The Dallas Stars season got off to one of the hottest starts of any team. They went 4-0-0 in their four-game homestand, scoring 19 goals in the process. However, once they embarked on their first road trip of the season, things drastically changed. The team has gone 3-7-6 in their last 16 games and has mostly struggled to score in the process. The time to turn this slump around is now, or it may just be too late.
Dallas Stars Season Needs to Change Now
The Stars are coming off of two games vs Columbus Blue Jackets, one game vs the Nashville Predators, and have played one of two against the Chicago Blackhawks this week. After this series with the Blackhawks, they will play two more against the Blue Jackets. What does that all mean? This is one of the most important spans in the entire season. Dallas is currently trailing all three of the aforementioned teams in the Central Division standings. Chicago is currently holding down the fourth and final playoff spot. If the Stars can walk away with some wins in these games (they are 2-1-1 in the first five), they can put themselves in a good position going forward.
Dallas still has up to six games in hand on the teams above them but those games do not matter unless you win them. It will be interesting to see whether every team completes its entire 56 game schedule. As of now, the postponed games have seemed to disappear so perhaps they will. If not, we could see the win percentage come into play to determine playoff spots instead of points.
Tough Remaining Schedule
Adding to the importance of the next few games for the Stars is the difficulty of their schedule following it. First, looking at their opponents, they still need to play the Tampa Bay Lightning six times, Florida Panthers five times, and the Carolina Hurricanes four times. Those are three of the hottest teams in the league right now and they have had the Stars number early in the season.
The other factor in the Stars’ remaining schedule is the number of games they have to play in such a small amount of time. They are in the middle of a span that will see them play 48 games in 76 days. That is a tough ask, especially for a team that is playing catch up.
It is no secret that Dallas has been hit hard with the injury bug. They are without Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop until April, Alexander Radulov has missed the last 14 games, Roope Hintz has been in and out of the lineup and will be the remainder of the season, and they have lost other key players such as Blake Comeau, Joel Kiviranta, and Jamie Benn at times. The scary part about this is that it is most likely only going to get worse. With the remaining schedule, coach Rick Bowness has spoken about that possibility. “I see injuries written all over it,” Bowness said.
If the Stars continue to lose key players to injury, it is unlikely that they can ride their young guys all the way to the playoffs against what is probably the toughest schedule in the league.
On The Way Up
The first positive is that the Stars are trending upward, having scored 15 goals in their last three games (2-0-1). Previously, they were struck with a scoring drought that saw them go nearly 200 minutes without scoring a goal. The team continued to say that they were playing well and needed to keep doing what they were doing. Many players and especially coach Bowness said that if they keep playing the right way, the goals will eventually come. They were right, and the Stars hope to keep the goal scoring going during this important stretch and on through the rest of the season. The team looked like the team that we remember from the bubble last season that scored goals in multiple ways and was led by their highly skilled defence.
Another positive outlook for the team is the tremendous play from their young players. Goaltender Jake Oettinger recorded his first career shutout at the age of 22 (youngest in franchise history) on Saturday night and has been a solid and calming presence for the team all season long. Forward Jason Robertson has found his confidence at the NHL level with two goals and five assists in his last four games.
Other young guns such as Ty Dellandrea, Nicholas Caamano, and Joel Kiviranta have started to really prove their worth as well. Dellandrea is a hound on the puck who can also score goals, Caamano is a speedy two-way forward, and Kiviranta is a pure goal scorer as many of us saw in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals last season. These players are not only the future, they are the present. They will continue to be called on especially as the team deals with injuries.
The final positive is the return of superstars Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin. The two have missed the entire season up to this point and will not be ready to play until at least early April. If the Stars can keep themselves in the hunt until then, they will receive a huge boost in the offence and defensive sides of their game. Seguin consistently leads the team in shots and scoring while also playing a huge role in the special teams and on the faceoff dot. Bishop, when healthy, is a Vezina-caliber goalie who can steal games and assist in the Stars breakouts with his puck handling.
The Time is Now
At some point, a team shifts from ‘a good team playing poorly’ to ‘a bad team’. The Stars have harped on this over and over in their locker room, believing that they are the former and are ready to break out. If there is any time to do it, it is now as teams ahead of them keep pulling away and their schedule is only getting tougher. They have the confidence that they can do it, now it is time to prove they can because the Dallas Stars season relies on it.