Every game and every point matters this time of year. The Stars lost ground in the Central Division with their inconsistent play throughout February and found themselves at one point on the outside looking in for a playoff spot.
The standings tight and a critical four game road trip coming off a shutout loss to Carolina, a sense of déjà vu from last season could not help but creep into the minds of Stars fans. Dallas has had struggles on the road and has really prevented the team from taking their next step and securing their spot in the playoffs.
Instead, the Stars completed their four game road trip by going 3-1. Their only loss came to the Golden Knights which saw Bishop make 44 saves, which is not great, but it is reasonable and explicable. Many of the trips for the Stars have had a theme this season and this road trip is no exception. This trip though had a different feeling though. As if the team is finally believing and executing in the plan. Let’s examine some of these common themes that emerged that are a positive sign for the final 17 games of the season.
First Period Goals
Finally. The Stars have finally begun generating offense in the first period and it has carried them to the three victories on the road trip. Outside of the impact of gaining a potentially early lead, scoring in the first period does so much more for this group of Stars in particular. It gives them belief. Confidence has been up and down this season, especially in the offensive end of the rink. Anything to boost that confidence can only do the team good.
Scoring first also helps the team settle down and feel comfortable within the game. The start for the Stars has been inconsistent at the best of times this season and has been the downfall in many games. Growing into the game and finding their footing has been instrumental and will continue to be instrumental for the rest of the season. Defense and goaltending has been the best part of the Stars game all season. If the offense can relieve some of the burden by scoring early, the team’s energy will go longer because playing offense and possessing the puck allows Dallas to have fresher legs and wear the other team down.
Playing Like A Team
Earlier in the season, the forwards were a group and the defensemen were a group on the ice, but they were not able to play as one. Often times, on both ends of the ice, it felt like the team was disjointed whether it be due to chemistry or communication, the team relied heavily on the goaltending to carry them to victories. This road trip has shown the Stars are capable of playing as one group no matter who is on the ice and it has led to goals and more importantly wins. The defensemen were not left on an island to try to figure out the exit strategy and how to transition to the offensive zone. The forwards and defensemen are almost tied together with a rope making the transition game of the Stars much more effective.
The most amazing part of this road trip has to be that the Stars did this despite a litany of injuries to the forwards, most importantly, Jamie Benn. The Captain skated one shift in Chicago before having to leave the game due to an injury he sustained in the previous game against the Hurricanes. The Stars scored 9 goals total without Benn in the lineup despite losing Cogliano along the way. The team did not let their Captain down and instead, saw numerous players step up and begin producing goals. It has not just been one guy carrying the Stars offense instead it has been numerous players including Faksa, Hintz, and Janmark.
The leadership of this team has been in question by some fans this season, but the play of the team despite losing Jamie at points in this season should show them, the leadership is not a weakness of this team, it is a strength. This team is gelling and the camaraderie of team has been on display. Everyone fights for each other, sometimes literally, which can be terrifying at times given that the last thing the Stars need is injuries. Esa Lindell and Jason Dickinson are two of the most notable guys traditionally not known for being scrappy, who have indeed been scrappy this season. Everyone stepping up and standing up speaks to the character of this team.
Depth scoring, road woes, and first periods have all been issues for the Stars this season. This road trip tells a different story; Dallas still has plenty of work to do with 17 games left to go in the season, but going 3-1, finding some depth scoring, a hat trick for Jamie Benn, the good vibes are here for now.
Winning the two division games on the road trip combined with scoring four goals in all three victories is a great sign that this team is hitting their offensive stride at just the right time.
The team playing as a complete unit every time they hit the ice and continuing to believe will be a key factor for the Stars in how many games they have left this season.
Featured Image: Joe Harris, Associated Press, ctpost.com, photo: Dilip Vishwanat, AP