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With Klingberg out, Stars must keep finding ways to persevere

Dallas has earned its standing by becoming a tough bunch, but its biggest hurdle might be still to come

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Tyler Seguin couldn't buy a goal, so he stole one instead.

It was kind of emblematic of the Stars' season so far.

Battling a 12-game goal drought, Seguin slipped in front of a Brenden Dillon pass and flipped in just his fourth goal of the season Thursday to help the Stars to a 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks. It was a moment of significant relief for Seguin, who had to will his way through the slump with determination and hard work.

Of course, a lot happened between the Seguin goal in the second period and the final horn, but all of it is tied together.

Because the theme of this 2018-19 season seems to be grinding through, and the Stars are having to do that in pretty much every element of their game. Seguin fought the scoring demons and finally won. The goalies have been fighting significant shot differentials and finding ways to win. The depth scoring is stepping up in the absence of Alexander Radulov (who has missed nine games this season with a lower body injury) and the absence of Seguin's scoring touch.

Video: 'I think we've become resilient'

What's more, a defense that already has been grinding through injuries to Marc Methot (lower body), Stephen Johns (neck/headaches) and Connor Carrick (ankle) must now find a way to survive without No. 1 defenseman John Klingberg, who suffered an upper body injury Thursday when he was blocking a shot and will be out a minimum of three weeks, according to head coach Jim Montgomery.

That's some kind of negativity that must be navigated.

"Find ways," Seguin said when asked what the team is going through. "The whole season's a grind, it's part of the league. Tonight, at times, it felt like we were on the road still. Just trying to find that energy and that home little kick you get, but we found a way."

This team is an intriguing study in psychological tests.

The new coach and his coaching staff are trying so hard to dodge asteroids while they wander through space on a mission to see if their brand of hockey will work in the NHL. The top players are trying to see if they can carry the load with one of the Musketeers hurt and the other two playing on different lines. The defensemen are each getting bigger and bigger roles, and trying desperately to play above their projected pedigree.

Video: 'I'm trying to play with poise with the puck'

And so far it's working.

The Stars are 9-6-1 (19 points) on the season and in second place in the Central Division. They have accumulated a good deal of those points by first overcoming a terrible road psyche on a six-game expedition. They got the last two by marching into American Airlines Center Thursday and disregarding the ol' hockey adage that the first home game after a long road trip is almost always a loss.

They have earned their standing by becoming a pretty tough bunch.

"We know it's going to be up and down in the season, and we need to eliminate those downs and be more up," said defenseman Roman Polak, who played a season-high 23:09 because Klingberg left early in the third period.

"We're just battling every game."

Video: 'I think we had a lot more composure'

Polak has been a bell cow in that department. The 32-year-old was plus-2 and a steadying force Thursday on a big penalty kill that kept a dangerous Sharks attack from changing the game.

"He's probably a microcosm of what we're looking at," said Montgomery. "He scrapes, he battles, he claws, he kicks, and that's what we're doing as a team right now. It's fun to be in the room, because everyone is fighting for each other. We've got to keep building on that and improve our 5-on-5 game."

Polak himself was far from ecstatic about the performance in a game where Dallas was outshot 36-22. After Jamie Benn passed up a shot at a potential empty-net goal, the Sharks found a wide-open Joe Thornton for one last chance at a tie.

Anton Khudobin stopped Thornton and secured the win. In doing so, he allowed the Stars the opportunity to improve, to head to practice Friday in Frisco with the idea that they can be much better. That's a nice place to be when you're still winning games.

"I don't think we've practiced in two weeks because of the legs," Seguin said of Montgomery choosing to rest on the road to keep energy high. "So it will be nice tomorrow."

Video: "A storyline rich evening of full contact ice hockey"

That's where this team is right now. They are looking forward to practice, they are looking forward to seeing how they can piece together their defense with Klingberg out for at least three weeks, they're looking forward to jumping right back into the grind.

"We have four regulars out right now, but it's a wonderful opportunity for the young men who get called up and it's a wonderful opportunity for guys like (Julius) Honka and Miro (Heiskanen) to establish themselves in the NHL and be go-to guys," Montgomery said. "You wanted ice time, you wanted opportunity, here it is."

And if anyone needs advice on how to handle the challenge, Seguin can probably give a couple of tips.

"I think we did find something on that road trip we just had," Seguin said. "We found something there, which I think we need to take all of the time."

If they do, who knows where this team can go when it finally gets healthy.

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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