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John Klingberg finding his stride

Stars defenseman playing with confidence and the points are starting to come

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Confidence is an important part of Stars defenseman John Klingberg's game, and right now he is playing with confidence.

Klingberg has been on a nice run recently, registering points in seven of the past eleven games and tallying four goals and five assists during that stretch. Klingberg, who got off to a rocky start this season, is starting to look like the player that ranked fifth among NHL defensemen in scoring with 58 points (10 goals, 48 assists) and finished sixth in the Norris Trophy voting in 2015-16. 

"I think with the team playing better lately, the confidence has grown with me," Klingberg said. "I like where [my game] is right now. I think I have been playing defensively really good and offensively I've been in on a lot of chances too."

Klingberg's improved play has mirrored the team's better play, which started in early December. After posting a minus-ten rating his first 23 games, Klingberg has been a plus-eight over his past 18. During that stretch the Stars have seen improved defensive play, allowing just 2.44 goals against per game. The offense has picked up recently for the Stars, who are averaging 3.11. goals per game over their past nine games, and Klingberg has been a part of that.

"It's just a combination of the fact the team is playing better now, and there are better avenues for him going up ice to join," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "I think he's making quicker decisions. He's getting more pucks to the net."

That Klingberg confidence took a hit earlier this season when he got off to a slow start, especially the first two months of the season. There were a couple of tough moments when he didn't play.

In November, he sat out one game after oversleeping and showing up late for a team meeting. A week later, he sat out as a healthy scratch. Not exactly what he or the team was looking for after his performance last season. It was a wake-up call for Klingberg, who knew he had to be better.

Klingberg's saw his struggles as trying to do too much as the team tried to overcome a rash of injuries at forward. 

"I had put a lot of pressure upon myself to really step forward and to be able to create those chances and be a guy that you can count on offensively," Klingberg said. "I think that hurt my overall game a lot as I was trying to do too much. I think for myself just to sit back and not chase the game, just the play the right way."

And as the Stars started to turn their game around in early December, Klingberg started to get his game on track as well. It didn't hurt that he finally had a regular defense partner in Esa Lindell. Those two were put together as a pair in late November, and they've stuck together.

"We've found a pair we really like now," Ruff said. "They are going to have their ups and downs and tough games, but I think we have found a pair that has a little bit of everything for us."

Klingberg said the consistent pairing with Lindell has been a big plus.

"Early in the year we were changing partners a lot," said Klingberg. "I think the coaches wanted to see where guys were fitting into each other and I think lately we've been showing them where the D pairs might be set. I think I'm a little bit more comfortable now playing with Esa the whole time instead of changing D partners and try to always execute together. It's been a lot better now lately for every D."

And since Dec. 3, not long after being paired with Lindell and when the Stars started to turn their overall play around, Klingberg seems to be hitting his stride and playing with confidence again.

"Confidence is everything in my game," Klingberg said "I think I've been playing a lot better and I get my confidence back."

Notes: Oleksiak out 3-6 weeks

*Stars coach Lindy Ruff provided an update on the status of defenseman Jamie Oleksiak Friday, and it wasn't good news. Oleksiak, who suffered a hand injury in Tuesday's game at Anaheim, is expected to miss 3-6 weeks. Oleksiak was placed on injured reserve Thursday.

*The Stars held an optional practice Friday with just a few guys on the ice. The Stars will be playing their fifth game in eight nights on Saturday and are in a middle of a stretch of seven games in eleven days.

"We're just trying to get some rest and try to stay fresh," Ruff said. "You look at this stretch, maybe a little bit of light skate on Sunday morning before we leave [for three-game road trip] and then there won't be any practices before we finish that trip or even after we finish."

*Forwards Ales Hemsky (hip surgery) and Mattias Janmark (knee surgery) were both at the Stars practice facility in Frisco Friday. Ruff provided a brief update on the pair.

"Just progressing, they're on the timetable with the physical therapy," Ruff said. "They'll work to the next point after that."

Janmark had knee surgery in late September and was expected to be out at least 5-6 months.

Hemsky had hip surgery in late October and was expected to be out 5-6 months.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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