With the NHL holiday break starting this morning, it’s a perfect time to look back at all of the good Dallas has built and achieved in the opening part of the season
After staring at my laptop screen and contemplating the cosmos for roughly an hour, that’s the best word I came up with to summarize the Dallas Stars so far.
Of course, if you’re one for recency bias, the word miraculous might fit the bill even better.
We all love a good miracle. Whether it’s the Miracle on Ice or Miracle on 34th Street, there’s something about achieving the practically impossible that brings us an otherwise unattainable sense of joy and wonder.
And with the holiday season in full swing, it’s only fitting that the Stars would author one more Christmas miracle before heading into the NHL’s three-day holiday break. Thus, the Miracle on Broadway was born.
Down 2-1 in the dying moments of the third period, Dallas mounted yet another rally. Craig Smith potted a loose puck on a strong final push by the team to tie the game with 15 seconds remaining. And in the blink of an eye, Jani Hakanpää blasted home another loose puck to take the lead with 3.2 seconds remaining. And just like that, the Stars became the first team in NHL history to earn a win by scoring a game-tying and go-ahead goal in the final 15 seconds of regulation.
It was the same display of tenacity that we’ve come to know and expect from this team. The two points sent them into the break on a strong note atop the Central Division standings for the second consecutive season.
So, what can you say about this Dallas Stars club at the Christmas break? Perhaps a better question would be… what can’t you say?
After all, this team has a little bit of everything going for it right now.
The 20-8-4 record is tied for the fourth best start through 32 games in franchise history. They’re the sixth team with 20 wins in the NHL this season, and one of only three with at least 10 home and road wins. Their .688 points percentage is also tied with Boston for fourth-best in the League.
A full-team effort has been critical to that success.
Six Stars currently have 10+ goals. That’s tied for the most of any team in the NHL. In addition, Wyatt Johnston (9), Thomas Harley (9) and Evgenii Dadonov (8) are on the double-digit doorstep.
Nine are on pace to hit the 20-goal mark, a feat achieved by only two NHL teams in the last 31 years.
They also have nine guys with 20+ points. The next closest teams? The Hurricanes and Islanders with seven each. In addition to spreading Christmas cheer, they’re spreading the puck around and sharing the wealth better than any other team. Heck, Smith and Hakanpää, the two heroes in Nashville, entered yesterday’s game with two combined goals on the season.
This team can truly beat you 18 different ways on a given night. That’s a far cry from two years ago when they were primarily labeled as a one-line team.
Speaking of lines, how about the efforts up front? Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski are on their typical surge, taking up three of the team’s top four spots on the points leaderboard. Pavelski is once again rewriting the standard for older players with 31 points at the crisp age of 39.
Nestled in third in points, however, is newcomer Matt Duchene. And what an addition he’s been. Coming off of a buyout by Nashville, the veteran center signed a one-year deal with the Stars back on July 1. In 31 games this season, Duchene has 11 goals and 29 points. That includes an NHL-leading six game-winning goals and a team-high plus-11 rating. He’s strung together three separate point streaks of 5+ games and has been an immediate impact in every regard. Is he the best signing of the 2023 offseason? It certainly looks like it.
He’s also breathed new life into the Stars’ second line. After his quietest offensive season in a Dallas uniform last year, Tyler Seguin has roared back with authority. He’s got 10 goals (all at even strength) and 23 points. Alongside Duchene and Mason Marchment (who also has 10 goals), the trio has become a nightly threat at even strength and one of the most consistent lines in the League.
On the back end, Miro Heiskanen is on a December tear with 10 points in 11 games. Hot on his heels is fellow first-round pick Harley.
In his first full NHL season, the 22-year-old has been a dynamic threat. In addition to being defensively stout, Harley is tied for 3rd among NHL defensemen with nine goals. His ice time has risen significantly since the beginning of the year and he’s secured the trust of the coaching staff in the biggest moments of a game. In the past week alone, he’s scored a game-tying goal to force overtime and both scored and assisted an OT game-winner. There isn’t enough you can say about his meteoric rise.
Speaking of defense, the Stars’ goals against average has unexpectedly risen this season. After averaging 2.64 goals against per game over the past five seasons (4th best in the NHL), Dallas sits 14th at 3.09 this year. But it hasn’t hindered them. In games where they allow 3+ goals, the Stars are 12-7-2. Only one other team in the NHL has a record above .500 in that scenario. Of course, owning the 6th-highest scoring offense at 3.50 goals per game doesn’t hurt.
And if we know anything about this Dallas Stars team, they take pride in owning a defensive identity. A course correction over the back half of the season seems likely.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the last line of defense. After Jake Oettinger’s red-hot 5-0-1 start helped the Stars pull out to the front of the pack, it’s been Scott Wedgewood keeping Dallas in the fight over the past few weeks. With Oettinger labeled as week-to-week with a lower-body injury, Wedgewood has filled the void brilliantly.
He’s 9-1-2 on the season, the second-best record among goalies in the NHL right now. That includes an active stretch of 10 straight decisions with a point (8-0-2). That’s the 3rd longest stretch by a goaltender in Dallas history, trailing only Marty Turco (16 in 2002-03) and Ed Belfour (11 in 1998-99). That’s some pretty good company.
Bottom line, he’s finding ways to win and has been a saving grace in a position that can sometimes be the root of a team’s demise.
And how about the art of the comeback? It’s an incredible transformation that the Stars have undergone. In Pete DeBoer’s first season, the Stars were a team that would score first, pile on and defend the lead. This time around, however, Dallas has trailed first in 18 of 32 games. Their record in those games? An NHL-leading 11-6-1. In fact, they’re the only team more than two games above .500.
To cap it off, the Stars have 12 comeback wins on the year, including 5 by multiple goals. They also have a dozen wins by one goal, one off of matching their total from last season. All three of those lead the NHL. This consistent display of moxie has been a critical theme in the year and given way to a “never die” aura.
The Stars have put together an impressive push that’s included plenty of fun and flair along the way. Perhaps the most impressive part is the four-line, three-pair, two-goalie effort that has carried them to one of the top spots in the League.