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Is scoring breakout a sign of things to come for Stars?

If Dallas' depth consistently fills gaps as it did in beating Nashville, other pieces may start falling into place

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It is both the audacity of hope and a plan with some amount of historical support.

And on days (nights?) like Saturday, it can work for the Stars.

 

[WATCH: All highlights from Stars' victory over Predators]

 

Dallas' top goal scorers didn't score in a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. In fact, Tyler Seguin didn't score a goal for the 11th straight game. But four other guys did, and that made the Stars look like a team that actually could be offensively dangerous.

Blake Comeau busted down the left wing on a shorthanded rush early in the second period and put in a shot off the left post that looked like something Mike Modano would have unleashed back in the day. Then, Roope Hintz battled to fire in a puck two minutes later. That's not unexpected, as Hintz leads the Stars with 12 goals this season. However, Jamie Oleksiak followed six minutes later with his first goal of the season as he danced through the slot like a galloping moose deftly going to his backhand for a 3-1 lead. And then, Andrew Cogliano finished it off with a beautiful unassisted goal to make it 4-1 with almost four minutes left in the second period.

Video: DAL@NSH: Bowness on Stars' big second period in rout

Cogliano's was his second of the season. Comeau's was his fourth. So, the guess is they're not going to be doing this on a regular basis.

But that is the audacity of hope with this thing. Cogliano had 12 goals among 35 points in the 2017-18 season with Anaheim. Comeau had 13 goals among 34 points that same season with Colorado. Surely they can find a little of that magic again. It wasn't that long ago, right?

"As a line, we talk a lot and we watch a lot of video. I feel like our chemistry has grown even more since last year," Comeau said of linemates Cogliano and Radek Faksa. "We're starting to hold onto pucks more and generate more shots. That's something we talked about coming into this year as a line -- trying to provide some secondary offense."

And if they can be more productive, well, certainly Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry can up their numbers. And if they could do that, of course Hintz and Denis Gurianov and Jason Dickinson can take the next step in their development as reliable scorers.

Video: DAL@NSH: Comeau pots SHG off both posts

You see how you can get all flush with Victory Green optimism on this.

And heck, with all of those guys scoring, certainly Jamie Benn, Seguin and Alexander Radulov will be able to catch the wave.

It's a fantasy world, but one that Stars coaches and players believe could happen.

Yes, the evidence of the past 100 or so games say the Stars are one of the lower-scoring teams in the NHL. Yes, the trend is that players come from other teams and see their production dip significantly. Yes, this is a broken record that you have heard too many times before.

Video: DAL@NSH: Cogliano on success of Stars' 'FCC' line

But as the Stars have gone 18-4-3 over their past 25 games, you have to think they know a little bit about what they're doing.

"We're just trying to contribute," Cogliano said. "I think we have a line that has to do certain things on a nightly basis to make our team good and make our team effective. Goals are bonuses, and when we can provide them, that adds a lot to our team. I think our team is pulling in the right direction right now. Everyone's pulling together … and I'm talking coaching staff, too. It really feels like we're all pulling on the same rope right now.

"That's a really big game for us."

The Stars lost in overtime Friday to Vegas, flew from Dallas to Nashville and got into bed around 1 a.m. They had a strange 5:30 p.m. start for this one, and they seemed unfazed by all of it.

Video: DAL@NSH: Hintz sends puck through Rinne's five-hole

"It's an early game, and you just throw your gear on and you play -- and sometimes that works to your advantage," Cogliano said. "Y'know, after their goal (one minute into the second period), we could have went away and blamed outside factors, but I think our team did a hell of a job tonight."

Interim coach Rick Bowness said sticking to the plan was the reason the team was able to produce goals. While it would have been easy to credit the "FCC" line with a huge offensive performance, the coach focused on the No. 1 job for Faksa, Comeau and Cogliano.

 

[PHOTOS: All the best shots from Stars vs. Predators]

 

"We're not going to measure their value to the team on points," Bowness said. "Their leadership, playing the game the right way on a consistent basis, and their building to kill penalties -- all of those things are just as important as any points. We're not going to worry about the offensive side. There's just so many tangibles that they bring in a positive way with their attitude and their professionalism that out-weighs the points for me."

Which kind of puts this story in an odd place.

Video: DAL@NSH: Radulov on Stars stepping up offensively

The guess here is that they really do want it all. Comeau and Cogliano want to get back to their goal-scoring days, and Bowness wouldn't mind a few more 4-1 games. How they get there? Ah, now we're getting to the heart of the matter.

The principals all agree everything has to start with defense. But if that stingy play is going to create opportunities like Comeau's shorthanded breakaway or Cogliano's steal and drive to the net, well, they might as well score when they get there.

"Scoring is fun, and it's nice to get the glory, and it looks good, but defensive hockey wins games and wins championships," Cogliano said. "I think at the end of the day, St. Louis proved that last year. That's what we want to work towards. We want to be a team that's really tough to play against and that capitalizes on their chances when they get the opportunities. The good teams in the league do that."

The Stars are looking more and more like one of the good teams.

Video: DAL@NSH: Oleksiak nets goal after great deke

Now, you have to read this thing carefully. Dallas was outshot 38-22 on Saturday and received a fantastic performance from Anton Khudobin, who is developing a real nice record in Nashville over the past few seasons. The Predators had an 80-34 advantage in shot attempts, and that also is unflattering for the Stars.

But the bottom line is it never looked that bad. Dallas took a 4-1 lead in the second period and coasted home. It played to the score, which is a pretty smart thing to do when you consider they are in the middle of three games in four nights and will meet this same Nashville team Jan. 1 at the Winter Classic in the Cotton Bowl.

So are we rationalizing the win in spite of some concerns? I really don't think so. This is what the Stars want to be on a regular basis. This is the kind of game they believe can win. Play defense, and the offense will come ... eventually … from somewhere.

"I feel like that's when we're generating our most goals, when we're doing the right things on the (defensive) side rather than hoping for offense," Comeau said. "That was a good example tonight."

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Edmonton Oilers as they return home to American Airlines Center on Monday 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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