Modano, after his assist on Toby Petersen
’s goal against Colorado Friday night, now has five points in the last four games (three goals, two assists). Overall, he has 11 goals on the season, second only to Loui Eriksson
’s 12 on the Stars, leaving him on pace for what would be the 10th season of his 19-year career with 30-plus goals.
Then there was his goal with 2:21 remaining against the Oilers on Sunday, which was the 88th game-winner of his career. It also represented his 1,300th career point, a milestone only 30 other NHLers have ever reached, with Modano the first American-born player to get there.
With the Stars depleted by long-term injuries to key offensive players like Brenden Morrow
, Jere Lehtinen and Zubov, Modano’s recent contributions have been vital to the Stars’ fortunes in an already difficult season.
“With as many injuries as we’ve had, we’re relying on certain people to give us a little more and he’s certainly done that,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said of Modano. “His point totals have been strong. He’s had a few off-games, but for the most part, he’s been a very good player for us.”
“Big goals, too, for us, he’s been playing great,” added fellow center Mike Ribeiro
. “He’s been a factor in the game, still can shoot the puck, too, I think we saw that (Sunday). It’s nice to see. He’s on a good pace and that’s what we need. We need guys like that, everyone to step up with all the injuries and it’s nice to see Mo doing his thing.”
Even though the team has struggled most of the season and still remains tied for last in the Western Conference standings (although they’re just four points out of a playoff spot), Modano has seemed more relaxed and happier this season, on and off the ice.
“I think he’s having fun playing,” Tippett said. “Most nights, he goes out there and has fun and enjoying what he’s doing, and he’s getting rewarded for it.”
“It’s hard to be more relaxed than he is,” laughed Ribeiro. “No, I think this year, it’s just playing the game, just come to the rink and play hockey and try to have a smile on your face.”
Modano himself didn’t necessarily agree that he was more relaxed, just more experienced in handling the adversity the team has been going through.
“I think when you feel you’ve been around for awhile, you’ve been through different scenarios,” said Modano, who ranks second on the club in points with 20, just one back of leader Brad Richards at the top. “This isn’t any different from when I first started my career, the ups and downs and personnel changes and a lot of changeover in expectations, but at the end, you do what you do individually to try to prepare yourself to play and do what you do best, within the group and within the team system and what we’re asked to do from Dave and the coaches. Ultimately, the bottom line is to have fun and enjoy what we’re doing. I guess you understand that a little better when you get older.”
But don’t mistake Modano’s ability to take negative events in stride with the notion that he isn’t deeply bothered by the Stars’ sub-par start to the season that saw them spend some time in last overall in the NHL.
“It’s been a real battle, it’s been a struggle at times,” he admitted, “but each day you got to come and get back up and brush yourself off and come to work and come to practice and prepare for the next one.”
“I think it’s been difficult with losing,” acknowledged goaltender Marty Turco. “Some people have a hard time reading him because he is pretty stoic about everything, whether it’s (reaching 1,300 points) or the way the team’s been playing, he does what he needs to do to get himself ready. He’s played in a lot of games, you can’t argue with his track record, but certainly at this juncture of the season, we need him as much as anybody out there to play the way we need him to and for him to lead the way, for us to play a certain way.”
One other factor that has helped Modano’s production this year is the fact that the man who holds virtually every franchise offensive record has not had to be the club’s only weapon. Even with all the injuries, having teammates like Ribeiro and Richards draw the assignments of the opponents’ top checking line has freed Modano up to take advantage of his opportunities.
“Yeah, I think that helps,” Tippett said. “We rely on him to contribute, but he also realizes he’s not going to be the guy that gets the hardest checking every night. We try to have balance throughout our team, that’s what we’ve always talked about, and he’s adding to that balance.”
As for the impressive benchmark Modano hit Sunday in dramatic fashion, he had a few moments of reflection on his longevity.
“It’s just very lucky and fortunate enough to be around this long and be a part of the game,” Modano said. “It’s been very good to me. Players, teammates, coaches, all the same, I think it’s been a great opportunity, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation or organization, in Minnesota and Dallas, and certainly, I feel very fortunate to have played the game for this long.”
His coach and teammates were clearly impressed with his accomplishment.
“You don’t get to 1,300 points without being a great player and it’s great to see him score such a goal that’s very meaningful for our group,” Tippett said.
“That’s huge. I’ve always watched his career from afar, it’s a great milestone,” noted Richards, who joined the Stars in a trade last February. “We obviously need him big time with some injuries. He knows that and we all know that, but it’s great to see what he’s doing at this age. It’s awesome.”
“He’s a thoroughbred, we always knew it, he’s played like it from the onset of his career,” added Turco. “When you thought he was all done with milestones and ceremonies, another one creeps up on you, but it’s certainly no surprise to see him hit that benchmark. I’m sure he’ll tell you the most important thing was the timing of the goal. The excitement on his face that you haven’t seen in a long time probably stemmed from the position we’re in, the timing in the game more than the 1,300. But we certainly are lucky to have witnessed a lot of things - I have anyway, in my career, along side him.”
With 539 career goals now, Modano’s incredible numbers will continue to be in the spotlight, as he sits just two behind Stan Mikita for 27th on the NHL’s all-time list in that category, with several others just ahead. So as this season goes along and Modano continues to perform like he’s at least five years younger, expect more celebrations of his outstanding career achievements.