When the Stars are at home, they have a funky sort of groove that can beat even the red-hot Blues. Also, goaltending.
Back in the day, the adage was, “As Mike Modano goes, so go the Dallas Stars.” As Jamie Benn has been fortunate enough to inherit the mantle of captains past, so also is he saddled with the weight of expectations. Heavy is the head that wears the crown and all that.
This year, though it may be my imagination, I think we’ve seen That Jamie Benn a few more times than last year. Part of it might be the new coach, and part of it might be the old CEO who passed along the owner’s displeasure. Either way, Benn has shown up with fury a few times this year, and Thursday night was one of his most forceful appearances thus far.
Is Benn critical to the Stars’ hopes? Well, I think the answer is...kind of? The Stars need more production from Benn inasmuch as Spezza needs to produce more than not produce, and Faksa needs to at least stop regressing so hard, so fast. The Stars need to be better as a team, and if the individuals who’ve shown superior ability in the past could at least evoke their former selves to a passable degree, it would help. Any goals will help, really. When you’re scoring two goals a game since the new year, you’ll take flukey biscuits no matter how underproved they might be.
Razor was saying on his podcast with Mike Heika this week that Tyler Seguin’s goal from Roope Hintz earlier was encouraging for the team’s scoring woes after two shutouts, but only to the degree than a ten million dollar player was doing what he should. Similarly, Benn’s finish off Miro Heiskanen’s salacious pass was what you need to see from Benn, if you’re Dallas: one of your best players—no longer The Best Player, as he was said to be just two or three years ago—finishing a wonderful play with a wonderful shot.
So much of Benn’s goal was perfect, from the pass that started it to his reception of it (see the puck flat against his blade, at first?) to the finish, just by Binnington’s pad.
Faksa’s rebound goal later was more of that puck luck that the Stars have been hard-pressed to see for too much of this season. It was refreshing, even vital. Dallas has hit posts, missed nets, and spared goalies so often this season that it’s hard to even hope for good results off points shots with traffic. But in this one, Benn tipped Lindell’s shot, and Faksa found the rebound just quickly enough. That’s all it takes, really. You have to use that moment, that flash of time with the puck there to be had, and take it.
Jamie Benn scored his first two-goal game of the season, which would be more insane if we hadn’t been watching, you know, every game this season. No hat tricks so far? Sounds about right. Only four forwards (finally) in double-digit scoring? Checks out. Seguin’s empty-netter was like the third in 30 games (don’t fact-check me, that’s an emotional guess), and the recent power play hiccups have robbed a lot of players of their usual cookies. And when everyone scores less, everyone’s confidence takes a hit, and then they score even less...lessinger? Leaster. They score leaster. Which, they kind of do? Val Nichushkin has the horse collar, but he’s far from the only one fighting it with the puck on his stick.
Speaking of fighting, I hope you listened to Sean Shapiro and Owen Newkirk’s podcast last night. We can get down on how the Stars have used Brett Ritchie this year, but Sean and Owen’s reactions to Ritchie’s game last night were very telling, and I think even representative of how that player is viewed by the team. Ritchie’s fight to defend Klingberg’s honor was something the players love, and as someone who’s had a teammate step up for me after I got run pretty bad one time, I’d be hypocritical to say that the players shouldn’t love that. You have to rally around something, even if that something takes you off the power play and ends up allowing the other team to score and get back into the game.
Well, okay, put it that way and it does sound kind of stupid. And when you look at how just about all of the advanced metrics (WAR, GAR, Game Score, etc.) have Ritchie as the least productive player for the Stars (by a decent margin), you can understand why praising Ritchie for what some saw as a great game isn’t easy to swallow. You don’t want to pump a player’s tires when he’s inadvertently siphoning gas out of the tank, you know? But game recognize game and all that.
