The Dallas Stars will wrap up a season-long six-game road trip tonight in Columbus. And though they have fared well so far on the trip, a win against the Blue Jackets could be crucial to their success going forward.
10 days ago, the Dallas Stars boarded a plane heading north. Their task was a six-game road trip that many believed would be a defining factor in their 2018-19 season. Considering they were only three weeks into the season at the time, the pressure was on.
Going on the road can be a grueling task for just about anyone. Whether it’s for business, vacation, or simply to visit another town or state, it can be difficult leaving the warm embrace of home.
Doing so for 11 days can seem to toe the line of impossible. And yet, that’s exactly what the Stars have done.
After saying goodbye to friends, families, and pets, the Stars hit the road on Saturday, Oct. 27. With a record of 5-4-0 overall, it was high time for Dallas to step up or sit down. They had done an average job at ushering in a new era of Dallas Stars hockey over the first few weeks, but still had plenty of kinks to fix, the most important being their play away from home.
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The Stars went 0-2-0 and were outscored 7-1 on their first road trip of the season. They picked up where they left off with a pitiful 16-20-5 road record from the 2017-18 season and led many to believe that it would once again be a crippling factor in their year. And with Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, Washington, Boston, and Columbus on tap, the fate of their entire season seemed to rest on this season-long swing.
Dallas didn’t do much to inspire confidence in their first stop against the NHL-worst Detroit Red Wings. After an early lead was negated by some bad bounces and breakdowns, the Stars dropped a 4-2 decision and fell to .500 on the year. It was much of the same stuff and began raising some serious questions about the team’s legitimacy as a challenger.
But the Stars weren’t ready to be weighed down. They responded in an almost unbelievable fashion, rattling off three straight wins against some of the league’s best teams. They knocked off Canadiens 4-1, followed it up with a gritty 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs, and took down the defending champion Capitals in a thrilling 4-3 overtime bout.
And while they may not have been the most dominant team in each of the wins, they used a systematic approach, cashed in on the opportunities they were given, and took control of the game when it mattered most.
On Monday night, the Dallas Stars endured the fifth installment of the trip with a stop in Boston. And though it was one of their less confident performances during the swing, Anton Khudobin came up with 33 saves and helped the Stars grind out a point in overtime.
The Stars are now 3-3-1 on the road this season, are 8-5-1 overall, and sit in third place in the Central division. Just a few days ago, they were in sixth place.
Union and Blue
This all leads up to one final showdown in Columbus against the Blue Jackets (7-6-1) on Tuesday night. It’s one last chance at two points on the road before heading home for the next four games and 11 days. And if the Stars can pull out a win, it could be influential for a few different reasons.
Just a few hours ago, the Dallas Stars surrendered a second point to the Bruins after pinning themselves behind the eight ball in a 5-on-3 situation. Following that, they took a brief recovery period, showered and changed, possibly said a few swear words and broke a stick (as Anton Khudobin suggested), and boarded a plane for Ohio.
That’s a lot to fit into a few hours, and that doesn’t even include getting adequate sleep and trying to recharge to 100 percent. As a result, the Dallas Stars will face the dreaded back-to-back situation tonight. They are already 0-1-0 in the second half of back-to-back situations this year after being shutout by the New Jersey Devils last month.
This is a chance to prove that they know how to bounce back from a tough loss. The Stars didn’t even fully deserve a point in Boston, but they found a way to get it. But they will have to step up the effort tonight and keep their hot streak alive.
That’s due in large part to the pressure in the Central division standings right now.
After last night’s win, the Stars bounced up to third place in the Central. It was a quick ascension after sitting in sixth place on Tuesday, but there’s no time to stall.
Dallas may only be one point from second place in the division and five points from the top spot, but they are also six points from the bottom. In addition, the Stars are one of three Central teams with 17 points through 14 games played. So, now is not the time to lose a step as the trip comes to a close.
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This is also a winnable game for the Stars. They match up well against this Blue Jackets team that is still trying to find their groove. Columbus is 1-2-1 in their last four contests, own a -5 goal differential on the year, and own one of the worst defenses in the NHL at the moment (3.64 GA/GP).
A potentially decisive factor could be in the special teams department. The Blue Jackets are currently fronting the worst power play in the NHL with a 10.7 percent success rate. That power play will go up against the Stars’ tenth-ranked penalty kill unit (81.4 percent). On the flip side, the Stars own the 12th-best power play compared to the Blue Jackets’ 23rd-ranked PK. If Dallas can capitalize in the special teams department and assert their dominance both shorthanded and on the man advantage, that could be the spark they need to turn the game in their favor.
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And finally, a win tonight can be used to add some propulsion to the team. After losing on Monday, the Stars need to get back in the win column so they have something positive to take home with them. A 4-1-1 record on the longest road trip of the year would be massive, especially when considering what the Stars will be up against when they get home.
Upon returning to the AAC, Dallas will be greeted by San Jose, Nashville, Columbus, and Boston over an eight-day span. The Sharks boast some of the best talent in hockey, the Predators currently own the best record in the NHL, the Blue Jackets will bring a similar dose of what they hit the Stars with tonight, and the Bruins will be going for the season sweep.
It’s a tough slate for any team and will once again test the Stars’ readiness to compete and keep themselves in the race. A win against Columbus could provide them with a confidence boost as they enter the homestand.
The Dallas Stars will wrap up a long and grinding road trip tonight against a Blue Jackets team still searching for consistency. It’s a chance to get ahead and continue building on their recent positive trends.
But chances are only beneficial when acted upon. Tune in at 6 p.m. to see what the Stars do with it.