Dallas Stars taking things ‘one game at a time’ in packed Central Division

DALLAS, TEXAS - DECEMBER 20: Ben Bishop #30 of the Dallas Stars reacts after giving up a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks at American Airlines Center on December 20, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TEXAS - DECEMBER 20: Ben Bishop #30 of the Dallas Stars reacts after giving up a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks at American Airlines Center on December 20, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

With the 2018-19 season surpassing its midway point, the Dallas Stars have fought their way into a playoff spot. As a three-game road trip lies ahead of them, the Stars need to take each game by itself to stay in playoff contention.

With 42 games in the books in the 2018-19 NHL season, the Dallas Stars are just inside the playoff picture with 48 points (22-16-4—48) and sit at third place in the Central Division. And for the Stars, their goaltending has been the team’s guardian angel.

“[The goaltending] has been good,” netminder Ben Bishop said. “We have something to do with stopping the puck but it has to do with all five guys on the ice so I think we’re playing some good team defense. Obviously, we’ve given up some chances but that’s what our job is—to stop those.”

Bishop is posting a 14-9-2 record in 26 games. He is ranked second among goalies who’ve played at least 25 games in Goals Against Average (GAA) with 2.35, only behind division rival Pekka Rinne, who has a 2.31 GAA. Bishop is tied for third (with Toronto’s Frederik Andersen) among goalies who’ve played a minimum of 25 games in save percentage with .923.

The six-foot, seven-inch tall goaltender is accompanied by Anton Khudobin, who has won his past two games; the first being a 49 save shutout against the Nashville Predators, and the other a 2-1 overtime win against the Stanley Cup defending Washington Capitals.

Khudobin has a .924 save percentage and a 2.52 GAA in 19 games played. He is 8-7-2.

For Bishop, the key to success in the NHL is keeping is routine the same, especially with the Stars’ heading on a three-game road trip, their only away games in the month of January.

“We can’t change anything—[we just have to] go on the road and try to play the same game,” Bishop said. “We go into some good buildings [in] Winnipeg, St. Louis, and Philly. [They’re] some fun places to play so it should be a good test for us. Obviously, the two division games to start the road trip will be important.”

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Winnipeg is first in the Central Division and third in the Western Conference with 52 points. They are 2-3 in their last five games, with their most recent game being a shutout 4-0 loss against the Pittsburg Penguins.

“[Winnipeg] is just a really talented team that plays hard and plays well,” Stars Head Coach Jim Montgomery said. “They have a top-end goalie, their defensive core is really solid, and they got a couple forward lines that can really score and a couple forward lines that are hard. It’s a good hockey team.”

Sunday afternoon’s contest is certainly going to be a goaltending-battle, as Bishop will face-off in the crease against Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck, who is 17-12-1, has a 2.89 GAA and .908 save percentage.

Hellebuyck has already faced the Stars once earlier this season, where Dallas bested the Jets 5-1. He allowed two goals from Tyler Seguin, two from Jamie Benn, and one from Alexander Radulov. Bishop stopped 32 of 33 shots he faced in the game.

Bishop, a Frisco High School graduate, knows that there is still a lot of hockey left to play in the season.

“Yeah, there’s half a season left, so there’s a long way to go. You just try to take it one game at a time. You can’t look too far ahead, you can’t dwell in the past. You just gotta look at it one game at a time and climb your way that way.”

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In addition to some tough road games, Dallas has been dealing with some defense hysteria, as Marc Methot, Connor Carrick, Stephen Johns, and John Klingberg suffered or are suffering injuries since the start of the season.

Carrick practiced on Saturday and last played in Dallas’ overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on New Year’s Eve.

“We want to get Carrick in a game here soon,” Monty said following Saturday’s morning skate. “We’re waiting to see him assimilate to the pace of practice the way we want him to.”

With the upcropping of several injuries, many different defensemen have been called to help fill empty gaps, Joel Hanley, Gavin Beyreuther, Miro HeiskanenTaylor Fedun, Ben Gleason, and Dillon Heatherington.

The injuries on defense also can impact goaltending, and Bishop knows how to properly adjust to the new pairings.

“You just gotta talk, use your mouth—that’s kinda the easiest way to do it,” Bishop said. “When you’re talking the other guys can hear you, there’s nothing to really work on. It’s just about talking and communicating and trying to make things easier on each other.”

Other players have also been called up to replace voids in the lineup left by injured players. Forward Jason Dickinson was placed on the injured reserve (IR) on Dec. 28 after suffering a back injury.

“[Dickinson] is hopefully a player when we get back,” Monty said to the media after Saturday’s practice. “He’s skating now two days in a row he’s shooting so when we get back he can get some bumps in practice and see where he’s at.”

Forward Erik Condra was called up from the Texas Stars of the AHL to replace Dickinson while he recovers.

“He did some smart things [in Friday’s overtime win against Washington],” Montgomery said of Condra. “You can tell like his hockey sense, his ability to make plays along the wall, he made a nice play to Roope in the first [period] there that led to a good breakout. He needs to play faster with how we play, but that’ll come, I’m sure.”

Despite all of the lineup changes, Dallas has managed to hold third-place and is battling with Colorado and Minnesota the spot.

Fortunately for the Stars, the special teams have been rolling in the past few games. Dallas’ power play is ranked 13th in the league and their penalty kill is 8th.

“What I like about our penalty kill is that it bends but never breaks,” Montgomery said. “I think Coach [Rick] Bowness has done a great job of telling players what we’re willing to give up and what we’re going to take away. Last night [against Washington] was a perfect example. We really played tight and made sure that Oshie and Ovechkin weren’t going to beat us. When Backstrom or Kuznetsov or Carlson were dangerous, we knew our shot lights.”

The Stars are also the 5th best team in the league in goals against, only allowing 111 goals this season.

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If the Dallas Stars want to have the best chance at a playoff run after the conclusion of the regular season, they’ll need to approach each game with the same mindset.

“You can’t get too caught up in watching standings and what other teams are doing,” Bishop said.

“You just have to worry about yourself and take it one game at a time.”

  • Published on 01/06/2019 at 14:01 PM
  • Last updated at 01/06/2019 at 09:04 AM