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On the Radar: The Show Must Go On

by Josh Bogorad / Dallas Stars

There are moments in every year that become season-defining. Some of them are good. Others, not so much. With just under seven minutes remaining in Saturday's game against the Florida Panthers, the Dallas Stars experienced one of those moments. The second Dmitry Kulikov went low on his open-ice check against Tyler Seguin, the Stars season instantly changed.

Seguin was on pace to be a legitimate MVP candidate. Not just for the Stars. For the entire NHL. Seguin leads the Stars in goals, points, power play goals, shots, and game-winning goals. He is second among forwards in ice time per game, and has won more than 53% of his faceoffs this year. He centered the top line all season, and has developed a solid 200-foot game. At the time of the hit, Seguin was tied for second in NHL points and third in goals. Even with his goal output slowed of late, he still found a way to be a consistent producer. Entering Saturday's game against Florida, Seguin had 11 points in his previous 11 games. Before being sidelined Seguin had either scored or assisted on 59 of the Stars 172 goals this season - a whopping 34.3%. Only five other NHL teams have a player who has factored into his team's production at that rate.

There is no way around the obvious. The loss of Tyler Seguin leaves an enormous vacancy every game that he misses. 

That Seguin's departure came sandwiched in between additional injuries to forwards Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves somehow makes it even more impactful. In one night the Stars lost half of their top-six forwards. Yet, despite it all, the remaining schedule will take place exactly the same way it promised to on Saturday morning, before the hat trick of injuries. And the Stars - whoever is in the lineup - will have to answer the challenge that awaits them.

Following the game, coaches and players spoke about how the team would have to "step up," and how this would be an "opportunity" for guys to get their chance in the lineup or in a larger role. Sure, it's cliché, but that doesn't make it any less true. While the trio's production cannot simply be handed to anyone, their ice time can and will. Once it is, It's up to those players to make an impact.

On the postgame show, Brent Severyn reminded viewers that while it was a gigantic loss for the Stars, things like this happen, "all the time." He's right. Sometimes it can derail a season, and sometimes clubs find a way to persevere through. Last year the Detroit Red Wings were a playoff team despite losing both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk for almost half the season. The Tampa Bay Lightning found a way to top the 100-point mark last year while Steven Stamkos remained sidelined from November to March. Even the Stars dealt with an onslaught of injuries last season, rendering their blue line paper-thin just after Thanksgiving, but still found a way to get a playoff spot.

If this year's Stars team is going to be the latest team to suffer a crushing loss and live to tell about it, there is no time to feel sorry for themselves. Dallas has four games this week, and ten in the next three weeks - the low-end estimation of Seguin's predicted absence. Furthermore, four of their next six games come against teams they are contending with in the Wild Card standings.

While everybody will have to carry their weight to pull the Stars through this setback, let's take a look at a few specific players that will be relied upon immediately to help lead that charge.

Jamie Benn: Whenever adversity strikes, you naturally look to your leaders. In this case, Jamie Benn is both the captain, and the man second, only to Seguin, in goals and points on the team. He has three goals and an assist during a three-game point streak, and has appeared to elevate his physical play as well. Benn has points in 10 of his last 13 games over the last month, with 15 points over that span. Last year Benn had 28 points in 23 games following the Olympic Break to lead the Stars to the playoffs. They need him lead by example and go on a similar late-season run this year.

Jason Spezza: Seguin's absence not only left the Stars without their leading scorer, but also their top-line center. When Spezza was acquired in the offseason it was to strengthen the team's center depth. Considering his career in Ottawa, Spezza was viewed more as a #1-A center than a #2. Now you can strip the A. After trying them on different lines on Sunday, Lindy Ruff said he will pair Spezza and Benn together (presumably with Erik Cole) on Tuesday and ask them to pace the offense. Spezza is on his most productive stretch of the season right now, with goals in three of his last four games and points in five straight and 12 of his last 14. 

