Another road trip for the Stars starts out on the wrong foot. The team has now lost six straight in Winnipeg, where they will have a critical game the last week of the season, and now fall to 8-12-2 on the road for the year.
Dallas had themselves in position to win this game entering the 3rd period for they were only trailing 2-1 entering the final frame. If Bishop gets to the post a little quicker, the game is most likely tied at 1 entering the 3rd and its a completely different game.
So, the Stars have two games remaining on this road trip with one against their divisional rivals the St. Louis Blues. If the Stars can net four, or even three, points from these two games, then this loss will lose some of its meaning as the Stars will have secured points in seven of their eight games and help give themselves a cushion in the standings. What does the team need to do to make that happen though?
Better Puck Possession
This last game against Winnipeg gave additional examples of the Stars not taking care of the puck and haphazardly trying to throw the puck out of the zone. Instead of getting their heads up and trying to find an exit strategy, they throw it up the boards and hope for the best. It is not easy by any means to do this, especially when you are playing an aggressive forechecking team like the Jets. Control and calmness in the face of pressure will go a long way in helping the team not only maintain possession of the puck, but enter the offensive zone.
One thing that helps beat an aggressive forechecking team is to get the puck off your stick quickly and accurately. The Jets managed to do so against the Stars on Sunday afternoon. The defensemen and forwards, when attempting to navigate the puck out of their own zone, need to have a clock in their head, similar to a quarterback, and be prepared to pass the puck to a teammate. It is far easier to deal with pressure when you already have a plan to deal with it.
The forwards and defensemen have to be in sync with one another. They have to understand where they need to be and when they need to be there in order to make cleaner entrances to the offensive zone and defensive zone exits. Balancing trying to get up ice to get a rush opportunity and taking care of your own defensive zone by ensuring you maintain possession of the puck has been a struggle for the Stars throughout the season. The opportunities to create those chances will be there, but the team needs to be a little more particular as to when they try to make those passes. Sometimes the best play you can make is the ten foot saucer pass to your teammate instead of the 60 foot Hail Mary pass to a forward in hopes of springing them for a goal scoring chance.
Score More Goals
It is an absolute reduction to the simplest of terms, but the Stars offense has to step it up if they want to not only make the playoffs, but succeed this year.
Among the Western Conference teams currently holding a playoff spot, the Stars and Ducks are the only two teams without a positive goal difference. Scoring the same amount you are letting in is not a recipe for success. Consistency is what is lacking right now for the Stars. They have had some bad luck when it comes to the puck going into the net (against the Jets was no exception) but they cannot use that as an excuse for the lack of scoring.
The confidence of this team needs a boost. The top line has plenty of experience and positive memories that they can always draw upon when they’re struggling to put pucks in the back of the net. Outside of Jason Spezza, none of these other depth players have ever been known as prolific goal scorers. Finding ways to build up the confidence of the players around Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov will be key in how the Stars’ season ends. As the team learned on Sunday, your goaltending will not always be able to bail you out.
Consistency With The Lines
One of the biggest complaints from fans throughout this season has been the consistent changes of lines not just from game to game, but even within the game. A coach who is consistently changing his lines reeks of desperation and an uncertainty on how to get his team to respond. Players cannot develop chemistry with each other if they are not playing with the same guys on a night in, night out basis. Stick with what you decided to start with is something that Monty needs to do in order to help boost the confidence of his players. If he keeps juggling his lines, his players will never gain a solid foundation to build upon and begin producing in the offensive zone.
In defense of Monty, he has had to deal with an inordinate amount of injuries this season. Being a first time NHL head coach is already difficult enough without losing a top winger in Radulov and a top defenseman in John Klingberg for extended periods of time. Much like he wants his players to not panic in the face of adversity, he needs to do the same and show a calmness and faith in his decisions. Monty understands that his team is not performing up to their potential and is understandably feeling the pressure. Patience and composure will show his team to believe in his message and prove that he is the guy to lead this team to the playoffs and beyond.
The team does not have to hit the panic button quite yet. They still control the first wild card spot and are capable of making the Top 3 in the Central Division. It is going to take a team effort in order to overcome the struggles the Stars have had on the road this season, but they are capable of doing it.
The Stars play five of their last seven games of the season on the road. Picking up as many points as possible prior to that stretch of games will prove critical in helping the Stars secure their place in the playoffs, where anything can happen.
Featured Image: AP Photo, Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP