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Little details add up to home ice advantage for Stars

Monday, 04.04.2011 / 12:40 PM / News
By John Tranchina
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Little details add up to home ice advantage for Stars


The Stars have two big home games this week as they continue their push for the playoffs. If they win these two home games, they may be in a decent position to grab a playoff spot this weekend. But it starts with Tuesday’s game vs. Columbus and the Stars are hoping to win a big game at home.

How much is home ice really an advantage and what specifically makes it so? There are several factors that play into why a team like the Dallas Stars has posted a home winning percentage significantly better than their road record.

While the Stars have played well on the road this season for the most part, recording a solid 19-17-3 mark outside Texas, that actually ranks them just 18th in the 30-team NHL. But their home record of 20-11-8 heading into Tuesday’s crucial battle with Columbus (7:30 pm start, FOX Sports Southwest Plus - GET TICKETS), has been outstanding and is 13th-best.

Further evidence of the record disparity shows that a team playing .500 hockey at home, such as Columbus and the New York Islanders with 17-18-5 marks, ranked 25th & 26th respectively in the league through Monday, while a team that reached .500 on the road, such as 17-17-6 Carolina, was a much higher 21st . Overall this season through Sunday’s action, home teams were 603-423-155.

Most of the advantages afforded the home squad seem like tiny details, but when those are added up over the course of a season, they equal an edge for the home side. 

ADVANTAGE 1 - HOME FANS

Having a rabid building of screaming fans backing them has certainly helped energize the Stars, particularly during the March 19th shootout loss to Philadelphia, which featured the third-largest home crowds of the season, 17,852. 

“You need your fans and it’s been packed the last few games, so that helps a lot,” said center Mike Ribeiro. “To see the fans behind us now, I think it’s good. It’s nice to see and it helps you get motivated for games and see the fans. But road or home right now, you need to find ways to win. A lot of times you play at home, you get away from what you want to do and I think we did that for a few games, but the last few have been solid for us and we need to keep playing like that.”

“You’re playing at home, your fans are cheering for you,” added defenseman Karlis Skrastins, who returned to the lineup over the weekend after suffering a leg laceration against Philadelphia. “You’re more ready for the game, you’re coming out more emotional, so it’s like they’re an extra player on the ice. It’s not like every time it’s helping you, because I know I’ve had years when we’ve been better on the road than we were at home, but I think this year, we’re much better at home than we are on the road, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

There are times, though, when that extra energy can hurt you as well, when maybe they’re over-excited and hyped up by a raucous home crowd, and wind up trying too hard to give the fans a good time and not sticking to a more disciplined, patient style that seems to work very well on the road.

“Sometimes when you get home, you maybe try to do a little too much and maybe you try to put on a show a little bit, and that’s where sometimes where we get in trouble,” acknowledged defenseman Stephane Robidas. “We go on the road and try to play a sound, defensive game and keep things simple and just throw pucks at the net and not be fancy, and that’s when we’ve been effective.”


“On the road, you kind of just go out and have an ‘us-against-them’ mentality and you just try to lull them and capitalize on their mistakes,” added fellow blueliner Mark Fistric. “I think that’s not always the right way to go about it - obviously, you just want to win, but sometimes you get away from that at home.”


ADVANTAGE 2 - MORE FAMILIAR ENVIRONMENT

Obviously, the big thing about playing at the American Airlines Center is that the Stars, with 41 games a season there, are far more familiar with the arena, and their overall game-day routine is pretty set. They get to see their families if they have one, eat home-cooked meals and drive their own car to work - in short, live their normal life. It’s a significant contrast to life on the road, with long plane rides (granted, with far more luxurious accommodations than the rest of us are likely to experience), living out of suitcases and hotels, with different game-day circumstances for almost every contest.

“I think it’s just the comfort of being at home, being home in your own bed,” Fistric said. “Everything’s more natural, because obviously we’re here more than we’re in any other city. I think it’s just more familiar and I think guys just feel more comfortable playing at home.” 

