For a moment, we all got to be glorious together. Beating Nashville is sweet.
Well, that turned out well, eh?
As of Monday morning, Dallas has 58 points in 52 games, and they’re six points up on Colorado, who are somehow out of the playoff picture at present. Of course, this is the Weird Central Year, so St. Louis, having fired their coach and stuff, would also be in the playoff picture if they won their two games in hand on Vancouver, who sit eighth despite not really, uh, being good? But St. Louis are also tied with Anaheim and Edmonton in points (though not games played), and heaven knows those two clubs are far from contention. Unless they’re not in two weeks, of course. Really, the West Wild Card is just a plate of sample feta cheese in the grocery store, and all the bubble teams are busy trying to decide who’s the least lactose intolerant.
But from this murk, the Stars have emerged, if slightly. They sit third in the Central Division, and regardless of how they’ve gotten there, you take that in February if you’re Dallas, yes you do.
For comparison’s sake: last year’s Stars were 29-19-4 at this point, which makes 62 points in their first 52 games. They would end the season with a 13-13-4 run, good for 92 points and some early golf. This year’s Stars would have to put up something like a 16-12-2 in their final 30 games to amass the same total, but then again, they might not even need that much to make the danse macabre this year.
Put it this way: Dallas has vaulted themselves into third place with a red-hot record of, erm, 5-5 in their last ten games. The four-game losing and winning streaks notwithstanding, this team is more finding ways to pick up the pieces than they are dictating terms. But hey, even the hyenas got to rule the Pride Lands for a little while, right? Do I have that correct? Eh, we’ll fact-check it in post.
Anyway, no matter how they got here or whether they deserve it, as my commencement speaker said a little too loudly while looking at me; Dallas is doing better! But rather than try to extrapolate anything from everything, let’s just take four quick points as read and see where they take us.
1. Goaltending covers a multitude of sins
Anton Khudobin has earned every bit of the Esa Lindell defense he got after some shenanigans with Ryan Hartman on Saturday. This goalie has, in not the easiest of situations, put the team on his back. It’s only fair that someone else accosted Hartman once he started poking his hockey stick around where it didn’t belong.
Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin have been stellar this year, as you know, but of course the road to the Jennings Trophy travels through New York, and that means the Devils are...sorry, I mean Henrik Lundq....no, again we’re being told that’s not right. Well, sorry folks, this earpiece seems to be broken, because the Islanders? We’ll try to fix that and get back to you.
But really, can I just say how wonderful it is to have a competent backup (or true 1B, as I see Khudobin) again? It’s so great to have goaltending (behind a sort-of stingy defense in ways wholly unrelated to shot volume) that we don’t even need to moon over Thomas Greiss, who I’ve coveted for this team for almost half a decade. Khudobin is a gift, and I’ll gladly stand up for him any day. By which I mean, of course, that I will watch a giant hockey player like Lindell do it and watch, happily. I don’t want to get turned into a pile of rearranged carbon just yet, after all.
2. Tyler Seguin is going to be good for a long time.
Devan Dubnyk should have stopped Seguin’s shot against Minnesota, and Pekka Rinne likewise failed to take out his own trash on the Stars’ two quick goals in the third in Nashville. But Tyler Seguin’s goal kept the Nashville game tied to begin with, and his elite shot tool is going to get through some goalies when most shots shouldn’t. That is sort of what Elite does.
No, Seguin isn’t 22 anymore, but as we said in the anxious days before the extension announcement, these are the players you absolutely have to lock up. Enjoy Tyler Seguin, and relish his goals. The Stars look weird this year, but at some point you just kind of sit back and sip your soda while the hockey boys do their thing, right? I’m okay with ugly goals if they lead to ugly wins. If playoff hockey after a middling regular season is lipstick on a pig, then put me down for two heapin’ portions of Revlon bacon.
