On the surface, comparing the 2018 Dallas Stars to the New England Patriots might seem a touch outlandish.
But when head coach Jim Montgomery said his team needed to emulate the NFL’s model franchise, he did it in a very specific way.
Following his team’s 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night, Montgomery said he wanted the younger players to adopt the next-man-up mantra so often preached by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
His players, particularly the young call-ups embraced that challenge, despite suffering a 5-4 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators at the American Airlines Center Saturday afternoon.
“They (the young players) battled and played hard,” said Stars center Jason Spezza, who was honored by teammates and players around the league before and during his 1,000th career NHL game. “It would’ve been a feel-good moment for us to win the game. That’s one of the best teams in the league and we played with them and probably should’ve won tonight.”
“That should spring board us, knowing that, with the injuries that we can still compete every night and be good.”
Those injuries have forced the Stars to play short-handed in some form or another for much of this young season.
Saturday, the Stars were without defensemen Marc Methot (lower-body), John Klingberg (upper-body), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic (headaches) and Roman Polak (illness). Montgomery was also without the services of fowards such Alexander Radulov (lower-body), Martin Hanzal (recovering from back surgery).
Defenseman Roman Pollak also missed Saturday’s game against the Nashville Predators, the best team in the Western Conference standings, due to illness.
But their replacements filled-in admirably.
You’d be forgiven if you found yourself heading to the Google machine to find some of these names.
These were the d-pairings on the lineup card:
- Esa Lindell-Julius Honka
- Dillon Heatherington-Miro Heiskanen
- Joel Hanley-Benjamin Gleason
This season, those players have only participated in 45 games, collectively.
In total, the unit has only combined to play a tot of . If you take out Lindell, that number drops all the way down to 120.
Gleason’s journey to the league happened fast.
The Stars were so impressed with his performance during the 2018 NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City and his free agent tryout last summer, that they eventually signed him to three-year entry-level contract.
At 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Gleason got the call to drive up from the Austin area.
He even notched his first career assist assist on the team’s fourth goal, a deflection by Denis Gurianov.
“Playing in the NHL is something you dream about when you’re a kid,” Gleason said. “I knew. A goal is a goal and an assist is an assist. I was glad he scored I was glad to be a part of it.”
Honka also chipped in on offense. The d-man pulled off a brilliant fake pass at the blue line, skated down the right side of the right circle and threaded a cross-crease pass through traffic that Tyler Seguin slammed home to give the Stars a 2-1 lead in the second period.
Defensively, the unit did a solid job of getting sticks in lanes, clearing out (as Montgomery says) the blue-paint areas and killing penalties (the Stars killed four out of five man-down situations).
The forwards deserved credit, too, for helping the younger players adjust to the dramatically increased ice time on short notice.
“We didn’t run as many set plays with those guys on the ice,” Spezza said. “You want (them) to make hard plays and let the game come to them. I think they both got more comfortable as they game went on.
“That’s kind of how we’re going to have to play now here for a little bit with the injures. We need to simplify our game and fight to the end.”
Five of the six players logged 17 minutes of ice time or more. Heiskanen played nearly 30.
The players and Montgomery knew there’s plenty of work to be done.
Turnovers and a lack of accountability in front of the net resulted in Nashville scoring two goals in the first two minutes of the third period. The Predators also overwhelmed the Stars after pulling goalie Juuse Soros, to the point that they tied the game at four goals each with under a minute left.
“You could tell we were young on the back end and we weren’t as crisp on a lot of things, but I liked the fight,” Montgomery said. “I thought a lot of the defensemen played really well for us tonight. It’s just too bad we couldn’t hold on to the lead.”