It was a step in the right direction as the Blackhawks played perhaps their most complete game - certainly so within the last week - on Saturday night against a Dallas team unbeaten in 10 straight, but Chicago fell in a shootout to their Central Division opponents, 2-1.
Almost exclusively since Connor Murphy returned to the lineup on Nov. 16 in Nashville, he's been paired with Olli Maatta on the third duo for head coach Jeremy Colliton's defensive corps. The shutdown-blueliner Murphy has seemingly freed up the offensive-minded Maatta with three points in the last five games, including his first goal as a Blackhawk on Saturday in Dallas.
"Playing with him, it's good. He makes really good plays, he reads the game well and I fell like he's always in the right spot," Maatta said of his partner. "It makes it a little easier for me, especially breaking out of our own zone."
It was just that scenario that led to the Blackhawks lone goal on the night - Murphy winning a puck back in the corner and moving it forward with Maatta jumping into the rush out of his own zone. He exchanged passes with Alex DeBrincat through the neutral zone before the forward found him with a saucer pass that he slid five-hole on Stars' netminder Anton Khudobin at 17:24 of the first to tie things up, 1-1.
"For me, it starts with Murph making that play and Kaner (Patrick Kane) making that wall play," Maatta said. When you see that, you can take chances to join the rush. I was able to do that and Kitty (DeBrincat) made a great play and luckily I kind of fanned on the shot a little bit but that ended up being good."
"He definitely has that in his game," Colliton said of the instinct. "He's pretty good jumping in and nice to see it go in for him."
With a goal and six assists in 23 games this season, Maatta is over halfway to his point total from a year ago in just over a third of the games played. It's still a ways off his career mark-tying 29 points (7G, 22A) in 2017-18, but the offensive resurgence matches a Chicago trend that has seen eight goals from blueliners over the last six outings.
"Like everyone on the back end, we'd like to get more pucks to the net," Colliton added. "We'd like to give the forwards something to work with, get through right away, create some traffic, create some havoc at the net and then either we score or get a rebound or we recover a puck and then we can make a play from there."
With two run-and-gun offenses going toe-to-toe on Saturday night, for the scoreline to end 1-1 after 65 minutes of play meant the duo at either end were standing on their heads all night long. After all, three of the four meetings a year ago each had seven combined goals between the two division foes,
Robin Lehner stopped 40 of the 41 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, while the Stars' Anton Khudobin denied 38 of the Blackhawks 39 chances. They finished with .976 and .974 save percentages, respectively.
Perhaps no save on the night was bigger than Khudobin stretching post-to-post to deny David Kampf on the doorstep in the third period, and holding his ground just enough that Andrew Shaw's effort to push the loose rebound over the line was unable to be seen on tape crossing the line after a lengthy video review.
"There were some pretty big saves both ways, no question," Colliton said. "Obviously we had a couple that maybe went in, but that's going to happen. Sometimes you're going to get the bounces or the calls and some nights you're not. I thought we did enough to score and I thought we defended pretty well and got some saves."
"I thought Khudobin played really well. He made 3-4 really key saves for them," Lehner said of the duel. "I think they had a bunch of good chances as well. It was a really good game, it was fun to play today."
For the first time this season, Chicago will turn around and face the same team immediately again as the Stars visit the United Center on Tuesday evening. They'll do it in even quicker fashion as they face another divisional rival, the Colorado Avalanche, twice in as many days on Friday and Saturday.
"Maybe in that second game you're more comfortable seeing the ways they're playing and different things that they bring. We haven't seen them (Dallas) yet this year (until Saturday)…" Murphy said of the advantage in facing a team quickly again. "You play how you can the first game and then you maybe pick up a couple things that make it a little easier the second game, so it's nice and it's more fun to compete with the team you're playing in a short span too."
The fresh taste of the dropped second point will be top of mind come Tuesday, too.
"You want the two points, but I think you have to look behind the score sometimes and see stuff you can build on," Maatta said. "I think today the effort, I think the compete was there. We did a lot of good things."