“You sleep in your own bed, you do your own thing, so it’s definitely nicer to be home,” Ribeiro  said. “For me, I have my kids around, we’ll play X-Box, we’ll make the matchup on X-Box first and then play the game, so it’s fun to be with the family and kids and get ready for games.”

Being home for an extended stretch, and occupying their thoughts with topics other than hockey is usually refreshing for the players, but sometimes there is something to be said for being on the road where the only focus is on the ice and each other.

“It works both ways,” Fistric said. “Sometimes it’s nice to go on the road and bond with the team. When you’re at home, the guys don’t hang out as much as when you’re on the road. For me, it’s 50-50, and being at home is definitely important and if you can make it hard for teams to come into your building to get a win, then you’re doing something right.”

“For me, it’s a positive thing,” Robidas said. “Sometimes it’s good to be all on the road together - when you go through tough stretches sometimes, it’s good for all the guys to just hang out. But for me personally, having a family and two young children, it’s not an issue at all. If there’s one thing, it’s fun to be around them and it’s fun to see them being able to come to the games and cheer for me and stuff like that. Maybe it’s different for other guys, but not for me.”

Another aspect is that the teams coming into Dallas to play their road games have just flown in from somewhere and may very well be on a long road trip that has sapped some of their energy, and that obviously benefits the Stars.

“I think for the road teams, they are maybe coming on a road trip and they are more tired, and that’s helping us too,” Skrastins noted, “because a lot of times when you’re playing at home, you’re more fresh and more ready for a game.”


ADVANTAGE 3 - LAST LINE CHANGE

The biggest tactical edge for the home team is that they get the option of the final line change, meaning they can dictate the matchups on the ice, determining who on the other club they’re best players will skate against.

For Ribeiro, being able to have his line, which lately has included captain Brenden Morrow and  Jamie Benn or Steve Ott most of the time, play head-to-head against less talented defenders can mean the difference between scoring a goal or just generating chances - particularly now that leading scorer Brad Richards is back in the lineup, which gives the opposition another scoring line to worry about.

“Especially with Richie now coming back, that helps a lot for me and Bennie (and Morrow),” Ribeiro said. “We can play against their not-so-good defense - well, I mean everyone’s good, but not the top two or top four, so definitely matchups are important and that’s always nice.”

“This is huge, especially when you play against big lines on the other team, so it’s good for a team like ours to match up those lines,” Skrastins added. “It’s one of the biggest reasons, it’s a big advantage for you, you can choose your best players against their best players.” 

Of course, getting too caught up in who’s playing against who can sometimes wind up distracting a player from just playing the game, and no matter who’s out there, they still have to play.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to play with whoever you’re playing with and against whoever you’re playing against,” coach Marc Crawford said. “And we have a lot of confidence in our guys, that they’ll do the right things and have the ability to play against those people.” 


ADVANTAGE 4 - FACE-OFFS?

The other edge the NHL rule book allows the home team is the minor detail dictating that the visiting center must put his stick on the ice before the home center during face-offs. It may not seem significant, and some don’t believe it’s much of a difference, but if that helps Dallas win a few more face-offs during the course of a game, it probably means the Stars also have possession of the puck more and that can sometimes be the deciding element in a close game.

“It’s important, because a lot of times when he does put it down first, he shows what he’s probably going to do or tending to do,” noted assistant coach Stu Barnes, who focuses on helping the Stars’ centers improve their face-offs, a strong face-off man during his own playing days. 


Of course, in the end, both teams are skating on the same ice and shooting the same puck, so all the normal parameters of the game apply, and the Stars have to play them wherever the schedule tells them to. But if playing at the American Airlines Center can earn them a slight edge because of any of the above factors, the margin of victory is often so small, it could mean the difference between winning and losing. And in such a close, ridiculously-tight Western Conference playoff race, one of these items could determine whether or not the Stars into the playoffs. 

“We’ve been away a lot, we’ve had a lot of long travel, so it’s been good to be home for a good while,” Robidas said. “And we’re going back for another long road trip, so it kind of all evens out. If you’re here for a long time, you know you’re going to have to leave for a long time, it’s just part of regular season. We don’t have control over the schedule and we just try to make the best out of it.”




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