From 1-7-1 to 12-8-2, the Dallas Stars have turned a nightmarish start into a delectable stretch as they dig into the thick of their November schedule. And after readopting a familiar style of play and bringing a new energy to the ice, this team finally looks prepared to reach for great expectations.
Turning points are a common occurrence in the NHL. Whether you’re talking about the Dallas Stars, the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues, or any other team, there’s almost always a point in the regular season where a team shifts for better or worse.
Take the 2018-19 Dallas Stars for example. After starting the year on an average note that had them at 23-21-4 midway through the month of January, Dallas turned on the gas on Jan. 19. It began with a 4-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets and extended into a 20-11-3 run to end the regular season. That turnaround was enough to boost them into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and pushed them to Game 7 of the second round.
On the flip side, take a look at the 2016-17 Dallas Stars. Following a promising campaign in the prior season, the Stars struggled out of the gate to open the year. And while they kept themselves in the playoff hunt up until late January, they lost seven of eight games to begin February and never found a way to recover down the stretch.
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The point is: teams can be both built or broken by turning points. These points can occur in a small interval like one period or can span across an entire month.
And for the 2019-20 Dallas Stars, it seems as though their turning point arrived with 47.5 seconds remaining in the second period of their game against the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 29. At that specific moment in time, everything seemed to change.
Let’s backtrack for a moment. Going into that game on Oct. 29, the Stars were in shambles. They were 4-8-1, sitting near the bottom of the NHL standings, and hadn’t been able to generate any form of consistency through the first month of a season filled with high expectations.
And through the first 39 minutes against the Wild (a team that had started on an even more disastrous note), things only got worse.
The Stars had dug themselves into a 3-0 hole, given up two power play goals, and pulled starter Ben Bishop in favor of Anton Khudobin at the start of the second period. With boos raining down from the stands, a rattled defense, and no sign of offensive pressure, things were looking bleak. If they lost that game, what would be the effects? Would jobs be lost? Would players be traded? Would the season be lost for good?
Fortunately for Dallas, they had a particularly determined Alexander Radulov in the lineup.
Radulov scored his first of what would eventually be a trio of goals with 47.5 seconds remaining in the frame to give the Stars a pulse heading into second intermission. Even so, the mountain was still a steep one to scale in 20 minutes.
And yet, the Stars made it happen. Radulov tacked on two more goals, Roope Hintz continued his hot streak, Joe Pavelski got his name back on the scoresheet, and Tyler Seguin helped finish it off in a 6-3 win. In the final period, the Stars outshot the Wild 18-6, did not commit a penalty after taking five in the first 40 minutes, and dominated nearly every area of the game. They bombarded a tired Minnesota team in waves and did not let up until the final horn.
It was the style of play that Dallas had been expected to adopt from the beginning of the season and reminded everyone of just how dangerous the Stars can be when they click.
Then again, it was also just one incredibly lopsided win and still left them three games below .500. There was a lot of work still to be done, and there was no guarantee that the Stars would continue to adopt the furious change of pace.
Three weeks later, it’s safe to say that they caught the lightning from Oct. 29 and bottled it up for repeated use.
Over the past 22 days, the Dallas Stars have not lost a game in regulation. Only one other team in the NHL can say that, being the New York Islanders. They are 8-0-1 in the past nine games, 11-1-1 in the past 13, and recently wrapped up a 3-0-1 road trip through Canada against four of the top eight teams in the Western Conference.
“We had a tough start and we just needed a couple of weeks to get it going,” said Radek Faksa. “We knew we had a great team and we just needed to put the pieces together. Now that we have confidence and know we will win games, it’s different. We’re playing way different hockey right now than before because it’s in our heads and we have a lot of confidence.”
They have ascended from averaging 1.89 goals per game to 2.77, dropped their goals against average from 3.33 to 2.36, and their goaltenders own two of the top nine save percentages (Bishop at .928, Khudobin at .921) in the NHL among goalies with at least nine games played.
15 different Dallas Stars skaters have scored a goal since Oct. 19. And though they were hit with another early wave of injuries (including long-term ones to Roope Hintz and John Klingberg), they somehow look better with each passing game.
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It’s as if they found a brand new style and energy in the second intermission of the game on Oct. 29 and fully adopted it. They’ve reverted back to their 2018-19 team identity with a strong showing on defense and in net, but are also mixing in an unfamiliarly high dose of scoring. Dallas has scored three or more goals in six of their eight games in the month of November. They’ve also allowed two or less goals in six of their eight November contests.
They took on the Colorado Avalanche (who sat atop the Central Division at the time) twice in a span of five days and secured 2-1 and 4-1 victories. They have swept each of their past two back-to-back sets, outscoring the four opponents by a combined score of 13-5. They are winning and doing so in a dominant and often overwhelming fashion.
When Jim Montgomery talked about wanting to play a relentless style at the beginning of the season, this is exactly what he meant, and then some.
"“Success breeds confidence. We’re playing to our identity, and growing in our execution offensively which, I think, is very noticeable.” –Jim Montgomery on how the Stars have changed"
And after Tuesday’s 6-1 drubbing of the Vancouver Canucks to kick off a four-game homestand, it’s a perfect time to assess this 2019-20 Dallas Stars squad.
Jamie Benn has three goals in the past two games after having just one through the first 20 contests. Radek Faksa is riding a career-high seven-game point streak. Tyler Seguin has tallied multiple points in each of the past three games. Blake Comeau has a three-game point streak after recently returning to the lineup following an extended stay on the IR. Miro Heiskanen is “the engine that makes it go” and is contributing in every area from extended ice time to offensive scoring.
The forward lines and defensive pairings are having to be juggled due to injuries, but the Stars are finding ways to stay consistent and bring the same intensity and production on a nightly basis.
Everyone is chipping in, and that balance of effort is fueling their confidence level to unparalleled heights.
“It’s felt great,” said Taylor Fedun, who scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday. “We’re doing a lot of things together out there, finding different ways to win games, and ultimately doing a good job at keeping the puck out of our net. Both of our goaltenders have been superb for us here and our team game has really taken strides in the right direction. We’re a confident bunch when we’re playing this way.”
This Dallas Stars team is firing on all cylinders right now. It’s the team that everyone signed up to see during the summer and preseason. They are proving just how lethal they can be on a nightly basis and are quickly ascending the Western Conference leaderboard. The depth scoring is there, as is the success on the blue line and in the crease that helped them thrive in 2018-19. And when you mix all of that together, you concoct the perfect storm.
“You can see how high the confidence is now compared to the beginning of the year,” Esa Lindell said. “Everyone is feeling good and the atmosphere is good at the rink. It’s more fun when you’re winning and you just want to keep it going. We still have to work hard, do the same things, and that way we’ll win the games and the fun keeps going.”
An 11-1-1 stretch is certainly fun. And with 9 of their next 13 games being played on home ice, the fun could very well continue budding.
All that’s left to do is find a way to keep it going and continue building on it.
As of right now, the Stars seem to have no problem with doing so.