ago, and the move did what it was designed to do. It opened up Markstrom enough for a strong backhand attempt to (barely) get through after ticking off one of the leg pads, en route. After the disallowed goal, that moment felt monumental. And aside from the 5-on-3, this whole game really felt like a victory lap on homecoming night.

Perhaps it was, at least in a smallish sense. The Stars were certainly doing all right before they went on the road, but they rode home like a conquering legion bearing shields, swords, and standards of defeated foes. The Canucks were one of those former victims, and on this night, also a current one. The Stars tend to beat them a lot, you may have noticed. That probably doesn’t bother Tom Gaglardi too much.

Justin Dowling, eh? After looking like a player destined for Cedar Park after earning Montgomery’s trust last year, Dowling has scored three goals (or four), and is at least in part the catalyst of Benn and Seguin’s resurgence. (Aside: how gorgeous was Seguin’s move to set up Dowling’s goal? That’s a Seguin on top of his game, fresh out of a slump, and it sure looks like ten million bucks.)

However long it lasts, that’s some kind of achievement. We watch sports for the stories, and his certainly continues to be a pretty neat one. That determined, vicious stabbing at the puck sitting nearly on the goal line was such a great metaphor for his season. It took a lot of effort and frustration, but the puck did eventually go in. Then, the relief. And joy.

Taylor Fedun is the Justin Dowling of the blue line, by the way. I assume you already knew that, but his goal on a similar sort of play (shot, extra effort, rebound goal) was just as wonderful to watch as Dowling’s, and he celebrated accordingly. It’s crazy to look at this team’s defense pairings right now and to see how well they’re working, isn’t it? Fedun with Lindell, Heiskanen with Oleksiak? These are things we are writing now, and they don’t seem totally desperate and insane. You cannot write this stuff, they say, as they write this stuff.

Loui Eriksson played last night, if you didn’t notice. His career is some kind of warning sign to someone, but I’m not totally sure to whom or about what. He sustained a pretty nasty (and dirty) concussion back in the day, and time does catch up to everyone. I’m glad he’ll be able to retire comfortably after all he did toiling away in the dark days of the Stars. In fact, Eriksson is one of the only remaining active players to have worn the Stars’ old pre-basketball sweaters. We don’t know what time holds for any of us. Certainly none of us would have expected Eriksson to become a disappointing UFA addition for the Canucks way back in his rook year of 2007, when the Stars lost to Vancouver in that legendary seven-game goaltending duel. Who is this team’s Loui Eriksson? I think about these things sometimes, in between whistles. Loui scored 36(!) goals ten years ago. I guess the Stars’ don’t have too many of those sorts of players, right now.

Miro Heiskanen continues to be just the best. Watching him in person is such a joy, just for the little ways he is able to find to make the right play. Where other defensemen have to chip the puck out, Heiskanen can always find a way to get enough extra space to make a good place, allowing his team to change, or transition, or, you know, score goals like he did. That give-and-go with Justin Dowling(!) was so easy and effortless, partly because of the Canucks’ woeful defending all night, but in large part because of how good the Stars are. I think we, as fans, should just enjoy saying it: the Stars are really good, they’re playing really well, and there are a lot of reasons to hope that it will continue. It was a near thing, building up the foundation, but if this is how the Stars want to play, they certainly look more than built to do it. It’s fun to watch.

Ben Bishop was good, and he needed that game possibly more than even the Stars did. The Stars curated their confidence around every edge of their game last night, and goaltending is kind of important. Ben Bishop continues to defy my pessimistic predictions about his contract, and I, for one, am loving it. Hooray for goaltending on the Dallas Stars! We should never take this for granted.

Corey Perry also scored a breakaway goal, marking his third of the season on the same night Jason Spezza scored his for Toronto, and wow, talk about your changes in fortune. The Stars and Leafs passed each other like ships in the night a week or two ago, only one ship was on fire and listing, while the other ship was just chugging along, gaining momentum. Corey Perry might have throw a molotov cocktail or two at the Leafs’ ship on the way past, but who can prove it? Nobody can prove it. Watch out for icebergs, Toronto friends.

Hockey at its best is just stupid fun. You get some breaks you weren’t expecting to go along with success well-earned, and you can walk out of the rink grinning, but also secure in your joy. The Stars have made the unlikeliest of recoveries this year, and we’re only 22 games into the season. Things won’t stay this good forever, but there’s every reason to enjoy them while they last. Especially against the Canucks, who are a bunch of dummies.