Following a thrilling 4-3 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens, the Dallas Stars now embark on a rare back-to-back matinee weekend, beginning on Saturday against the New York Islanders. This will be their first trip to Long Island since Feb. 4 2020 and first time seeing the brand new UBS Arena, which will play host to ‘Nickelodeon Day’ on Saturday.
Klingberg Steps Up at the Right Time
Thursday’s overtime victory was a huge one for Dallas and especially for John Klingberg. The 29-year-old defenseman has been in the middle of trade talks and other distractions while also struggling to play consistent hockey all season. His two goals in the game all but proved his dedication to this team and this season, something the Stars hope carries forward.
“He was amazing,” Stars forward Radek Faksa said. “He basically decided the game for us.”
After scoring just one goal through the first 55 games, Klingberg has tallied three in the last four. This improvement could not have come at a better time as Dallas is trying to overcome to loss of Miro Heiskanen (mono) for the foreseeable future. If players like Klingberg, Ryan Suter, and Esa Lindell can continue to step up to not only play big minutes, but to be the backbone of the defense, move the puck well out of their own zone, and produce on the other end, the Stars have a legitimate chance at cracking the postseason.
“There were times [Thursday] you could see how much we miss Miro,” Bowness said. “But John and Ryan [Suter] and Esa [Lindell], they’ve all stepped up.”
For Klingberg, he just tries to play his game while blocking out the inevitable noise surrounding him. As an offensively focused defenseman, he takes risks on the offensive end that sometimes prove costly. On the flip side, those risks also result in extended zone time and crucial goals, sometimes of the highlight-reel variety.
“I try to play the same way every night,” he said. “With a player out of that caliber, you have to step up a little bit more. That’s from the whole D corps. I think we’ve done a good job most of the time. There were some hiccups [Thursday] from the D and from myself especially, too, we’re not happy with. Obviously, it’s just a great finish to get out with two points and win a game like that.”
Stars Reach Halfway Point of Tough March Schedule
The Stars knew how tough March would be when they looked at the schedule before the season. 14 games in 31 days, 10 of which coming on the road. So far, they have gone 4-3-0 in the first 7 games, featuring a three-game winning streak followed by a three-game losing streak before the most recent victory in Montreal. Now, they head into a tough back-to-back against Eastern Conference teams and know that every single point could be the difference at the end of the season.
“We’re in the hunt and there are 10 or 11 teams fighting for two spots right now,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “Until you get in that top six, the three in the division on each side, it’s iffy if you’re going to get in. There are a lot of good teams, there’s going to be two or three teams that have really good years and miss, and we aren’t planning on that happening to us.”
“Get Used to It.” – Rick Bowness on Starting Jake Oettinger
There is not much guessing when it comes to the starting goalie for the Stars at this point in the season. Oettinger has played in 12 of the last 13 games and seemingly every night since the end of January. With Braden Holtby still battling injury and Oettinger playing as well as he has, Rick Bowness will continue to put the weight on his shoulders and let him take it.
“Jake wants the ball. He wants to run with it,” Bowness said. “You’ve got to love that about him. If you asked him to go to practice tomorrow for an hour, he’d be the first guy on the ice.”
Oettinger has taken this challenge head-on. The 23-year-old Minnesota native has built a reputation for one of the hardest working and determined players in the dressing room. He has also proven to his coaches, teammates, and the organization that he is not a normal young player but one who is mature and ready to take on the responsibility of being a number one goaltender in the NHL.
Related: Stars Oettinger Has Earned Full Trust of Coaching Staff
“This is what I’ve dreamed about my whole life – to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL,” he said. “They’re giving me every opportunity, Jim [Nill] and Bones. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity, so now it’s my job to make those guys proud and do what I can to help get this team into the playoffs.”
He is certainly getting that chance now and is being put to the test as Dallas scratches and claws their way towards clinching a playoff spot. Other than one poor performance against the New York Rangers, Oettinger has been exactly what the team has needed. He has stolen games for them, made the big saves when they needed it, and come up clutch, leading them to a league-best 9-1 overtime record this season. Not only does this speak to his development but it shows how much he has grown mentally after heavily struggling past regulation last season.
“Last year, we couldn’t catch a break in overtime, we just couldn’t,” Bowness said of getting just four wins in overtime. “We hit goal posts, we missed nets, and that overtime record was dreadful because of it. This year, our goalie’s making saves and we’re getting huge goals. There were a ton of overtime games we could’ve won last year, and they didn’t go in. This year, they’re going in, so give the guys credit.”
Islanders Scouting Report
It has been a very disappointing year for the New York Islanders. After making a run to Game 7 of the Conference Finals two years in a row before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, they struggled mightily out of the gate and now sit 21 points out of the final playoff spot. Similar to Montreal, the Islanders have played decent hockey as of late, though. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and have won four of their last five games.
At home, New York is just about as average as you can get. They are 14-12-4 at UBS arena, with all of those games coming after a ridiculous 17-game road trip to begin the season.
Unsurprisingly, Mat Barzal leads the club with 39 points in 49 games. Brock Nelson paces them with 24 goals but Anders Lee sits just one behind him after scoring a goal in a goal in six straight contests. Ilya Sorokin has been a rock in net this season, with a 21-12-7 record, .926 save percentage, 2.30 goals-against average, and six shutouts over his 40 starts.
He has won his last four heading into Saturday and will likely be in the net again as he has been for most games this season.
- With an early 1pm CST start, the Stars will not skate this morning but should dress a similar lineup to Thursday night’s victory in Montreal
He Said It
“Well, it’s impossible to keep the two pairs together,” Bowness said when asked about the need for versatility on defense. “You have the power play in there and you have a penalty kill in there. You get matchups and there are some things you guys don’t see sometimes is that some guy is getting a blade replaced and we want him on the ice, and he can’t go because he’s getting something done or he’s not ready to go. So, the way it’s structured now we’re not going to have three set duos.”