Jamie Benn has been trying to will the Dallas Stars into the playoffs for a second straight season. The team captain recently stepped up his game in a big way, scoring in eight straight games with 15 points in that span. The last six contests has seen him excel without his linemate Tyler Seguin, the Stars’ high scoring center who suffered a knee injury Feb. 13 in a 2-0 victory over visiting Florida.
But the Stars, who were rejoicing in the visitors’ locker room at Scottrade Center after Benn’s first career NHL Hat Trick gave his team a 4-1 victory at St. Louis on Feb. 17, saw their post-season hopes evaporating during the next seven days.
They earned just one of a possible eight points in their next four games; a 5-2 loss at home to San Jose with Kari Lehtonen in goal on Feb. 19; a 7-6 overtime setback to the visiting Red Wings on Feb. 21 in which Lehtonen and the defense failed to hold leads of 4-2 and 6-4 in the 2nd and 3rd periods, respectively; a 6-2 loss at Minnesota in which recently-acquired backup goalie Jhonas Enroth allowed all of the Wild’s goals in the final 20 minutes on Feb. 22; and a 4-2 setback with Enroth again between the pipes at Winnipeg on Feb. 24.
The Stars, who finished a combined 2-6-1 with five of a possible 18 points against the Jets and Wild this season, trailed 7th place Winnipeg by 10 points and 8th place Minnesota by six in the race for the two Western Conference wild card berths after the setback in Winnipeg. Their 27-25-9 record has them tied for 11th place in the 14-team conference, and they must leapfrog over two other opponents just to line up behind the Wild. The clock is ticking, with only 21 games remaining on the Dallas schedule, including 13 against Western foes.
Although the Stars were unable to finish strong performances against Detroit and at Minnesota, they’ve received glittering performances from Benn. His two-goal effort helped the team win in Boston and the Hat Trick overcame a strong Blues squad and helped relieve the sting of a 4-1 loss at Colorado three nights earlier in Enroth’s first start with Dallas.
“I just want to be as consistent as possible coming down the stretch here,” said Benn, a fifth round pick (#129) in the 2007 Entry Draft. “I’m trying to be the best player I can be for this team because we want to get (back to) the playoffs, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work.”
Benn was particularly effective in the OT setback to Detroit, scraping with Red Wing defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and leading a feverish offensive attack that included the game’s first goal and assisting on Trevor Daley’s career-high 16th red light of the season that tied the score, 2-2 to touch off a three-goal uprising in the 2nd period. “I actually think that, in (Seguin’s) absence, he’s played the game I expected him to play,” said Ruff. “(He’s) been physical, (he’s) been dominating. I think there have been some times when (Seguin and Benn) play together that they’re looking for each other so much that the pace of the game goes down. I think his game has been dominating.”
Benn began to thrive in the captain’s role last season, posting career highs in goals (34), assists (45) and points (79) while helping Dallas to its first Stanley Cup Playoff berth in six years.
The second year captain who used to be quiet has really opened up and developed a leader’s personality, according to coach Lindy Ruff. “He’s personable and understands his role,” said Ruff. “The conversations (between Benn and Ruff) are a lot easier (this season) and I think there’s a comfort level with the relationship that we have.
“You’ll hear him talking to the team (between periods in the locker room), and that’s all about growing,” Ruff added. “It’s all about growing as a team and holding each other accountable. I don’t think it’s a one-man job. I think it’s a committee job on our team where we have lots of good leaders, but he is the leader of all those leaders.”
Stars General Manager Jim Nill is also impressed with how Benn has emerged as the team’s on ice leader. “You’re seeing more personality come out with him,” Nill said. “He’s a very sincere guy, a team guy. That’s one of the reasons he’s our captain. And he’s just so much more comfortable now either coming to talk to me or talk to (Ruff). It’s nice to see the growth there.”
Benn’s 37th assist in the loss in Winnipeg gave him 60 points, one more than the 59 Seguin had amassed on 29 goals and 30 assists. Seguin suffered a knee injury when Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who was suspended for four games by the NHL Department of Player Safety. The Stars indicated that Seguin would be sidelined for between three and six weeks.