It may be too late, but the Dallas Stars received some much-needed help and hope last week with the return of two players from injury.
Tyler Seguin registered 29 goals and 59 points in 55 games and led the Stars in goals, points, game winning goals and shots before a low hit by Dmitry Kulikov on February 13 sent him to the injured reserve. He also managed to crack the NHL league leader board in goals and points before his knee injury. Though a playoff berth was distant and improbable at the time of his injury, his presence gave the Stars a chance for a return to the postseason. His injury took away a large chunk of that hope, and the Stars stumbled to a 3-5-2 record during his 10-game absence.
Patrik Nemeth provided a pleasant surprise to the lineup late last season. In eight games, he demonstrated his defensive prowess with strong, physical play in front of the net and along the boards. His calm and efficient passing and defensive zone exits helped Dallas’ transition game and all-around defensive play. His play earned him a full-time role in the playoffs.
Though the Stars fell to the Anaheim Ducks in six games, Nemeth made a lasting impression that would carry over to the 2014-2015 season. He simply played too well to warrant a return to the minors this season. He showed enough poise and ability to earn at least a seventh defenseman role with the big club.
Nemeth began this season the way he finished last season. He skated more than 14 minutes a game in three of the first four games of the season and provided reliable defensive play. On October 18, Nemeth suffered an arm laceration on his first shift after an awkward collision with R.J. Umberger in front of the Philadelphia Flyers’ bench . He underwent surgery and missed the next 57 games before returning on March 3.
Dallas expected to ice a few inexperienced defensemen before the season began, but losing one of the team’s prime defensive prospects proved even more challenging. For most of the season, Dallas’ defense was a bit of a revolving door. John Klingberg’s promotion helped stabilize the unit a little, but Jyrki Jokipakka, Jamie Oleksiak, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko all took turns in the lineup.
Many expected Dallas’ defensive woes, but perhaps not as crippling as they have been this season. Despite owning some of the best offensive numbers in the league, the Stars suffer some of the worst defensive numbers and find themselves out of a playoff spot with a big hill to climb. They now rank third in the league in goals scored per game with 3.09 and third-worst in the league in goals allowed per game with 3.29.
Nemeth would not have single-handedly boosted the team’s ratings to the middle of the pack or better, but his stability and defensive awareness throughout the season would only have helped a porous defense.
Returning to the Lineup
Since his return three games ago, Nemeth showed a little rust, but he has improved with each game. His ice time climbed from 12:08 in his first game to 20:55 in Saturday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He hasn’t registered any points, but that is not the facet of his game the Stars covet. He’s maintained an even plus/minus through three games, despite the Stars surrendering 10 goals during a span that included facing the two teams with a higher goals per game average.
Seguin’s return provides a glimmer of hope for another late charge at a playoff spot, but it will be a difficult task for the team to return to the postseason. Seguin scored two goals on four shots in 19:11 of ice time in his first game back on Saturday. He didn’t look like himself, but he proved to be effective. He later admitted he wasn’t 100%, and he will not be the rest of this season. Still, a hobbled and hungry Seguin is better than no Seguin, unless of course his playing results in more damage to his knee.
The Stars face an uphill battle to try to make the playoffs this season. The team sits 10 points out of the last Western Conference wild card spot with three other teams ahead of them on the outside of the playoff bubble. It is a long shot, but the return of Seguin and Nemeth offers a needed boost to Dallas’ stretch run.