Home Stretch: Remaining healthy is key to Dallas Stars playoff race

SUNRISE, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 17: Head coach Pete DeBoer of the Dallas Stars handles the bench against the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena on November 17, 2022 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 17: Head coach Pete DeBoer of the Dallas Stars handles the bench against the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena on November 17, 2022 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Stars have settled on an identity for the first playoff push of Pete DeBoer’s coaching tenure in Dallas and we’re already seeing it get tested. Fortunately for the Stars, they’ve stayed relatively healthy while riding high in the top spot in the Central Division for the majority of the campaign.

Unfortunately for them, the injury bug is starting to bite as they’ve settled on the aforementioned identity and it might be subjected to further troubleshooting down the stretch. With Kivi & Glendening back in the lineup and Seguin & Mush exiting, the Stars have some tinkering with their ingredients to complete in an effort to maintain their recipe.

Dallas Stars 2023 Playoffs Race: Go for the lead

The model of success for the Stars is winning the race to 4 goals. In years past, we’ve seen the Stars wear down opponents in continual slugfests that resulted in 2-1, 3-2, or even 1-0 victories as the base of their win column. Jim Nill conceded to the times that low-event hockey is a thing of the past and secured Dadonov and Domi at the deadline, as opposed to shoring up the blue line that had issues of its own.

Since the Dadonov trade, the Stars have scored at least 4 goals in all but the last contest, dropping that game and the only one they lost the 4 goal race in a heartbreaker to Calgary. The game is too fast-paced these days to sit on your heels after securing a multi-goal lead.

As evidenced by the uptick in scoring, Dadonov has produced efficiently and will slide under the radar as one of the more efficient trades made at the deadline. With Gurianov lighting the lamp again in Montreal, I know at least one other team could agree that it was a fair exchange. With 8 points in 10 games, Dadonov has slotted in well with Benn and Johnston while giving Dellandrea leave to serve as a spark plug for other lines.

Domi has produced in his own right, slotting into the second line nicely as well as the second power play unit. However, he’s been served the same cold dish of uncertainty that Seguin had to stomach earlier this year.

Dallas Stars 2023 Playoffs Race: Getting healthy

Thursday morning the news broke that Mason Marchment could be sidelined for up to a month with the knee injury suffered in Seattle Monday. Adding to the infirmary populace, Seguin has been out with a knee laceration suffered in a freak accident last week that scared Stars fans. With these two producers in street clothes, Domi is absorbing the Dellandrea redistribution from Dadonov’s presence and playing the wing to Faksa to round out the top 9.

The bottom six of this experimentation line coupled with Glendening-Kivi-Freddie certainly slows the four-goal race that the team is looking to achieve nightly. The importance of healing the team wounded is not bound to the offensive zone, but between the pipes as well.

Matt Murray has a promising hockey career ahead of him, but he is not a sustainable second option for the home stretch of this season. With less than 14 games to play, Oettinger has 52 games on his ledger and will need an occasional reprieve before a potential 20+ postseason stretch. The sooner Wedgewood can get back to full strength, the more we can rest our prized goaltender without sacrificing seeding.

If the Stars were in a clear lead for the division, Wedgewood could sit tight and Murray could grow into his big league shoes at a slower pace. The ability to slow opponents in their efforts to bolt out in front is just as crucial as racing themselves, and any extra rest Otter can get allows him to find Calgary-series levels of focus.

Dallas Stars 2023 Playoffs Race: Getting to the finish line

With the Dallas Stars melding this uniform identity, winning four different races will decide the 2023 postseason fate. The race to 4 (ironically) on a nightly basis, the short-term race to full health, and the inevitable race to the playoffs as dictated by the results of the previous two. Each of these three points to the final marathon of the Stanley Cup playoffs themselves.

The right timing of getting healthy in the coming weeks will make all the difference in the Stars applying this new mindset toward the ultimate goal, or otherwise squandering a long-held division lead.