At the beginning of March the Dallas Stars loaded up their wagons and headed west on a 4-game roadtrip to Phoenix, Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles. Dallas managed to earn 7-of-8 points and climb up to fourth in the Western Conference standings.
Then they came home for a season-long 7-game homestand.
Dallas tallied only 7-of-14 points at home and now sits in ninth.
Dallas now heads out on a do-or-die five game roadtrip against the five teams ahead of them in the standings. They travel to Nashville March 26; Phoenix March 29; San Jose March 31; Los Angeles April 2; Anaheim April 3.
It’s time to look at what was successful. In the three games the Stars won on the road trip and the two they won at home Dallas was perfect on the penalty kill going 16-for-16. This was against top powerplays, too. Chicago is second in the NHL and San Jose, Anaheim and Minnesota are all in the top ten. Overall since the beginning of March the Stars have killed 26-of-31 penalties for an 83.9% rate which is slightly better than their season total of 79.2%.
Conversely the Dallas powerplay is 5-for-38 since March 1st (13.2%), a short-term drop of 27.5% from their season average of 18.2%. As the season reaches its end the defenses step up and games are much tighter. One-goal games are much more common and capitalizing on powerplay opportunities is imperative. A 13.2% powerplay success rate represents the second worst powerplay in the league. That’s not going to cut it. Some of the dip can be attributed to Brad Richards missing but since his return Dallas is 3-for-25 (12%).
To take a positive approach to the games their even strength and short-handed scoring is impressive. The Stars have scored three short-handed goals and 27 even strength goals in 11 games since March 1. They have allowed 22 even strength and two short-handed goals, albeit both empty net, during the same time. Over the course of the season only five teams average three goals a game. Without relying on the powerplay Dallas is averaging 2.72 goals per game; with it, 3.18.
What was detrimental? Timely scoring and timely defending. In one-goal games (including shootouts) since March 1 Dallas has two wins and five losses, and the Sharks game ended 6-3 only after a pair of empty net short-handed goals as Dallas struggled to tie the game on the powerplay in the last two minutes. Anaheim twice tied the score in the last 65 seconds only to then win in OT. Calgary and Philadelphia won in shootouts. The LA Kings tied the game with 21 seconds remaining in a game Dallas eventually won in overtime. For a team suddenly battling injuries, playing these extra desperation induced minutes of controlled chaos doesn’t help.
While looking over the games since March 1 another couple stats really stand out. Scoring first and scoring in the first period. Dallas has scored first five times in 11 games. They have gone 4-1 in those games. Scoring in the first period has resulted in a 4-0-1 record. Overall since March 1 the Stars record is 5-2-4. Dallas has proved they can come back from deficits this year posting one of the best records in the league when trailing after 40 minutes, but it is not a recipe that bodes well for a long playoff run. When one considers the overtime/shootout losses as losing a point to another team and therefore a loss the Stars are effectively 5-6. 4-0-1(effective 4-1) and 4-1 only further proves the importance of getting on the board early in games.
On to the trip.
Game 1, Nashville: Dallas is 2-1 against Nashville with their only loss being 1-0. Dallas was out-shot in two of the three games and trailed in the third period in each of them. Speacial teams is pretty even with the Stars going 1-for-12 on the powerplay and Nashville going 1-for-11. Dallas has gotten terrific play from their goaltending, saving 92-of-97 shots or 95%. Nashville is 21-8-7 at home and has won five in a row overall.
Game 2, Phoenix: Dallas is 2-2-1 against Phoenix this year. In three of the games the Stars had at least five powerplay chances. They scored in each of those games including going 4-for-6 in their first meeting of the year. Dallas managed to score first, and in the first period, in three of the games winning two and losing in overtime in the other. Both have been problems in the Stars recent troubles. Dallas faces former bench-boss Dave Tippett who no doubt knows the Stars system and will try to get the best of the personnel matchups as the home team.
Game 3, San Jose: Dallas is 3-1 this years against the Sharks. One win came in overtime and another came via the shootout. The Stars were trailing or tied going into the third in all four games so far this year. That they’ve come away with six points is pretty amazing as San Jose is third in the Western Conference and has the fifth highest point total in the NHL. This game will most likely be physical and high scoring. Dallas has averaged 3.25 goals per game against San Jose and has given up 3.5 and there have been four fights so far. The last time these two teams played Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray knocked Loui Eriksson out of the game with a questionable hit garnering retaliation by Steve Ott.
Game 4, Los Angeles: Dallas is 2-3 this year, with one game being won in overtime. The Stars main problem has been containing Justin Williams. He has scored in 4-of-5 games and has added two more assists. This is another game that has the potential to get physical. Dallas’ top-6 forwards have shown they can score on Los Angeles but the powerplay is only 3-22 even though they’ve had at least 3 chances on the powerplay in each game.
Game 5, Anaheim: Dallas is 1-2-2 against Anaheim this year. The two overtime losses have followed the same heart-breaking formula. Tie the game in the waning seconds then win in overtime. Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan, and defenseman Lubomir Vishnovsky have all scored multiple times against the Stars. That’s a lot of people to try to shut down. If the road trip is going well the Stars can exorcise their Duck demons or Anaheim could potentially put the final nail in the Stars coffin with a win.
By failing to secure 10 points on their 7-game homestand Dallas is put in a tenuous situation where they may have to earn 8-of-10 points, and avoid any overtime games, to make the playoffs. The Stars showed they can string together impressive road victories at the beginning of the month. They may have to bookend the month with another impressive string to weave their way into the playoffs.