Come to that, Roman Polák also had a Warrior Game of sorts. He saved a goal with an alert poke check right after taking a ridiculously painful shot to the arm, and he had a couple of big hits and physical plays around the net all night. But then again, it was Polák who got outright stripped by Ryan O’Reilly, and man, can you imagine how many games Carrick or, well, Other Players would be scratched for a play like that? It’s funny how we can use certain plays to confirm our biases while ignoring others. For a coach, however, you have to hold both in tension: Polák the valiant warrior but maybe-over-his-head second-pairing defenseman.
Ideally, you know, this is where the GM does their job a bit more dispassionately. A coach is going to play his Warrior Guys when they’re there, because how can you scratch Ritchie or Polák (or whoever) after a game that has such meaningful moments for them? Just as baseball is seeing the lineup being more and more a product of the front office than the bench, so also will we begin to see hockey rosters constructed with a bit more coldheartedness, I think. But today is not that day. It never seems to be, anymore.
The Stars need players they trust that can hold their own on the second line and in the second defense pairing. I think they’re about three players short in that department as it stands now, particularly if Benn is going to continue playing on effectively a checking line. It’s nice to see Roope Hintz coming into his own, and that’s huge for this year, but I don’t think you’re going to get three goals from the Faksa line again this year. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
But there we go again, talking about depth players. Jason Spezza had a bit of overtry in his game in this one, but that’s okay when your team is stepping up. And man, was that Alex Radulov goal ever a stepping stone to victory if there were one.
Radulov with an outstanding shot. And Dallas is running away with this one ... 3-0 Stars. pic.twitter.com/AwquUpyNpk— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) February 22, 2019
Radulov has been in a bit of goal-scoring slump himself lately, and I’ve been assuming he’s fighting a nagging injury like he was back in December. But plays like this are high-caliber tallies, and in the current system, Dallas needs as many self-motivated scorers as they can find. Radulov may not be making ten million bucks this year, but his goals are worth their weight in gold for this team right now.
Anton Khudobin, by the way, has some kind of weird thing going on this year where he wins more games when he has to make more saves. Some of that (most?) is score effects, to be sure, so I wouldn’t recommend, like, clearing a path to the net for the opposition or anything. Still, as much as the team has struggled with Bishop out, Khudobin is still showing he can give this team a chance to win as its number one, and that’s really more than we have any right to ask of a backup goalie in his thirties, right?
Anyway, I’m looking forward to the Carolina game, not only because the Stars might win, but also because I’ll be there. It’s fun to watch hockey, and it’s more fun to watch the Stars win hockey games alongside other people doing the same thing. When they win, it perpetuates hope that Jamie Benn can continue this sort of play, that the Stars might not be totally irrelevant just yet. When we can see everything breaking just right, that’s when you stand in that lone sunbeam on a cloudy day and just open your hands and soak it up. Sure, giving up 40+ shots to a good (or great) team and winning isn’t, like, “ideal.” But the uncertainty of the process is why we watch. The unlikelihood of the Stars’ winning the Stanley Cup, or even making the playoffs too many years of the last decade, well, that’s its own drama. And when we see the proof of concept for 60 minutes, it’s hard not to start making fantasy trades and speculating about ideal opponents and saying, “Well hey, Vegas did it, almost.”
Ah, trades. That’s the nub of everything today, and this weekend. I’ve been a bit negative this year, I fear, when it comes to the Stars’ personnel moves. I still don’t know how the same management team traded for both Jamie Oleksiak and Connor Carrick this same year. There doesn’t seem to be a particularly laudatory internal logic to a lot of decisions in the last couple of years, but if it all comes out in the wash, you can forgive some things. And, I mean, how many of us would have signed James Reimer and Scott Darling, right? We don’t know anything, any of us. We’re all stumbling around in the dark trying to describe the elephant as much as anyone. Some folks see different parts, but it’s been 20 years since the Stars were last able to properly identity what was in the room and make hay with it. Maybe we just need to hang on and hope, until we have to start all over. Being a fan sure is rough sometimes, and most times. Thank goodness for wins.