Stars flatten Sabres, cap off phenomenal road trip

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 06: Jamie Benn
DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 06: Jamie Benn /

The Dallas Stars demoralized an overmatched Sabres team en route to a remarkable week. It’s all systems go as they push to the playoffs.

If you want to know what a playoff team looks like, look no further than the Dallas Stars. Boston, Detroit, and Buffalo got a good taste last week. Columbus should have, but a dubious no-goal call prevented a perfect road trip. No matter at this point, really. No use in grousing about poor officiating. The real news is how this squad is blossoming under the tutelage of their coach.

It’s quite exceptional if you’re following along. To wit, they’ve won five of their last seven games. Furthermore, they’ve garnered at least a point in six of those contests. This is the type of run you expect to see from a team destined for the postseason tournament. if you’re looking for a bandwagon to jump on, the Stars are your best bet by a long mile.

It’s not just recent results, either. These guys have shown noticeable improvements in their game as the season has progressed. They got off to a relatively pedestrian 10-9-1 record over their first twenty games. Since then, however, they’ve gone 17-8-3. This is good for thirty-seven points out of a possible fifty-six in that stretch. By itself, this may not seem noteworthy, but it means they’ve grabbed 66% of the available points over that span.

What’s more, they’re getting contributions from up and down their lineup. You don’t just see the marquis names line Benn, Seguin, and Radulov lighting the lamp. You see other forwards like Mattias Janmark, Radek Faksa, and Remi Elie chipping in. The Stars are coming in waves at opposition goaltending, and the teams they’re playing are having a hard time defending the onslaught.

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While the goal scoring looks fantastic, I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention the defense. Sure, it’s easy to say the offense shined in a 7-1 cakewalk against Buffalo. But beyond that, the commitment to Ken Hitchcock’s system is apparent. You don’t see this group give up a lot of odd man rushes in transition. That by itself is a marked improvement over past iterations of Stars’ hockey. If they give up an outnumbered scoring opportunity, it’s a surprise. You couldn’t say that under the old regime. To say this is a different team now is an understatement.

In fact, if an unsung hero truly exists, it can be found in a defense corps that is utterly absorbing the lessons of their coach. Specifically, defenseman John Klingberg is experiencing a renaissance under coach Ken Hitchcock. As The Hockey News’s Jared Clinton points out, Klingberg’s current point pace keeps him well above sexier names like Los Angeles’s Drew Doughty or Washington’s John Carlson in the Norris Trophy race. In short, this means Klingberg ranks extremely well among his peers in regards to being the league’s best rearguard.

Yet despite all the plaudits I fire at this bunch, one truth remains: they simply are not making any headway in their divisional race. Such is life in the NHL Central Division. You win three of four, but the rest of the teams ahead of you do, too. To be sure, the Stars have the fifth most points in the Western Conference. Yet all this is good for right now is the first wild card spot. This is the team’s truth for the past few weeks.

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So jump in and enjoy it. I’m having a hard time remembering such a tight race. There are essentially twelve teams in the Western Conference jockeying for eight playoff spots, and the Dallas Stars are right in the thick of it. If you can’t get up for regular season hockey, then get your buns ready for the playoffs. There’s nothing like it, and win or lose, you won’t be disappointed.