This is not last year. While it is important to acknowledge your past and learn from it, it is equally important to not let the past fully shape your perception of the future.
The road to securing a playoff seat has grown more complicated and difficult given the recent stretch of games certainly, but this team has the capability to go out and win their next 4 games, all on the road. In order to do that, there are a few key things that will have to happen. The goaltending has been there and has been strong. The 5 players in front of them will have to do their part to put pucks in the net. Specifically, the defensemen will be the key to unlocking the Stars offense.
Numerous times this season, the value of the defensemen in the offensive end of the rink has been highlighted. Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, and Miro Heiskanen have combined for a total of 29 goals, which would put them tied with Tyler Seguin for the team lead currently. Their offensive product has been crucial at points in this season. The stats back this trend up in spades. 42 times this season the Stars have scored 2 goals or less. In those 42 games, wins and losses, a defenseman has tallied a goal in only 8 of them. In contrast, the Stars have had 32 games where they have scored 3 or more goals. In 19 of those 32 games, at least one defenseman has scored a goal.
If the Stars are going to score 3 or more goals, something that will probably be necessary to beat the Flames and Jets in their respective buildings, the defensemen are going to have to put pucks in the net. The other option is for Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, or Jamie Benn to go insane and have multi-goal games and just take over the game and put the entire team on their back. For a large part of those other 13 games, that is exactly what happened.
The Stars so far this season have won 38 games. In 23 of those victories, the Stars have either tied or out hit their opponent. In the 36 defeats Dallas has taken this season, counting overtime and shootout loses, they were outhit only 13 times. One can fairly argue that the team that is trailing will naturally accumulate more hits because they are desperate to force turnovers to try and generate offense. The hits statistic can be a little deceptive in this way because it does not necessarily tell the entire story. Being physical historically is not apart of the game the Stars like to play. They prefer to play with skill and speed. Throwing around the body and physically wearing down the opposition typically isn’t in their playbook.
However, if the Stars hope to be able to slow down the high flying attacks of the Jets and Flames, playing a more aggressive and physical game is exactly what they need to do. Dallas will have to walk the fine line though of being physical and being reckless by not taking unnecessary penalties or putting themselves in position to be called for penalties despite not actually committing the foul. The Stars have managed to outhit Winnipeg through 3 games by a margin of 67-61. Dustin Byfuglien, the enforcer for the Jets is going to throw his weight around so the Stars cannot be afraid to be physical back otherwise risk being run all over by the Jets in what will be a critical road game.
Don’t Be Passive
Some people say that good things come to those who wait. Unfortunately in sports, this adage does not necessarily hold true in the course of a game. If the Stars expect to go out and have a successful road trip, the passivity of the defensemen and forwards is going to have to take a back seat. Hockey is a team game and teams win championships, but individuals score goals. Playing smart, aggressive hockey is going to be the difference maker in this road trip. The defensemen will have to communicate with the forwards and know when they need to pinch down to help hold the zone. The Stars have managed to apply good offensive zone pressure recently, but the goals have not yet come. Staying aggressive and pinning their opponents back in their zone will not only help generate scoring chances, but will keep the other teams top line from generating their chances as often.
8 games remain in the season. Help is coming in Mats Zuccarello and Tyler Pitlick returning from injury. This road trip is arguably the most important stretch of games so far this year. The playoffs are there for the taking. Nothing will be handed to them so they will have to go and take it for themselves.
While it is understandable to feel the doom and gloom of last year and worry that another collapse is coming, more now than ever, the Dallas Stars need their fans to believe in them and their players to finish this fight and see the glory of the playoffs return to Dallas.
Featured Image: Gavin Lee, prohockeyrumors.com; Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports All Stats courtesy of NHL.com