The horn sounded at American Airlines Center on Friday night as fans clad in Victory Green clapped their hands and added to the clamor. The Stars battled their way to their biggest triumph of the season, a 2-1 victory over the visiting Blues. A multiple week effort of chasing the divisional rival in the standings had finally paid off as Dallas vaulted ahead of St. Louis to secure the third spot in both the conference and the division. Down at ice level, however, there was work left to be done.
Stars defenseman Marc Methot returned to action in the win, registering 14:53 TOI while picking up an assist. His biggest impact, though, occurred when the victory had already been secured. The Blues built up sustained pressure in the Dallas zone during the game’s final minutes, nearly scoring to send the game to overtime. When the buzzer finally rang, Methot and St. Louis Center Brayden Schenn dropped their gloves and got into it behind Dallas’ net as fans continued to roar. Though it was only Methot’s second game played since November, his presence on the Stars’ blueline could be exactly what head coach Ken Hitchcock needs as his team continues its playoff push down the stretch.
Marc Methot Brings Competitive Flare
Minutes after completing his first game since Jan. 4 with a furious fight, Methot told NHL.com’s Scott Burnside that “there’s no better way to get back into it.” Methot has only played in 17 games this season as a knee injury has hampered him since November. If he’s healthy and ready to stay on the ice, a defender with his size and attitude could help Dallas stay afloat in the ultra-competitive Central Division.
Methot stands at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds, but his greatest contribution to the team might be his intangibles. Methot played in 18 playoff games a year ago with the Ottawa Senators. He helped the Sens reach the Eastern Conference Final, where they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He logged 33:20 of TOI in Game 7 of that series. Stars center Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika last week that “there’s a different feel to (playoff) games, and if you’ve been there, that’s something that can be a huge help to us.” Friday’s game against the Blues mirrored the intensity of the Stars last trip to the playoffs when they lost to St. Louis in the second round. Dallas desires to get back there with hopes that players like Methot can take the team one or two steps further.
Stars Success Sustained By Defense
Even without Methot, Dallas has been a top-tier team defensively this season. The Stars sat second to last in goals against per game a year ago, relinquishing 3.17 tallies per matchup. A year later, Dallas gives up 2.59 goals per game. Only four teams — Boston, Los Angeles, Nashville and St. Louis — have better averages. A major factor has been the addition of former Tampa Bay Lightning standout Ben Bishop, who held a shutout against the Blues deep into the third period on Friday until St. Louis scored on a double minor. But even backup netminder Kari Lehtonen has thrived in the crease this season. A year after compiling his worst save percentage (.902) since coming to Dallas in 2009, Lehtonen has charged that figure up to .918 this year — with help from his defensemen.
The goalies have stood tall in Big D, but the players out in front of them have been just as good — if not better. John Klingberg has cemented himself as one of the best offensive defensemen in the league, but he’s made tremendous strides as a true defender this year, too. His ability to quarterback a power play while also being a reliable cog on the penalty kill has made Klingberg a bonafide Norris Trophy candidate. The players around Klingberg have fed off of his tenacity. His playing partner, Esa Lindell, boasts the team’s best plus/minus rating at plus-23. None of the Stars’ defensemen have a negative plus/minus. Stephen Johns pocketed the game-winner against the Blues on a blast from the half-wall, and he’s been a key contributor in the defensive zone as well. Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn have been a useful pairing, often hopping onto the ice during a game’s critical moments.
Now that Methot is back to earn his fair share of those crucial minutes, the Stars have the right formula to contend with the Western Conference’s elite. Whether Dallas does or doesn’t make something happen at the upcoming trade deadline, Methot’s return from a long absence serves as a fresh face in the lineup and one that the Stars will heavily lean on throughout the final quarter of the season.