Weird things tend to happen during the first game back from the December holiday break. Maybe it’s because the players have not had a meaningful skate since defeating Montreal four days ago. Maybe it’s because of the mirth and merriment that takes place during this time of the year (Congrats to Jamie Benn on his engagement). Some players actually go north for 48 hours to visit family and meet the team on location. For the remainder, it’s a 7am flight, followed by pregame skate, followed by a meal, nap and game time. It’s a recipe for uncertainty and mayhem.
There were certain aspects of the evening in Nashville that looked like all involved were just waking up from a long nap. While the power play contributed a goal, there were two full opportunities with no shots on goal and the special teams unit also allowed a shorthanded goal against for only the second time this season.
When facing the possibility of an uneven performance, team cornerstones have to be the rocks which are the foundation to victory. That’s exactly what happened. Jamie Benn set the tone 1:13 into the game with a snipe that gave Dallas a lead and moved him into 2nd place in franchise history for goals scored. The Stars never trailed, which no matter what the circumstance, is the best way to play on the road. In the middle stanza when the team was struggling, Jake Oettinger did his best work. Otter stemmed the tide late in the second period when the Predators were dominant. His biggest saves came with under 90 seconds to go in the frame—back-to-back stops on Mattias Ekholm and then the rebound off the stick of Mikael Granlund.
Roope Hintz is another rock on which the Stars success is built. The Ace of Spades has been the best player for Dallas this month and continues to be. A power play goal in the second period was just a prelude to the major heroics of the night, the game winning goal off a net front scramble with under 53 seconds to play. It’s his second consecutive game with two goals and brings his total for December to 10 lamplighters. As good as Jason Robertson and Jamie Benn were in November, Hintz has been shining in the final month of 2022. Good teams find new heroes on a consistent basis. Under Pete DeBoer’s philosophy of equalized ice time, the #1 Star of the Game recognition has belonged to many, not just a few.
Realistically, this should be (and is) an amazing week for the organization. On the prospect front, 2022 first round pick Defenseman Lian Bichsel of Switzerland has been the talk of the World Junior Championships, playing more than 27 minutes per game and leading the tournament in bone-jarring hits. The Dallas Stars just won on the road for the 11th time in 20 games. During the entire 2021-22 campaign, Dallas won just 19 times away from the AAC. The team will enter the New Year of 2023 in first place in the Central Division. At Training Camp when DeBoer talked about the team needing time to gel and learn his new system, first place seemed to be an objective in the future. Now, his team is the one that sets the pace.
The only question facing the organization is how to get people in town to realize what is happening on the ice under their very noses. On a night when Roope Hintz creates last second heroics, some guy named Luka steals all the headlines with a performance for the ages. Talk about possible playoff success and the conversation immediately turns to Dak Prescott and the other team with a Star as part of its logo. It’s frustrating to at times be the talk of the hockey world, but never the talk of your own hometown.
The only thing the Stars can do is keep on trucking. On-ice heroics create victories. Victories create good storylines and good storylines ultimately earn the attention of even the average sports fan.
The bottom line is despite all the reasons the game against Nashville could have gone off the rails, it didn’t. The Stars stayed the course, regained their focus, and walked out of Music City with two more points to deposit. Maybe someday soon the Stars will get their well-deserved place in the DFW spotlight. But for now, being the best team they can be on a consistent basis will have to be good enough for all involved.