DALLAS -- The battle to become a team is real in the NHL, and the process takes a lot more than just one game.
But the Stars accomplished a lot with a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders Saturday. They assimilated Alexander Radulov back into the lineup after a healthy scratch. They adjusted several lines and defense pairs to suit the coaching staff's wishes. And they out-teamed maybe one of the best team-based systems in the NHL.
And that's a pretty good night.
[WATCH: All highlights from Stars' win over Islanders]
"They've been a good team all year," forward Andrew Cogliano said of an Islanders squad that is 19-7-2 after the loss. "I thought we had a couple of lapses during the game, but other than that, I thought we were in control for most of it. It's really encouraging for us (after) going on a little slide, but having two strong games to get things back in line."
The Stars had gone 0-3-1 in four games, including losing 5-1 in Winnipeg Tuesday in what coach Jim Montgomery called the team's worst game of the year. Mix into that the fact that Alexander Radulov has been struggling and the team decided to scratch him Tuesday, and this has been an eventful few days for everyone.
Radulov is an intriguing individual, and much of this night was about him. He is both the high-energy player who helped the team beat Minnesota with a huge shift on Oct. 29, as well as the high-energy player who helped the Stars lose to Minnesota with an unfortunate shift on Dec. 1.
Radulov inspired his teammates with an effort goal that led to turning a 3-0 deficit into a 6-3 victory back in October. You could say that win would have never happened without Radulov, and that the season would be very different right now had the Stars lost that contest.
Video: NYI@DAL: Montgomery on Radulov's return in Stars' win
A few games back in Minnesota, however, he took a careless offensive-zone penalty with 2:43 remaining in the third period and the Stars clinging to a 2-1 lead. Minnesota scored to tie the game on the ensuing power play and then won in the shootout, as the Stars fell into an 0-3-1 slump. It was Radulov's 14th minor penalty on the season, and he would go on to get his 15th the next game in Winnipeg.
So the coaching staff felt a message was needed, and a healthy scratch was arranged for Thursday against the Jets. The Stars won that game, 3-2, in overtime, but everyone knew that Radulov needed to get back into a game, and that the Stars were far from perfect.
Coaches put Radulov back in on a line with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, took Justin Dowling out, and put Mattias Janmark in with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top line. They also shuffled all three defense pairs back to what they have run for much of the season, and asked everyone to play a team game.
Dallas was the better team against a very disciplined Islanders squad and won pretty much every statistical category. The Stars had a 37-35 edge in shots on goal, a 68-61 advantage in shot attempts, and a 29-25 edge in faceoffs. They also scored twice on the power play while stopping both of the Islanders' power-play sessions.
That was a good night overall.
"We've kind of been a streaky team so far, but it all comes down to your overall game and we wanted to play a full 60 [minutes]," Janmark said. "I don't know if we managed to do that, but we were good enough and we controlled it pretty good for long periods of the game."
Video: NYI@DAL: Radulov nets wrister through traffic for PPG
The victory certainly passed the eye test for the 18,532 in attendance, and it also was pretty impressive on the stat sheet. No player played more than John Klingberg's 22:12 and no player played less than Denis Gurianov's 12:20. Time on ice on the sheet was filled with players in the 14-, 15-, and 16-minute range.
It was a beautiful tapestry of the kind of hockey Montgomery is seeking.
Four lines rolled, three defense pairs rocked. Goalie Ben Bishop stopped 34 shots and looked very relaxed doing so.
"We were doing what we wanted to do," Bishop said when asked about the team's defensive structure. "We stuck to the game plan. They're pretty meat and potatoes like us, and we just had to stick to our game plan longer than they did. … When you're able to get a couple there and then obviously extend the lead to three, you know you're going to get them out of their game, and we were able to just do what it takes to win."
Which is a great lesson for everyone. Structure is more important than flash, effort is needed, but over-effort can be damaging. Play with emotion, but don't be emotional.
Radulov was the perfect example on this night. He logged 15:10 on the second line, took three shots on goal, and didn't appear close to committing a penalty. With the Stars leading 1-0 near the end of the first period, Radulov recovered three different loose pucks to keep the Stars in the attacking zone with the man advantage. Then, he circled back into the high slot and took a pass from John Klingberg. Radulov snapped in his ninth goal of the season and the Stars had a seemingly insurmountable two-goal lead in a game that was expected to be low-scoring.
"He's an elite player," said Montgomery. "He sees the ice well, he's an elite playmaker, and he does a lot of good things. When he plays like tonight, it just elevates our team."
Video: NYI@DAL: Bishop on 'great' win for Stars over Isles
It really does.
The Stars are a team filled with players who have scored a lot of points in this league -- Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry, Radulov. They also have a couple of young scorers in Roope Hintz (11 goals) and Denis Gurianov (six goals), so they really don't need everyone clicking every night. But they need one or two going, and then they need the rest to not hurt the team.
That was a message sent by the Radulov scratch.
That was a message that seemed to be received pretty well.
Most of the offensive players on the Stars are behind their expected scoring levels, and yet the team is 17-11-3 and finding ways to win. On one hand, we can all worry that they'll never hit their expected quotas and that will be a discussion point about the future viability of this lineup. On the other hand, we can ponder what might happen if they each start getting a little bit closer to "normal" as the season wears on.
Radulov got a little bit closer Saturday.
He was just a small part of a pretty good team effort, and maybe that's the real message of the night.
Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the New Jersey Devils as they continue the homestand on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at American Airlines Center. 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.