Metropolis has Superman. Gotham City has Batman. The Dallas Stars have Miro Heiskanen.
With the Stars at their lowest ebb defensively in this young season, the team turned to Heiskanen to stop the bleeding. As usual, the Finnish superstar responded. This is one night where the stat sheet doesn't tell the full story about one man's effect on the game. There is a calmness and confidence when #4 is on the ice, intangibles Dallas desperately needed to find against the Blues.
Miro played a game-high 26:03, but most of his ice time came with the game tied or Dallas clinging to a one-goal lead. Heiskanen was on the ice for 9:44 of the first period and nearly ten full minutes in the second. Miro was on the ice for 28 shifts, with 27 of them at even strength. Only when Dallas had a multi-goal lead, was the D-Corp evenly rotated among all three pairings.
Game Analysis: Stars Third Line Dominates in 4-1 Win in St. Louis
There are two things that can be done when a problem arises. The first is to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. The second is to admit you have a problem and do something to fix it. That was the dilemma facing Dallas Stars Head Coach Pete DeBoer as the team headed into Monday night's game at St. Louis. His team was playing the worst defense of the season, giving up four or more goals in four of the last five games, including the last three in a row.
Hockey Axiom: Chasing Hockey is Losing Hockey.
Even more concerning was how the goals were being scored. Blown defensive assignments leading to quality chances, partnered with horrific coverage on rebounds led to the Stars trailing in the 3rd period in each of those previous four games. Dallas only managed a win against the lowly Chicago Blackhawks during the current run of play.
Simply put, at even strength the team had lost its way. Leading the retreat was the blueline corps itself. Over the 1-1-2 span, the defensive stats looked more like the leaderboard at the US Open.
DeBoer decided changes had to be made and he pulled the correct strings while doing it. Rookie Nils Lundkvist was a healthy scratch (more on that in a minute) and Joel Hanley was inserted into the lineup. The big move was to reunite the Stars top pairing from last year with Ryan Suter joining Heiskanen and give them the majority of the workload. The fix worked dramatically with no odd-man rushes against and strong positional play in front of Scott Wedgewood.
Suter struggled last week, looking slow at times and caught out of position on several goals in front of the Stars net. Paired with Miro, the 37-year-old blueliner looked solid again. Analytically speaking, Suter’s weak point is defensive zone puck retrievals. Playing with Heiskanen, that weakness is minimized due to Miro’s speed and ability to get back into his own end. Suter played 24 shifts, averaging more than a minute per outing for a game total of 24:33. Most importantly, he was on the ice for three of the four Stars goals ending with a +2 rating. You don’t bench a veteran of more than 1300 NHL games. Pairing Suter with Heiskanen for this night was a much better option, resulting in a reset for the entire defensive unit.
As for Nils Lundkvist, a night off and mental regrouping was needed. The young defenseman was -5 last week and struggled with his play in the defensive zone and especially in front of the net. It was at this point last season, the Rangers decided he could not cut it in the NHL and sent him to Hartford for the remainder of the season. That will not happen with the Stars who believe in Lundkvist. He will be back in the starting lineup soon. Progress in the NHL is not always a forward path. Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Ty Dellandrea were sent down at some point in their careers and now are thriving. As young defensemen, John Klingberg and Esa Lindell were an occasional healthy scratch and learned from the experience. Dallas will be patient with him as they see a great future for the talented Swede.
Miro Heiskanen has never been a healthy scratch and probably never will be. Norris Trophy voters don’t seem to truly appreciate what Miro brings to Dallas on a nightly basis. Maybe that will change. Maybe putting Heiskanen in the superhero category might be a bit much, but when Dallas needs him the most, Miro the Hero, as some fans call him, is one heck of a security blanket.