The Dallas Stars faced a massive back-to-back against Vancouver and Minnesota and as they have all season, they rose to the challenge and banked four more points. The team laid an egg against Ottawa on November 24th as the inexplicable Ontario curse continued, and had only two days to move past that disappointment before facing a pair of teams that sit right on the edge of the playoff picture. Where past editions of the Dallas Stars struggled, this year’s team showed more of the resiliency that has it sitting atop the NHL’s toughest division and stronger conference.
Antti Niemi had a shaky start against Ottawa, letting in five goals on just 16 shots. He was pulled after three but had to relieve Kari Lehtonen when he was injured. News that Lehtonen was headed to IR filled fans with memories of past teams that were almost completely unable to win without their starter, but Niemi bounced back in a big way against Vancouver. He stopped 34 of 36 shots, only allowing goals off a ghastly John Klingberg turnover and on the Cannucks’ seventh power play of the game. Despite giving up an equalizer late on, the Stars kept their cool and won in a shootout thanks to Niemi’s 3 saves.
Niemi followed this fine performance with another questionable one, allowing three goals on the first 10 Minnesota shots, the last one a particularly soft goal that busted Jason Pominville’s early season slump. Past Stars teams would likely have quit at this point. The team played the night before, went all the way to a shootout, flew during the night and then went to a building in which they lost five straight games. Many fans expected Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook again, sending call-up Jack Campbell in to allow Niemi some rest. Ruff stuck with his starter though, and slowly the Stars made their way back into the game before drawing level with a three goal third period. Niemi didn’t allow another goal and the Stars got the winner in overtime.
Niemi’s numbers aren’t impressive and he has taken four of the team’s five losses this season, but the difference between him and past backups is remarkable. He seems to play as well as the team does around him, and he puts the Stars in good position to win every night he can keep opponents to three goals or less.
Klingberg Bounces Back
Defenseman John Klingberg leads NHL defensemen in scoring, but didn’t have his best week either. He had possibly the worst turnover by a Stars defenseman in this young season against Ottawa, and then topped it against Vancouver the very next game. Those who wondered if he might be wilting a little now that the spotlight is on him got their answer against Minnesota, when he got the dramatic equalizer and assisted on Tyler Seguin’s winner in overtime.
One of the best parts of Loui Eriksson’s time with the Dallas Stars was the way he elevated his game against his high-profile countrymen. When the Stars played against Detroit or Vancouver, Eriksson usually had a big game and was often the reason why the Stars were able to beat those teams. While Klingberg didn’t show this same gear against fellow Swedes Erik Karlsson and Daniel and Henrik Sedin, he didn’t let the mistakes he made damage his confidence. Klingberg is going to hot dog and freestyle with the puck, and his ability to make things happen is helping drive the team forward enough to forgive the occasional error.
The Dallas Stars are letting go of mistakes and sticking to the game plan that has led to this franchise-best start to a campaign. The team can score four every night, but the difference between this season and the last is that the Stars don’t crumble when the situation turns against them. The growing confidence the Stars show each game is slowly making fans forget about past struggles and instead imagine a happy spring.