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Did Stars' win over Jets offer clues as to where they're heading?

Any way you slice it, Dallas was simply better in its skid-snapping victory over Winnipeg

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

As you sit at home and ponder just who the heck these Masked Singers are (and you know you are pondering this very thing), Saturday night's 4-2 Stars win over the Winnipeg Jets brought your brain a little relief.

Instead of wondering if it's Donnie Osmond or Mike Modano in that peacock outfit, you were able to kick back and ruminate over a more serious subject, like: Where the heck did this performance come from and why the heck can't this team do it every night?

It is the vexing storyline that drives this 82-episode reality show.

"That's been our challenge all year," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said after expressing pride in so many elements of his team's performance and wondering how to replicate it on a more consistent basis.

The Stars had a good start, outshooting the Jets 11-4 and taking a 1-0 lead in the first period. They overcame a couple of hiccups and finished strong, as well, holding off a late Jets power play and adding a late power-play goal. And, quite honestly, they deserved the victory over the best team in the Central Division.

Video: Montgomery says he liked Benn's performance in win

Any way you slice it, the Stars were better.

  • Dallas had a 39-29 advantage in shots on goal.

  • It had a 72-47 advantage in shot attempts.

  • It had a 36-30 advantage in the faceoff circle.

  • It had a 27-13 advantage in hits.

Video: WPG@DAL: Faksa picks the corner on Hellebuyck

    Pretty much everything this team set out to do Saturday, it accomplished. And that is both incredibly inspiring and terribly frustrating all at the same time. One, why haven't they been able to do this in three of the past four games against what appeared to be inferior competition? Two, will they be able to repeat it when they return to play Jan. 30 against the Buffalo Sabres?

    (Dallas has its five-day, league-mandated break starting Sunday followed by the All-Star break, so they will shut things down for a little while).

    "I think the thing that we can control is how hard we work and how smart we play," said captain Jamie Benn after one of his best games in the past month. "That's what we need to replicate every night, and remind ourselves that this league is tough, but if you come to play hard and give your best, we can live with that. When we do it, we have results like we did tonight."

    Now, why it has been so hard to learn that lesson or control those variables is a topic for discussion in this extended vacation from the ice, but the Stars at least left us all with some subject matter.

    Montgomery made some interesting decisions on Saturday, and was rewarded for them. He broke up the top line of Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Raulov, and put Benn with grinders Blake Comeau and Radek Faksa. That Faksa line scored twice, put nine shots on goal, and dished out 13 hits.

    Video: Benn credits hard work all around

    That was impressive.

    "I just thought that Jamie worked really hard last game, and putting him with two other hard workers will be able to give us that identity we are looking for tonight," Montgomery said before the game.

    He was dead on, and that's a nice hit for the first-year coach. He also said in the morning he wanted to try the chemistry of AHL players Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov. He paired those two young forwards with Brett Ritchie, and he hit on that one, too.

    Ritchie scored a goal, and the line combined for eight shots on goal.

    And as the game unfolded, the Stars looked different. They were fast, they were relentless, they were dangerous. Those are all things we've been waiting for…and here they were.

    Video: WPG@DAL: Ritchie redirects Klingberg's shot for PPG

    Was it the trade addition of Andrew Cogliano, who drew a late penalty and seemed to frustrate the skilled Jets? Was it the resurgence of Mattias Janmark, who was moved to a line with Seguin and Radulov and created some open ice with his speed? Was it Hintz and Gurianov, who drove play with their youthful energy?

    Whatever it was, it was quite different than the muddy hockey this team has played too much in games against the Flyers, Blues and Kings.

    On Thursday, the Stars finally got fed up with the quicksand and started to pull themselves out during the third period. On Saturday, they started fast and stayed in that mode.

    "You like to be able to stretch the ice and have speed," Montgomery said. "It's the way the game is played right now. The Penguins won two Cups in a row playing with that speed/stretch game. The best teams that are scoring a lot are the teams that are doing that. Toronto is doing that at a high level."

    And the Stars would dearly love to do the same thing. Do they have the personnel? Do they have the commitment to the details that this type of game entails? Do they have the mental strength to stay on topic?

    Video: Comeau pleased with Stars' work ethic in win

    "It's a hard way to play, but it's going to produce results for us," said Comeau. "We saw it in the third against LA, we saw it for most of the game tonight. We've just got realize what our identity is…I think that's the reason we were able to score some goals tonight and get some power plays, it was strictly out of work ethic and forcing them to take penalties.

    "It's something that we've got to mimic moving forward, and I think everyone knows what we have to do."

    And while there is much talk of work ethic being the biggest element in this style, there also is some coaching involved. Montgomery made some tweaks and stuck with his lines more. He clearly saw chemistry and logic in his decisions, and that paid off.

    So, is he a different coach after 49 games? Does he have a lot to ponder during this long break?

    "I'll be able to answer that better next Sunday when we practice again," he said. "I'll have time to reflect and get the emotions out of the way. Right now, I'm still immersed in the moment and not thinking outside of the box."

    Video: WPG@DAL: Seguin deflects shot past Hellebuyck for PPG

    If he was thinking outside the box, he might be able to offer an opinion on who is the unicorn and who is the lion? All in good time, it seems. The Stars head into the break with positive thoughts, with possible answers, with so many things to think about.

    There are just 33 episodes remaining, and so much to be unveiled.

    The hope is Saturday offered a few clues to where this whole thing is headed.

    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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