The Dallas Stars are cruising along, particularly in the offensive zone, and maybe the most encouraging aspect is their top two scorers weren’t needed in their most recent win.
Continued production as they return for a four-game homestand beginning with Saturday night’s visit from the Florida Panthers could give the Stars their first six-game winning streak since March 2012.
Much was made of the hot starts from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn as the duo managed 10 points each through six games before Dallas (6-1-0) completed a flawless four-game trip with Thursday’s 4-1 win in Pittsburgh while neither picked up as much as an assist.
Defenseman Johnny Oduya scored for his first point with his new club, while Jason Spezza scored his fifth goal in five games.
"It’s a team sport," Oduya told the team’s official website. "(Benn and Seguin) are tremendous players, but they have a tough job getting on the board every night. It’s good that we can have relief from some of the other guys. We have a talented group."
Their 3.57 goals per game rank among the league’s leaders and they’ve also held their last two opponents to a goal apiece. Antti Niemi was in net for both to improve to 3-1-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .940 save percentage with his new team, and his only home game resulted in 37 saves in a 3-0 season-opening win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 8.
Special teams have also weighed heavily in Dallas’ favor with a 7-for-23 power play (30.4 percent) and 18-of-20 penalty kill (90.0).
Most importantly, the Stars along with Nashville are pacing what’s shaping up to again be a tough Central Division a season after a terrible start. Dallas finished seven points out of a playoff spot last season after dropping 17 of its first 26 games.
"For me, it’s about making progress," coach Lindy Ruff said. "So far, we’re happy with it."
Benn has four goals in his last four games against the Panthers, while Seguin has three and three assists in his previous three. Both scored twice and combined for seven points in a 4-2 win at Florida last Saturday – Dallas’ third straight win in the series.
That sparked a 0-2-1 span for the Panthers (3-3-1) after a 3-1-0 start. They fell 3-2 in Chicago on Thursday with Jaromir Jagr scoring his fifth goal in seven games, giving him 11 in 27 contests with the club after managing 11 in 57 with New Jersey to start 2014-15.
The bigger issue was losing center Aleksander Barkov to an upper-body injury after he blocked a second-period shot. Coach Gerard Gallant said the puck hit Barkov, second on the team behind Jagr with six points, in the right arm or hand. There was no further update, but Jagr didn’t sound optimistic.
"It’s a big loss," Jagr told the team’s official website. "He’s our best player, and it’s going to be tough to replace. Nobody knows for how long he’s going to be out, so it’s even tougher. But we’ve got to do it no matter what."
They also need to work on staying out of the penalty box. The Panthers were shorthanded eight times and are 13 of 19 (68.4) on the penalty kill in their last four.
"You can’t spend that much time (killing power plays)," Gallant said. "When you’re killing penalties, you’re not getting scoring chances. Sixteen minutes of a hockey game in your own zone really wears on you."
Roberto Luongo has allowed three goals in each defeat on the skid, but he’s 2-3-1 with a 2.17 GAA and .934 save percentage to start the season. The veteran has 3.16 and .895 marks over a 1-4-1 span against the Stars.
Dallas defenseman Jason Demers won’t play after being suspended two games Friday for elbowing Penguins forward Nick Bonino.