On the Radar: Keeping Up with the Joneses
When the NHL schedule was released back in July, the Dallas Stars knew they had a difficult task for the opening month-and-a-half of the season. Before the first puck was dropped and the year’s surprises and busts began to crystalize, Dallas saw that 13 of their first 20 games would be played outside of the Lone-Star State. That included a monstrous stretch of eight-of-ten from late October through mid-November. The Stars had a new-look roster, a new Head Coach, a new General Manager, and they would have to come together quickly, and in other teams’ backyards. They knew the task at hand was a difficult one.
Then, when the club stumbled their way out of the starting gate to a 3-5 record and a 1-4 mark on the road, the rest of that 20-game segment transformed from an early-season obstacle, to a potentially season-defining stretch. There is an old adage in hockey that a game can’t be won in the first period, but it can be lost. Well, the same can be said for a season. You can’t make the playoffs in the first two months of the season, but you can dig yourself an insurmountable hole. Just ask Edmonton. Given how strong the Western Conference was, Dallas faced an early crossroad. Win games on the road, or be left behind. The objective was clear. Don’t let the pack get too far away. Realistically, the Stars were probably hoping to play about .600 hockey, tread water, and keep themselves from getting buried in November.
They didn’t do that.
No, instead the Stars blew right past that hope and went 8-2-2 in their last dozen games, while mixing in an incredible 7-1 road record. The Stars didn’t stay within reach of the fast-moving Western Conference pack. They became part of it. On the day their 12-game run began, Dallas had just six points and was dead-last in the Western Conference. Today they have 24 points and are ninth in the conference in winning percentage. They raised that percentage from .375 to .600 in three weeks. They are only six points out of a playoff spot, only eight points back from the NHL lead, and they are tied for the fewest games played in the league.
Furthermore, the Stars proved to themselves and the rest of the NHL that they belong in the conversation of relevant teams. During the stretch they beat teams like Boston, Detroit, and Vancouver – all on the road. Since October 24, only two NHL teams have more points than the Stars. Their players are starting to gain more national recognition, and a lot more people in the hockey world are wondering, ‘Just what is brewing down there in Texas?’
They also demonstrated that they can win on the road, and that is a lesson that will serve them well going forward. With such a road-heavy start to this year, one could naturally assume that the Stars will close with a tilted slate of home games. That, however, is not the case. Surprisingly, Dallas finishes the season with 10 of 15 away from the AAC. With the West taking the shape it has, those could be must-win games in the playoff race. Not to look too far ahead, but the road success of the past few weeks will help the Stars for the rest of this season, including those pivotal late road games. Early on they now know they can win anywhere, and against anyone. You cannot underestimate the value of that for a newly-formed group. Every team believes they can win in all situations. It’s different to know it first-hand.
For now though, the Stars will welcome some more home cooking into their schedule. Between now and Christmas, Dallas will play 16 games, split evenly between the AAC and elsewhere. That stretch begins this week with a trio of games, bookended at home. The club has made up a lot of ground over the last few weeks. Now that they’re officially a quarter into the season and jockeying for position in the loaded West, we’ll see if they can continue that upward climb in the standings. Here are some key elements to keep On the Radar this week:
The Stars have been road warriors as of late. But this week marks the first time since the opening week of the season that Dallas has had more home games than road. Depending on your level of optimism, you can make an argument for how well Dallas has played at home. Or how well they haven’t. The Stars have points in five of their last six home games, and five of seven overall. But they are also winless in their last three. Dallas does not have a win at home since October 24. Obviously, the schedule has a lot to do with that, but if they fail to beat the New York Rangers on Thursday, they will have gone more than a month without a victory at home. Last year the Stars inability to win at home was one of the largest culprits in their missing the playoffs. Dallas went an even 11-11-2 both at home and on the road. They need that record to be much better this season. A big reason for their lack of home wins this year has been a lack of home scoring. By now everyone knows about their struggle on the power play in Dallas (0-for-24 on the season), but overall the Stars have only scored five combined goals in their last three home games. In five of their seven home games this year, Dallas has been held to two goals or fewer. They are coming off of a week where they scored 12 goals in 3 games. Their offense has been clicking. Now it’s time for it to keep clicking at home and churn out some victories in front of the Dallas faithful.
(Editor’s Note: We are measuring weeks based on Wednesday through Tuesday, because that’s when the ‘On the Radar’ articles get posted. We’re aware the rest of the world might use a different standard, but since this is the OTR calendar, that’s the one being applied. Besides, don’t most people schedule their calendar around the release of OTR?...No?...Well, they should.)
Last week the rest of the NHL found out what folks in Dallas already knew. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are really, really good together. When two players combine for 11 points in a single game and re-write their franchise’s record books, it’s hard not to pay attention. But while it may not have been in the abundance we all saw in Calgary, the Stars’ co-leading scorers have been doing it all season long. This year Benn has registered at least a point in 14 of 20 games, while Seguin has points in 13 of 20. Each night they play, they are worth the price of admission. They are both averaging over a point per game this year, and rank in the Top-10 NHL leading scorers. Now that the pair is being talked about more in the mainstream and publicly having their names tossed around for Team Canada’s Olympic squad, every night they are being watched by the rest of the NHL. Coming off of their most productive week in victory green, it will be interesting to see how they follow it up.
There are not many players in the NHL that rank above Benn and Seguin on the scoring leaderboard this season. However, this week the Stars will get a look at a few of them. On Tuesday they host the Anaheim Ducks and the powerful tandem of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, who each have 24 points this year – one ahead of Benn and Seguin. But prior to that Alexander Steen and the St. Louis Blues host the Stars on Saturday, in the first meeting this season. Steen is tied for the NHL lead with 17 goals and 26 points. The ninth-year forward was a first round pick of Toronto back in 2002, but has found another level this season. At 29 years old, Steen is on pace to shatter his career highs of 24 goals and 51 points. In fact, in just 20 games the St. Louis forward has already had the fourth most productive goal-scoring campaign of his career. The Blues currently have the best winning percentage in the NHL, the best power play unit in the NHL, and average the second most goals per game. St. Louis is off to their best start in franchise history. If Dallas is going to continue their six-game road winning streak, they’ll have to contain Steen and the high-powered Blues offense on Saturday night at Scottrade Center.
When 40 Equals 60
Thursday night’s battle at the AAC between the Stars and Rangers could very well be a race to second intermission. This season only six teams have perfect records when leading after two periods, but Dallas and New York are in that group. Both clubs are a perfect 7-0 in such scenarios. Conversely, they have each struggled greatly when trailing at the second break. The Stars are just 1-5-2 when entering the third playing from behind, and the Rangers are only slightly better at 2-10. If either team can snag a lead after 40 minutes, their prospects of closing the show look very promising.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.