Good morning! It is Monday, and through 44 games, the Stars are 26-15-4. Last year’s Stars didn’t get their 26th win until game 51, and even Ken Hitchcock’s team, who leapt out to a great first half before stumbles down the stretch, didn’t get their 26th win until two games after this team did. In other words, things have wound up going pretty ding-danged well with three games left before the All-Star break.
(The 2015-16 Stars, by the way, rocketed to a 26-7-2 record. Good times, Trevor. Good times.)
And yet, due to a couple of rough stretches, there isn’t quite that feeling of assurance around this team. Or perhaps there is beginning to be. It really depends on whom you ask, I’ve found. But overall, I think it’s safe to say that, especially in a weak Western Conference, the Stars are in a great position to make the playoffs, and perhaps to do some damage when they get there.
In any case, I thought I’d start off the week by rounding up a few stray thoughts that have been floating around over the past few days. So, without further ado, let’s dig in.
Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin are the league’s best goalie tandem, pretty much any way you slice it. And yet, Tristan Jarry probably has a better chance of winning the Vezina while playing just 50 games than Ben Bishop does, primarily because Matt Murray has been bad. Which makes Jarry look like a savior, inflating the narrative (true as it may be) that he’s saving his team from certain doom. That the doom is at least partially coming from his teammate seems not to matter, somehow.
It’s a cruel world, really. Goalies absolutely benefit from their team’s defensive structure, just as coaches benefit from (or get fired because of) their goalies’ performances. But this is one situation where Jarry is absolutely getting some Vezina hype because Matt Murray is doing his best late-career Antti Niemi impression.
If Bishop (or Khudobin, who has actually been the slightly better goaltender so far this year) gets inevitably snubbed for the Vezina due to a lower victory count, the person to blame might, ironically, be their oustanding counterpart.
Well, after the idiocy of the voters, I mean. It’s always the dumb voters’ fault.
John Klingberg Is Still Important
The Stars are 18-14-2 with Klingberg in the lineup this year. If you did the math, that means the Stars are 8-1-2 without John Klingberg in the lineup. That is, uh, surprising.
In years past, John Klingberg’s absence spelled certain doom for this team. As the top defenseman on the squad almost from the moment he arrived on the scene in November 2014, the Stars have been used to Klingberg’s presence being instrumental to their success.
But this year? Well, they’ve managed to cope without him fairly well, somehow.
The thing is, it’s really not quite as surprising as you’d think. Klingberg’s first absence came during the Stars’ resurgent scorched-earth tour of Western Canada back in November, and his most recent injury absence covered a similar stretch against Detroit and two of the bad California teams.
So, credit to the Stars (and Miro Heiskanen): they’ve managed to be less dependent on one of the best defensemen of the last half-decade. But, given that most of that 8-1-2 record came on two red-hot road trips against middling competition, I think it’s fair to see this team isn’t quite self-sufficient just yet.
And, I mean, also, this team kind of needs offense anywhere it can find it. The day this team thinks Klingberg is expendable is the day the league starts seeing 1-0 victories become a thing again. Which seems, erm, not likely.
Vote Jamie Benn, or Whatever
This is just a passing thought I had, but was it a little quieter than usual around Dallas when it came to the Last Man In campaign for nominee Jamie Benn?
Now, I get it. I don’t think Benn’s nomination was a team choice, and he certainly is the last player who is going to proclaim his own worthiness for any award. But I don’t even remember seeing any official things on Twitter or anything like that at all.
Maybe I missed them. Truly, it’s possible. But even though Benn was never going to win the final vote, it still seemed weird to me that no one really even bothered to stump for him. Maybe this is one of those, “Hey, let’s all just be cool and move on” sorts of things.
Strength of Schedule, or Lack Thereof
The last thing on my mind as we approach another long break for Dallas is that they have a fairly easy road to travel in the back half of their schedule.
February starts and ends with some tough opponents, with St. Louis, Carolina, Boston and Toronto making appearances. But March and April really are pillow soft, which should give the team a decent chance to avoid a Wild Card spot if they keep up their play to any reasonable extent.
In fact, here is the Stars’ schedule for their final seven games of the season:
vs. Los Angeles
@ San Jose
@ Los Angeles
Yes, it’s not all at home. Yes, there are two back-to-backs in there. But in all likelihood, the Stars will have six of seven (at least) games against non-contenders as the season wraps up. That’s going to be either a great opportunity to rest some guys, if their spot is fairly secure, or a decent chance to make up some ground if they need to after a somewhat tough February.
Either way, the Stars have put themselves in a great spot, which was never something you would have thought at a couple different points in this season. And they’ll have another couple of spots in which to control their own destiny. When it really comes down to the games you haven’t played yet, I’m not sure you can really ask for much more than that.