The Dallas Stars got off on the right foot coming out of the All-Star break. The team has managed to give themselves a much-needed cushion as they entered a tough stretch of their schedule.
The Stars will be on the road for 8 of their next 12 games including another tilt in Nashville and their only trip to Tampa Bay to face the high-powered Lightning. The good news is the Stars are riding high on a 4 game winning streak, including 3 division wins including a road win in Nashville. The team is playing not only well, but confident. Monty has found the right buttons and discovered the formula for success for this edition of the Stars. So what exactly is the winning formula for Dallas?
A key to the Stars success, especially on the road, is keeping their heads and staying within their game while defending their own zone. In the game on Saturday night against Nashville, the Stars weren’t all chasing Preds around the ice. Everyone stayed in their position and the defensive communication to switch off on the puck carrier was well executed for much of the game.
Especially when playing on a back to back, it is important to conserve your legs as much as possible so you don’t get run out of the building in the 3rd period. The other key to everyone staying in position is when the other team shoots the puck, it will likely either be blocked or the goaltender will be able to have a clear view of the puck and make the save.
The outstanding play of both Dobby and Bishop have been instrumental in helping the Stars get to this point in the season. Their timely saves have managed to bail out the defense at times when the other team either makes an outstanding play or a defensive lapse occurs. The confidence both goalies exude though, has now extended to the other players on the team as they feel confident knowing that they have outstanding help behind them. The team defense of the Stars has reached a high level that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup. But, defensive patience is only one part of the equation for the Stars.
Entries and Exits
Just as much as patience is necessary without the puck, it is just as important as with it. The team has begun mixing up their exits of their own zone by making short, easy passes to allow a skater to carry the puck out of the zone or hitting a streaking forward for an odd man rush. It feels like the Stars have a plan when they have a puck instead of freelancing and hoping for the best. Exiting the zone cleanly has helped lead to many goal scoring opportunities which will always help a struggling offense. If the Stars can convert on one or two of their breakaway opportunities a game, then this team will have ambitions greater than just making the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The exits from the zones help dictate the entries into the zone. The Stars still will dump and chase from time to time but two important things have changed from earlier in the season. One, the team is winning races to the puck or at the very least establishing an aggressive, effective forecheck to force a turnover thus generating a goal scoring opportunity. The team though is not afraid to carry the puck into the zone and begin setting up their offense in a more traditional manner. Again, the Stars seem to have a plan for their entries which has been an underrated aspect of this winning streak.
Rising to the Occasion
Going down a goal early in the game on a back to back in Nashville is about as far from ideal as a team can be in a hockey game. Surrendering two goals cutting your lead to one against the high-octane Winnipeg Jets, also not ideal. Yet, the Dallas Stars persevered and went on to win both games. In times of adversity, historically, this team has struggled. Whether it be inability to overcome early deficits or watching leads drift away late. They have turned the corner and have found confidence, mental toughness, and the ability to win games in the 3rd period. It is probable these will be conditions they will face if and when they make the playoffs, so passing these tests this late in the season, will pay dividends for the future of this team.
It has been a long, roller coaster of a season for the Dallas Stars and their fans so far. While there is still a long way to go and many curves undoubtedly remain ahead, some important lessons have been learned. Patience, smart decision-making, and not being afraid to make mistakes.
To succeed in the playoffs, you have to be able to take the other teams best and still find a way to succeed. Monty deserves just as much credit as the players. It has been a rough season at times and he has had his struggles. This team has grown as he has grown as a coach. If the season continues trending in the direction, it will have been a mighty impressive first season for the rookie head coach.
Featured Image: WTOP, AP (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)