Stars conquer lowly start, criticism with corner-turning win streak

Ryan Leslie reports from Pittsburgh where T.J. Brodie has rejoined the Calgary Flames.

It’s pretty easy being green right now — at least, the Dallas Stars are making it look that way.

A month ago, the Stars had to feel like the entire world was conspiring against them. On Saturday, Dallas won its sixth game in a row, a 2-1 shootout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks that ran its record to 13-1-1 since Oct. 19. Two young studs, Roope Hintz and John Klingberg, returned to the Stars lineup versus Chicago following injury-related absences (both lower-body) and Dallas’s lone regulation-time goal in that contest came when a Klingberg point shot glanced off Hintz and hit the back of the net.

The game may never have made it to overtime had Anton Khudobin not come up with this Gumby groin sequence to keep the puck out of the net in the third period.

All this comes a short time after Dallas started the year 1-7-1. Roughly three weeks into the campaign, the Stars had three points, fewer than everyone in the league save the lowly Minnesota Wild. Even when things improved, people weren’t happy.

Calling out Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn has become an annual ritual in Texas, and though coach Jim Montgomery didn’t use his big boys’ names when he chastised them — “You need your No. 1 centre and you need your No. 1 left winger to step up and do more” — his comments left little room for interpretation.

That came on the heels of a Nov. 10 loss to Winnipeg that represented just the second Stars ‘L’ in nine games. Montgomery quickly apologized for the remarks and, man, everyone has been in a good mood since.

Benn — whose slow start this season followed a calamitous 53-point 2018-19 — has four goals and seven points in his past five outings. Seguin netted the shootout winner on Saturday and he’s been a point-a-game player during the past 15 contests. The Stars are really spreading out the goals, with seven players on basically a 20-goal pace since this winning run began. That does not include Hintz, who has 10 tallies in 17 games and sits just outside the league’s top 10 in goals-per-game.

As for the other end of the rink, the Stars are allowing fewer than two goals-per-game while putting up the 13-1-1 record. Ben Bishop has a .942 save percentage in that time, while Khudobin sits at .948 as the pair have basically split the crease down the middle.

With so much season to go, it’s amazing to think we’ve already seen every possible side of the Stars. If they’re still looking at the good one come spring, watch out.

Other Weekend Takeaways

• I’ve noted before: No team that has not won the Cup in recent times deserves the benefit of the doubt more than the San Jose Sharks. That said, I was ready to bury this creaky club three weeks ago.

The Sharks have turned it around, though, winning for the eighth time in nine outings on Saturday with a 2-1 overtime victory versus the Islanders. It should be pointed out San Jose has played seven of those nine games at home and four of the eight victories have required extra time.

And while Martin Jones likely had his best outing of the year versus the Isles, he’s still not consistently giving the Sharks what they need in goal. We’ll see if this savvy team can remain in the Pacific Division hunt.

• I would have been just fine tacking more games onto the four St. Louis defenceman Robert Bortuzzo was actually sentenced to following his awful cross-check of Viktor Arvidsson on Saturday. The Nashville right winger is now slated to be out four-to-six weeks and Bortuzzo has a history of rearing back with both hands and letting opponents have it.

• Calgary and Montreal are two Canadian squads that experienced opposite extremes on Saturday. The Canadiens lost their fourth in a row by blowing a four-goal lead at home to the New York Rangers. The Flames, desperately trying to avoid a seventh-straight setback, got a goalie-on-the-bench equalizer from Elias Lindholm and used a shootout to beat the Flyers in Philly.

I couldn’t find footage of Flames stopper David Rittich — who’d put his team in the hole with a mishandle behind his net — celebrating on the bench when Lindholm tied it, but take my word for it, he was happy.

• Speaking of the Rangers, their victory over Montreal marked the fifth time this year a team has come back from a four-goal deficit to snatch a win. That’s already tied for the most four-goal comebacks in a year (there were five in both 1983-84 and 1985-86).

Filip Chytil beat Carey Price that night and the 20-year-old now has seven goals in 12 outings this year. It’s not always going to be smooth — New York was blasted by coach David Quinn for its lacklustre effort Friday night in Ottawa — but the Rangers have certainly acquired the pieces that can allow fans to dream big.

• How many lost teeth does it take to end an ironman streak? Apparently more than nine. Keith Yandle took a puck in the mouth on Saturday, but was still in the lineup Sunday evening for the Florida Panthers to run his consecutive-games-played streak to 821 games. Well done, sir.

Red and White Power Rankings

1. Edmonton Oilers (16-7-3) – The Oilers managed an overtime win Sunday night in Arizona without the services of second-line centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is expected to miss another game or two with a hand injury.

2. Winnipeg Jets (14-9-1) – Still not the most flattering underlying numbers of late, but the Jets are doing a great job of putting some W’s together. Blake Wheeler found the net for the first time in 10 games during Saturday’s win over Columbus.

3. Vancouver Canucks (12-8-4) – Gutsy 2-1 shootout victory for the Canucks in Washington on Saturday afternoon, especially after falling behind 2:22 into the game. Vancouver now has two critical wins through three contests on a six-game roadie.

4. Montreal Canadiens (11-7-5) – The Habs are just bleeding critical November points of late and Saturday’s collapse versus the Blueshirts was the most egregious example.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (11-10-4) – Tyson Burries? The Toronto Maple Keefes? Oh, the word play a two-game winning streak can inspire.

6. Ottawa Senators (11-11-1) – We always talk about how hard it is to predict who will be at the top of the NHL standings, but I find we’re also pretty bad at figuring out who will be at the bottom.

7. Calgary Flames (11-12-3) – The Flames are averaging a hair over 34 shots-per-game during their past five outings as they try to get this thing turned around. It sounds like T.J. Brodie, who collapsed during a practice drill and started convulsing on Nov. 14, could return Monday night in Pittsburgh.

In Your Ear

Sportsnet’s Luke Fox joined co-host Rory Boylen and I on the latest episode of Tape to Tape. Fox covers the Leafs very closely and had a lot to say about the biggest coaching change we’ve seen in some time.

The Week Ahead

• Henrik Lundqvist choked up on camera talking about the departure of former Rangers teammate Mats Zuccarello last February. On Monday night, ‘The Hobbit’ returns to MSG as a member of the Wild.

• Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon square off in a McTasty matchup on Wednesday in Colorado.

• Happy Thanksgiving, America! A ton of Black Friday actions kicks off with an Original Six tilt between the Bruins and Rangers at 1pm E.T.


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