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Big deal or no sweat? Stars, fans see game through different lens

Some matters can make Dallas' followers panic, while players simply focus on important details and drown out the noise

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- Maybe the most intriguing thing to come out of the Stars' 3-2 overtime victory against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday is just how different players and coaches see the game from fans.

Whether it's something as simple as who wears the "A" to something as complicated as how you score goals in the NHL, fans can be very emotional while players and coaches seem to treat things very matter-of-factly. That played out the ice and on social media Saturday.

When Dallas came out for its warmup before the game, Tyler Seguin wasn't wearing an "A" to indicate that he was an alternate captain. Seguin earned a rotating "A' back in 2017 and was proud that he was being trusted as one of the team's leaders. Then, in February 2019, he and John Klingberg were given the "A" full-time to go with captain Jamie Benn. So when he wasn't wearing the "A" Saturday and Blake Comeau was, it was easy for fans to speculate that this might be a demotion.

Was management not happy with Seguin? Were they trying to send a message to the struggling scorer? There were questions that needed to be answered and couldn't be answered because the game was being played.

Afterward, when the principals saw the reactions on Twitter, they were amused.

Video: DAL@NJD: Bowness on Stars picking up two key points

"It's not a big deal at all," said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness. "We've got a lot of guys who could be wearing the `A's,' so to us it's no big deal. All we're trying to do is spread the wealth and just recognize the guys that play hard. That `A' could go on a lot of different people, that's why we decided `Let's spread it out.' "

Comeau and Klingberg will wear the "A" on the road. Seguin and Esa Lindell will wear it at home. So why not announce that before the road trip or even at the morning skate? Well, Bowness said it: To them, it's no big deal.

"We talked just after the All-Star break -- Klinger, myself and Bones -- and he decided he wants to spread the voices out," Seguin said. "Comeau is a great leader and I'm happy he can wear a letter. Esa, as well. We've got a lot of leaders in this room, and letters don't change how you operate or play."

It makes a certain amount of sense. The original letter rotation was started by Ken Hitchcock in 2017 and then changed by Jim Montgomery last season. This move is something Bowness said he wanted to do.

Lindell has worn the "A" before in Dallas, but this is new for Comeau, who has worn it previously in Colorado. Bowness said the 33-year-old is a big part of the leadership group already.

Video: DAL@NJD: Seguin discusses Stars' OT win over Devils

"Blake plays a very hard, passionate game, and that's what you want from your veterans, that's what you want from your leaders," Bowness said. "His game doesn't change, and it's all heart and it's all passion, so sometimes you want to recognize that. He's a wonderful leader, he's a wonderful person, he's a great guy.

"He has a lot of respect in that room -- he has a lot of respect around the league."

And just as that aspect was something the team felt it could take care of with little fanfare, the scoring slumps of a few players also has been internalized. Joe Pavelski had one goal in 18 games. Corey Perry has been struggling for more than a month. Seguin stretched his goal drought to 12 games. Yet, each player said the key to breaking out is quiet focus.

"You always think about them," Pavelski said when asked if the slumps go through his mind. "Every game, whether you're scoring or not, you're trying to do the right things and trying to create. There's stretches where they don't come as often as you'd like, and we were in one of those.

"But there's been some good looks lately and that's encouraging, and that's where you're going. You can live with it to an extent when you're getting those looks and those chances, and tonight there were a few. So we'll keep going."

Video: DAL@NJD: Pavelski pots backhander for OT winner

By getting a huge overtime goal, Pavelski gives himself some potential positive momentum. At the very least, he can breathe a little easier. Seguin is trying to do the same thing.

"Simplify, shoot the puck," Seguin said when asked how you break through. "I thought I was shooting the puck more tonight. In a way, try to not think about scoring. Sometimes, that's how the goals start coming. I know when I'll get one, I'll get a bunch. Just sticking with it."

And if it doesn't come, don't let the scoring affect the rest of your game. Seguin played 22:16, had six shots on goal and went 14-4 (78 percent) in the faceoff circle Saturday. He didn't tally a point, but he contributed to the win.

"I was really disappointed in my game against Toronto," Seguin said. "I thought I responded better tonight, played better. I'd like to find the back of the net, obviously, but I'm happy playing defense as well."

He'd love to have better numbers on the year than his 37 points in 51 games, but he also knows his team is 29-18-4, and that can be a part of his evaluation.

Video: DAL@NJD: Dickinson nets one-timer off Perry's pass

The Stars have allowed the first goal in six straight games and in 10 of the past 12 contests. The power play is 0-for-14 in the past five games. The Stars are 3-4-0 in their past seven games and all three wins have been in overtime. That can make fans panic just a little.

But the occupants of the dressing room don't believe that's a constructive thought of mind, so they focus on details and one shift at a time, and they truly believe that nothing is a big deal.

Of course, they also believe that a lot of small deals are pretty darn important.

"Just play the right way, all of the time," said defenseman Roman Polak. "Each player has to be prepared and each player knows what he has to do, so do that. Then, when we come together, play as a team. Go out and make smart plays and play as a team, and then go do it again the next game."

In a lot of ways, it makes perfect sense.

 

Stars (29-18-4) at Rangers (25-21-4)

Monday, 6 p.m. CT

Where: Madison Square Garden

TV/radio: FOX Sports Southwest PLUS; The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Minnesota Wild when they return home to American Airlines Center on Friday, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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