Eakin and the Pit Bulls: While it might sound like an 80's rock band, this trio will play a huge role in the Stars fate over the final two months. Last season they served as the de facto second line, and now they will be looked to produce like a #2 unit again. With all the rearranging at Monday's practice, the Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Ryan Garbutt line was the only one that remains intact from last week, before any injuries or suspensions. That's a testament to their chemistry and what Ruff feels like he can get out of them. However, he reiterated that if they do not produce, he will have to consider splitting them up. The three forwards have combined for 28 goals this season, but they have just four in 17 games dating back to January 8. They will still be called upon for their shutdown and physical ability, but especially with a thinned forward crop, that line must regain their scoring touch. 

Kari Lehtonen: With all the damage done to the Stars forwards, perhaps the biggest spotlight of all falls between the pipes. The Stars are the second highest scoring team in the NHL, and given their style of play and offensive depth, they should still be able to find the back of the net. However, their margin for error undoubtedly took a shot with the injuries. They need to be able to count on solid goaltending down the stretch, and have a netminder who will steal them a few games. Fortunately for the Stars, ever since a critical postgame review from Ruff following a loss to Tampa Bay, Lehtonen has been outstanding. He has won three straight, and allowed just five combined goals, while turning aside 112 of 117 shots faced. He was also praised by Ruff for looking as calm and composed as he had all season in Saturday's 37-save shutout. Even with the recent trade for Jhonas Enroth, this is still Kari's team, and he has an opportunity to put a stamp on that, and change the narrative of his season with a big two months.

While those are some of the major figures the Stars will look towards to help keep things on course, they will need a complete team effort. We haven't heard the phrase, "Everybody Ropes, Everybody Rides" as much this season, but it certainly applies right now. The race for a playoff spot is still on, and the Stars are still very much in contention. Last week the injury bug hit the Stars hard. It's time to see how hard they can swing back. 

When Tyler Seguin was helped off the ice Saturday night, it changed the Stars season. Now it's up to those remaining in the lineup to prove it didn't end it.

The Stars bookend the week with a pair of road games on Tuesday and Sunday. They return home for a couple of games sandwiched in between: Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' as the Stars get set for another busy slate of games:

Follow the Leader

For all the back-and-forth play the Stars have seen this season, there have been a surprisingly limited number of lead changes recently. Despite most of them being close games, there has not been a single lead change over the last six contests - a span of 361:02. The last lead change in a Stars game was on February 3 when Colorado beat Dallas in an 11-round shootout, after never leading during the game. The last time a team played both with the lead and from behind in the same game was before the All-Star Break on January 20 when the Stars lost to the Boston Bruins 3-1. Vernon Fiddler opened the scoring for Dallas before the Bruins scored three unanswered goals to win. From the time the Bruins took their 2-1 lead until the start of this week, the Stars have played 11 games and a remarkable 627 minutes and 35 seconds without seeing an in-game lead change. 

Shorthanded Scoring

The Stars lead the NHL with nine shorthanded goals this season, and lately they have been on a tear when down a man. The Stars scored three shorthanded goals last week, including two against a Boston team that, entering the game, had not surrendered a shorthanded tally all season. The Stars have a total of five shorthanded goals in their last nine games. Six different Stars have scored shorthanded this season. Trevor Daley, Jamie Benn, and Eakin lead the club with two shorties each. Cole, Garbutt and Fiddler have also scored shorthanded. At the other end of the ice, the Stars have allowed six shorthanded goals this season, tying for the third-highest total in the league.

Trading Places

Thursday will mark the first meeting between the Stars and San Jose Sharks since the November 21 trade that swapped defensemen Jason Demers for Brenden Dillon. Both players had spent their entire careers with the team that traded them, so Thursday will be the first time either man goes up against his former club. Demers and Dillon have an equal number of games this season, having played 20 before the trade and 36 since. Demers has registered 13 points (2g, 11a), 51 PIM, a -3 rating, and 19:20 of ice time/game with Dallas. Dillon has 8 points (2g, 6a), 33 PIM, a -12 rating, and 19:02 of ice time/game with San Jose. Between the two players, three of the four goals they have scored have been game-winners. The Stars and Sharks will meet one more time this season on April 6 in San Jose. 

 

Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad. 

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