Another depth test
Every team gets tested throughout the regular season with injuries and the test becomes more pronounced depending on the profile of the player, or players, who are lost.
The Stars have been without veteran defenseman Marc Methot for a couple of weeks with a knee injury and will miss him for a few more weeks, although he’ll start skating next week. Martin Hanzal continues to battle a hamstring injury and remains out of the lineup week to week. And Antoine Roussel will miss at least Saturday’s game with the flu and is questionable for Sunday’s tilt against Colorado.
But the Blackhawks will face an even sterner test with starting netminder Corey Crawford being placed on injured reserve after Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Stars. That means the pressure is on Anton Forsberg, who has appeared in seven games this season and boasts a 3.67 goals against average and .904 save percentage.
With Ben Bishop riding the hot hand at home, having won four in a row at AAC, and going 8-1-0 overall with a 1.61 GAA at home, this looks like it should be a matchup that heavily favors the Stars. But the Blackhawks will be a motivated group as they currently reside outside the playoff bubble in the Western Conference and share a miserable record against Central Division foes with the Stars: 2-6-0.
In short, the stakes are high for both teams, regardless of the injury issues. The key for the Stars isn’t so much who the goalie is, but rather what he does, according to head coach Ken Hitchcock.
“Crawford handles forechecks and dump-ins a certain way, and we’re just trying to get a read on Forsberg right now,” he said.
The Stars are coming off two of their best road performances of the season, having shut out Vegas 3-0 on Tuesday and then nipping Chicago on Thursday — a game in which they scored first and never relinquished the lead, in spite of Chicago’s perseverance that saw them tie the game three times.
The sweep was just the second time this season the Stars had won back-to-back road games. But the win was their third in a row and fifth in their last six games.
In short, they have found their nicest groove of the season, and a lot of that has to do with the consistent production from up and down the lineup.
Radek Faksa has been on fire, recording a second-period hat trick in Vegas and then scoring on his first-ever NHL penalty shot against Chicago on a play that revealed his terrific footspeed, as he was hooked on a shorthanded breakaway.
Mattias Janmark scored twice, and Remi Elie, playing with fellow rookie Gemel Smith and Brett Ritchie, also scored. That line was, perhaps, the team’s best forward unit against a Chicago team that entered the game tied with the Stars in points.
“You definitely feel better when you’re contributing,” Ritchie said Saturday. “We’re just trying to bring energy as a line, and obviously, we’re not getting out there as much as some of the guys. So whenever you get out there, you’ve got to make it count.”
It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway), continued balanced scoring makes the Stars very difficult to defend and plays to the strengths the team looked to have coming into the season.
“It’s just how you deal with adversity,” Hitchcock said. “You can either build, or you crumble — and we’re building.”
So, about the big boys …
With Tyler Seguin returning to the middle of the team’s top line between Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn for Thursday’s game, now all they need to do is start producing.
Benn has gone five games without a point and has one goal in his last seven games. Not like he’s not getting chances. He is. Just not burying them.
Radulov, too, has not found the back of the net with his earlier frequency, having scored twice in his last eight games. He does have five assists over that time.
Benn seems nonplussed by the recent dry spell, though.
“You know what makes yourself successful and you know what makes the team successful,” the Stars’ captain said.
“The way you’re going to get out of slumps or if you’re not scoring…you keep doing the right things and when you do the right things it’ll pay off.”.
He recalled a lesson from former Star (and 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner) Brad Richards that, at the end of the season, it usually all works out. So don’t sweat the in-between stuff.
“In the end, it’s all going to even out,” Benn said.
Stay out of the sin bin
If there’s an area the Stars would like to clean up coming out of Thursday’s win, it’s the penalty trouble that could easily have cost them the game.
The team gave Chicago six minutes in power-play time in the third period and 12:33 overall in man-advantage time, including a double-minor assessed John Klingberg in the third with the game tied at three.
Sure, the Stars’ penalty kill has been solid throughout the season, and has killed 13 of 15 situations in the last four games, but Chicago is simply too dangerous a team to be giving those opportunities, as witnessed by Artem Anisimov’s power-play goal early in the second period off a terrific Patrick Kane pass. That was a continuation of the fourth minor penalty the Stars were assessed in the first period.
Speaking of Kane, thought the former Hart Trophy winner was terrific, as he also added a goal in the third period. He leads the Blackhawks with nine power-play points.
Hitchcock felt the team gave up too many seam plays and too many one-time opportunities while killing penalties.
“But overall, we’re starting to compete at a higher level and we’re starting to win puck battles like we did before,” Hitchcock said. “But like I said, it’s hard to have good PK when you’re giving up six or seven, so we want to get that down.”
Out of the ditch
We’ve been pretty focused on the Stars trying to work their way out of an early-season funk while playing on the road.
They’re now 5-8-1, but Hitchcock feels it’s more about avoiding the pitfalls while playing good teams, regardless of where the games are played.
Through the first quarter of the season, the Stars were lacking while playing those kinds of teams. Now, there are signs that a corner has been turned.
“I like the way we’re responding right now,” Hitchcock said. “We calm down. We get vocal on the bench, in a good way. The players are really pushing each other to do the right stuff and I think it’s helping our game.”
Just don’t tell him that the team’s on a roll.
“I think roll is the most over-rated word in the league,” he said. “To me, you just can’t hit the ditch for long period of time. We’re all going to hit the ditch. We’re all going to have tough goes. You just can’t stay in it long.
“To me, it’s not about getting on a roll. It’s how long you stay in the ditch, and if you stay in a short time, you’re going to have a very successful season.”
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter at @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.