You could feel the energy change Thursday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas as Winnipeg Jets defenseman Luca Sbisa scored his team’s third straight goal to tie the game. A once-raucous home crowd instantly turned surrender cobra. It felt like the Stars’ nine-game point streak would come to an end in only a matter of minutes. The game was getting late and fans on social media were praying, “not like this.”
The Stars faithful found a savior, though. It started with a hit that sent the Jets chasing the puck into their own zone. Jets defenseman Tucker Poolman ran it down and slung a pass to the other side of the ice to Patrik Laine. The pass came a little too hot to handle, and in the midst of Laine’s recovery, Stars captain Jamie Benn came crashing in for the takeaway. Benn was one-on-one in the middle of the zone against goalie Connor Hellebuyck, and he wasn’t going to miss. Benn’s backhand proved too much for the 26-year-old Michigan native, and the Stars took a game-winning lead. It was bedlam in the stands.
“He was all over the puck,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery said about his captain. “He was refusing to let us lose.”
“I mean, I wasn’t having a very good game, if we’re being honest, and even started that shift with a turnover,” Benn said. “But I was thinking about, after they scored, my dad taught me a pretty good lesson in baseball. You go 0-for-3 you’re bummed, but you have another chance to go up to the plate and get a hit, and you could be a hero.”
It was a thriller between two of the NHL’s hottest teams. The Stars have now won five straight and are 12-1-1 in their last 14 games. With the win, Dallas moved ahead of Winnipeg for third place in the Central Division.
Much like the rest of the team, Benn started the 2019-20 season off slow. Before his overtime winner against the Edmonton Oilers, the Stars captain had only eight points on the young campaign. Both himself and forward Tyler Seguin were disappointed in their results and Montgomery was calling them out. Fans had similar complaints.
But since then, the tides have changed and Benn is beginning to look like the player the Dallas-Fort Worth area fell in love with. He has scored five goals in his last four games. He has also scored his third consecutive game-winning goal, a mark a Star hasn’t achieved since 2005.
Factors for Benn’s Success
“You knew it was coming,” teammate Corey Perry said. “You look at all the posts he hit when he wasn’t scoring, now he’s scoring.”
Perry is hitting the nail on the head. The more Benn is firing the puck, the more success he’s having. Earlier this season, he was only getting one or two shots off a night. However, since Nov. 10, his shots have increased linearly, beginning with one and now six after Thursday.
This is what a vintage or throwback version of Benn looks like. In the past, any season in which he recorded more than 30 goals, he was shooting over 240 shots. The height of those scoring totals came between 2013-16. When Benn is playing like this, the Stars are a better team. During that three-year span, Dallas worked their way into the playoffs twice. When he had a career-high of 41 goals in 2015-16, the Stars won the Central Division title. In that same season, he rattled off 247 shots. That’s a conversion rate of 16.6%, and his career-high.
What’s also raising his level of play can be contributed to the fantastic line that Montgomery has crafted. Benn, Seguin, and Justin Dowling have been a nasty first line with a ton of production. Benn commented that being on a line with Dowling has had a positive influence on his game. (from ‘The Stars are rolling and so is the line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Justin Dowling,’ The Dallas Morning News, 11/19/2019)
“He’s a great two-way player,” Benn said. “He can cover our butts when we’re lazy or whatever. He’s a great fit and a great player, and we’re finding some chemistry with him.”
To keep the good times going, and to keep Benn on his current tear, the Stars would be wise to keep the first line intact. Obviously the trio has figured out a way to bring shock and awe to the Dallas offense. Since working with the line, he has recorded seven points in four games. He’s also finding his teammates, contributing three assists in the last four games.
Last season, Benn only recorded 26 assists. That was his lowest total since his rookie season. The seasons that he was scoring the most were the same years he was sharing the puck. That lights out 41-goal 2015-16 season was also the same season he had his second-highest total of assists.
One of the things you won’t find on the stat sheet is that Benn is playing like a captain again. He willed that win against the Jets Thursday. He even said he wasn’t at his best. But when it came down to the end of the game, he delivered the most important backhand so far this season.
“Like so many elite players as they age, Benn isn’t what he once was, and everyone has a tough time dealing with that. But if Jamie Benn can keep this sort of “you always get another at-bat” mentality, then I’m fine with him taking a few extra walks (and even some strikeouts looking), so long as he still swings away once in a while. Real success, and real leadership, means going for the home run when prudence dictates, even if you’re 0-for-3, and perhaps even more so if you’re 1-7-1.”Robert Tiffin | Defending Big D | Nov. 22, 2019
It will be interesting to see if Dallas and Benn can stay en fuego Saturday as they take on the Chicago Blackhawks at the American Airlines Center.