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Woeful to wondrous: Stars just have that 'swagger' right now

No matter how you piece it together, with seven wins in eight games, Dallas is roaring with confidence

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The English language is a slippery beast.

One day, you think "groovy" is "the cat's meow" and the next you're wondering what's the difference between "tubular" and "totally rad." It gets challenging for an aging lexicographer who dabbles both in sports and culture.

The kids, for instance, use the word "swag" to mean the state of mind of someone who is confident and cool. Back in my day, it was the bag of goodies they gave you at the Academy Awards. Nowadays, it denotes a player who is "feeling it."

Well, the Stars have swag right now, that's for sure.

Video: COL@DAL: Montgomery on Klingberg's status after win

A team that was filled with anxiety and self-doubt to start the season has turned into one that is not only confident in its ability, but also sure-handed in its execution. In dispatching the Colorado Avalanche, 4-1, Tuesday at American Airlines Center, Dallas scored 19 seconds in, was in control from the start, and pretty much dictated play.

It was a perfect example of a team "imposing its will" on a game, and then adjusting to whatever hurdles or obstacles were put in its path.

 

[READ MORE: Stars stifle Avalanche for fourth straight win]

 

Remember, leading scorer Roope Hintz did not play this game because of a lower-body injury. That's right, the same Roope Hintz who had two goals in a hard-fought win over the Avalanche in Denver Friday. Midway through the contest, John Klingberg also suffered a lower-body injury and had to leave the game. That's right, the same John Klingberg who has led the Stars in time on ice for five years. Klingberg played just 14:13 in this game and will be out for at least two weeks.

And yet, you couldn't tell either was missing.

Video: Faksa scores two goals, Stars top Avalanche

Jason Dickinson and Radek Faksa stepped up in the absence of Hintz. Miro Heiskanen and Taylor Fedun helped fill the void created by Klingberg's departure. It was sort of seamless and sort of incredible all at the same time.

It was a team that believed in itself … or should I say, believes in itself.

"I think hockey's about confidence and we have lots of confidence right now," said Faksa, who had two goals on the night. "We knew we had a great team, we had to just put a puzzle together -- and we did it the last eight games. We have to just keep going and keep winning, because it's hard to make playoffs in this league."

The Stars won for the seventh time in eight games. They have erased a 1-7-1 start and now sit 8-8-1 on the year. That's not great, but it's a heck of a lot greater than where this team was just a week ago. When the Stars went down 3-0 to Minnesota last Tuesday, there were some predicting that major changes were coming. When they were struggling against the struggling Wild, there was an air of desperation at AAC.

Video: COL@DAL: Faksa on his two-goal effort in win over Avs

But in 21 minutes last week, this team went from woeful to wondrous. And in doing so, it gained an immense amount of courage and conviction. That attitude has now carried through four very impressive wins, and now has Dallas in a place that is kind of cool.

Asked if having confidence or swag was important, forward Jason Dickinson said, "absolutely."

"Some of the best players have swagger to their game," Dickinson said. "These guys like to carry the puck and they like to play with a lot of swag. It's that confidence that they have in themselves that they can control the game and make anything happen at any time."

Dickinson named some of the best players in the league in Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Matthew Barzal, but the same theory applies to players like Dickinson and Hintz and Denis Gurianov. When those players get confidence, they play a different style of game.

Video: COL@DAL: Dickinson scores 19 seconds into the game

Dickinson on Tuesday was tasked with taking Hintz's place. While he was scoreless in 12 games and battling to find his place this season, Dickinson went out and challenged MacKinnon on the first shift. The puck went deep into the offensive zone, Dickinson won a few key battles, and the red light was on 19 seconds in. The scrappy 24-year-old had his first goal of the season, and the Stars had the first goal of the game.

It was a magnificent combination -- one that now helps breed even more confidence going forward.

 

[PHOTO GALLERY: Scenes from Stars' win over Avalanche]

 

"I like the way we started the game and imposed our will right from the start," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "We played a very aggressive, physical game right from the start."

That kind of play stands in stark contrast to the tentative, cautious game the Stars played to start the season, and also stands as a lesson to what this team can do when it believes in itself. Maybe Dallas needed to be pushed to the wall to finally see what it can do. Maybe it needed to be knocked down before it decided that there was some pride to defend.

Video: COL@DAL: Comeau reflects on 800th game in Stars' win

Whatever the case, the Stars are playing a different game right now.

Dickinson was asked how important it is that the team is making smart plays at high speed -- plays it wasn't making earlier in the season.

"You can go 100 miles an hour and do absolutely nothing and it's completely ineffective," Dickinson said. "To be able to be executing at that high pace and that high level, it creates an atmosphere where teams come in here a little worried. They know what they're going to get."

A Colorado Avalanche team that was completely confident two weeks ago has lost some of its edge because of injuries to leaders Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. The Stars never let them even consider getting that edge back Tuesday, and that was a huge key in Dallas getting closer to a playoff spot.

Video: COL@DAL: Faksa chips puck in off Grubauer

It was suggested to Montgomery that maybe the team was showing some "athletic arrogance," and the head coach blanched a little at the suggestion.

"Arrogance might be a strong word," Montgomery said.

Swag then, maybe?

"Well, yeah, swag, there's a little bit going on, yeah," he allowed.

Video: COL@DAL: Faksa backhands in rebound for PPG

And how important is that?

"Confidence is really good, and we still have some guys that are still not at the level of their individual game," Montgomery said. "It's exciting about how much more room for growth we have just within our team."

They might get to the point where they're even considered "Gucci" or "extra" by the kids who hang out in the parking lot.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

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.

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