3. The depth players chipped in, otherwise it’s one bad bounce away from trouble
Jim Nill and friends can talk about how it’s a 3-2 league these days, but in three of their last five losses, the Stars have held the other team to two goals. They’ve gotten the latter half of that equation down, just as they aced the first half four years ago. We know offense is usually the better bet for winning games over the long term, but this team is what it is right now, and what it is is keepin’ the biscuits out of the basket. When Taylor Fedun and Roman Polák are mainstays of your defense along with a 19-year-old as well as, and I am still not making this up, Jamie Oleksiak, then you know your system is designed with a particular goal in mind.
Ideally, that goal would be the other one, but you can’t fill a bucket all at once, and to that end, it was great to see Radek Faksa creating a couple of goals, at last. The lines got a bit juggled as Montgomery cranked up the Offensive Juice Weasel machine late in Nashville, but Mattias Janmark and Blake Comeau were in the right spots to put the puck in its place, and Radek Faksa is reminding us that Joe Nieuwendyk didn’t pick him just for his chiseled jawline and Ales Hemsky barbs.
There’s no sign that this will become a trend without some outside help or internal rearranging, but on the rare occasions that the depth does score, it ought to be fêted. I’m absolutely here for any late-season resurgences from the Dependable Depth Players who want to actually score some hockey goals. We can join bandwagons with the best (or worst) of them here in Dallas, yes we can.
But those two games both fell on the right side of the razor’s edge (ha), so we are happy. But the Stars are going to meet with some more bad bounces, and they’d do well to remember that it’s a lot easier to win a game without needing a go-ahead goal late in the third period in this lockdown league of goal-suppression we admire so much. Control your destiny, hockey boys. The Nashville power play isn’t always going to be that bad.
4. This team still needs something
Jason Spezza made a great move and hit the post, because why would anything go right for Jason in this cruel, heartless universe? It seems like the broadcast points out his scoring slump nightly these days, and while you have to report the news and all, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Spezza’s scoring has continued to slow while he’s also been taking off the top power play. Balance is great and all, but asking Spezza and Heiskanen to run a power play with whatever three amigos are free when the top unit finally cedes power is a bit of a tall order. Spezza’s value is derived, in large part, from what he can do with the puck in the offensive zone, which is to say on the power play. Giving Spezza less power play minutes and Val Nichushkin on one wing is going to depress the old point production a bit.
Clearly this team needs some top-six scoring talent. I’m not interested in trade speculation because I never really am, but so help me, if the Stars add a Big Body for Net-Front Presence at the deadline, I’m going to lose my gourd. Pillage Ottawa, Jim. Always pillage Ottawa.
As for the defense, I’m not convinced Roman Polák won’t get victimized badly down the stretch or even in the playoffs, when a team can target his side on entries and the forecheck with consistency. You can protect a third pairing, but with Dallas dead-set on treating Polák like a healthy Stephen Johns (or Greg Pateryn, cough), that’s a lot of top lines you’re asking the seventh defenseman from training camp to go up against. But Dallas seems to have made their blue line bed, and now it is theirs to lie in. Kris Russell was good at that, as I recall.
We always feel more optimistic after a win, and I’m not here to rain all over that. But goaltending is a heartbreaking ship to load one’s livelihood into, so let’s hope the Stars can find some extra engines instead of just beefing up the hull.
- It is criminal how the Stars are terrified to lose Brett Ritchie for nothing while Julius Honka’s trade value continues to spiral down the drain. If ever you wanted to see the organization’s split identity, just look at how much rope each of those players has or hasn’t been given. Neither of them is going to move the needle either way this year as far as I’m concerned, but sometimes I just don’t get it. Ah, well.
- Jordin Tootoo is a player that brings up one specific inciting incident in my Dallas Stars Memory—and watching that video, I get angry all over again at the failure of the FSN South boys to mention how dirty a gloved punch to the face is in hockey terms—but on a personal level, it’s worth celebrating every bit of his journey into recovery. It’s cool to see people experience healing, always.
- Here’s a piece of trivia to dangle: Can you name the last Stars’ empty-net goal before Seguin’s against Minnesota? I’ll wait.