From fighting in the gutters to being the team at the top of the hill for the moment. That is the type of jump that the Dallas Stars have made since February 21st. The Stars’ current eight-game points streak (7-0-1) is impressive. But that 7-0-1 record does not really do the streak its due justice. When you start to get into the numbers and logistics of the streak, it becomes even more inspiring for fans heading forward.
To start off with, let’s take a look at the teams that have been involved in the streak. While you could simply throw the Montreal Canadiens aside at the start of the stretch, the game was on the road and coming at the end of a stretch where the Stars went 1-3-2 going into the game. Next they won on the road against the Chicago Blackhawks with Richard Bachman in net, coming from behind to win in the third period. Then they returned home to get the back-to-back monkey off of their back and followed it with a big overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks. That set of games at home was impressive enough. But then they followed it up by outplaying one of the NHL’s best in the Pittsburgh Penguins, only to lose in the shootout. Just to top it all off, they swept through western Canada like a storm and finished the three-game sweep off by beating the Canucks in Vancouver. Two wins over a team that has dominated them the past couple of years, five straight road wins, and they finally won not just the second game of a back-to-back set, but both games.
That only scratches the top of the surface. While the Stars have had some issues with their special teams this season, we have noticed a marked improvement with the penalty-kill over last season. During the 7-0-1 run, the PK has only allowed one powerplay goal against in 24 chances. That is a 95.8% kill percentage facing talented offensive teams like Vancouver, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. While fans should not expect this continue for the rest of the season, the streak has now put them in the NHL’s top 10 for PK units. Before the game against the Canadiens they were 21st in the league. It starts of course with Kari Lehtonen in net most nights, they have also witnessed Richard Bachman continue to impress. He has started during two of the biggest wins in the impressive streak and has proven to the team that they can have confidence in their netminder nightly, no matter who plays. Combine that with a PK unit that has stepped things up as the season has progressed, and you can see why the Stars are only giving up 1.5 goals-against during this streak.
Another impressive set of stats during this streak: the shots for and shots against in the eight games. Before the streak the Dallas Stars were being outshot nightly by three shots. During the streak: they have averaged 29 shots for and 29 shots against per game. Considering all the times they were outshot by five or more shots in the first few months of the season, that stat alone should be telling. While they still have nights where they are outshot by a nice margin, those nights are becoming rarer and most nights the difference is only a couple of shots either way.
Finally the Stars’ goal differential stands out. Often playoff teams have a positive goal differential, many of the top teams ending the season with goal differentials far above the bubble and non-playoff teams. As of this afternoon, the Stars would be 9th in the West if the teams were in order of their goal differentials, with a -1 after last night’s win. But during the streak the Stars have outscored their opponents 27-13 to actually climb up to that -1. If they were to keep that up for the rest of the season they would finish +25 goals for the season, a more “playoff team” like differential. And such a number would be around the 5th or 6th best in the West. While it is unlikely that they score twice as much as their opponents over the last 15 games, it is believable that they could keep outscoring other teams if they can keep their play at the level we have seen over the last two weeks.
The last thing to look at about this streak: the players involved in it on the ice. After the Stars trade defenseman Nicklas Grossman(n) to the Philadelphia Flyers, many questioned if the Stars were giving up size and defensive play to look towards the future. But since the move the Stars have gone 8-1-2 overall and younger players Mark Fistric and Philip Larsen have stepped up their play with more ice time. Sheldon Souray has returned from his injury with a bang (1G, 1A, +9 in seven games), and overall the defense seems to be playing as a unit nightly. But the team started the streak with Souray, Jamie Benn, and Brenden Morrow on the bench. Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson, and Michael Ryder have all stepped up to average over a point-per-game in the eight game streak and they have all contributed key goals in the stretch. Even Steve Ott has recaptured his offensive touch after some mid-season struggles with six points. Everyone seems to be playing their best hockey all at once. And with Benn now back in the line-up and Morrow hopefully back within the next couple of games, they might become this season’s hot team heading into the postseason.
Sure the Stars still have things that need to be addressed. The powerplay is still struggling to make an impact regularly, still sitting in the bottom five of the league. And it would still be nice to see them cut out some of the excessive penalties they seem to take nightly. But as a team things appear to be heading in the right direction. Glen Gulutzan has been a winner at every level in his short coaching career so far, and right now it looks like he has the Stars headed in the right direction. The goaltending has been there all season, the PK has slowly improved to look miles above what it was the last few season, and they are scoring again as a team with the tallies coming from multiple lines. While expecting the Stars to keep this streak going all the way up-to game 82 is probably a pipe dream, if they can continue this play it is not crazy to think they could 10 or 11 of their remaining 15 games and win the Pacific. And with a division title would come a far more manageable first round matchup. But at this point, Dallas Stars fans just want playoff hockey period and their dreams are very possible.
Topics: Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Glen Gulutzan, Jamie Benn, Kari Lehtonen, Loui Eriksson, Michael Ryder, Mike Ribeiro, Nicklas Grossmann, Pittsburgh Penguins, Richard Bachman, Sheldon Souray, Steve Ott, Vancouver Canucks