The road warriors finally came home, and they hope their momentum made it back with them.
After a slow start to the season, the Dallas Stars rode a 6-game road win streak up the standings and back into playoff contention. They won six of their last seven games, losing their lone home game in that span to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The question now is whether they can carry their recent success on the road over to the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Dallas Stars Establish a Style
From the time General Manager Jim Nill appointed Lindy Ruff as the new head coach in the summer, a new style of play was emphasized. Ruff envisioned the Stars as a fast-moving, puck possession team. He mentioned tighter gap control and more puck support as well as increased shot blocking.
If there was a time to showcase the new style and see how it stood up against the league, the past seven games were the perfect opportunity. Dallas faced perennial cup contenders, teams in the thick of the playoff race and a few struggling teams. The last six road games provided the Stars with lessons in how to win in a variety of ways.
The Streak Begins
Earlier this season, the Stars struggled to maintain leads and repeatedly broke down late in the third period. To start the road streak, they broke down late yet again and surrendered a game-tying goal to the Senators with 10 seconds left in regulation. They bounced back with a strong overtime period and then won in the shootout. They learned resiliency and how to overcome their mistakes.
They flipped the script in Boston and Detroit by scoring game-tying goals in the last three minutes of regulation in both games. They learned what it took to dig deep and fight their way back in a game. They learned desperation and the importance of playing until the final buzzer. In so doing, they defeated two of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Stars played a fast, open game in Edmonton and sealed the deal by scoring two empty net goals. They learned to step up and take care of business against a struggling team without letting them climb back late in the game.
Against Calgary, the Stars showcased the true potential of their young, fast offense and played arguably their most dominant game of the season. The Stars jumped out to a sizeable lead, but seemed to take their foot of the gas pedal. They made a few big defensive blunders that ended up in the back of their net, but they bounced back quickly and defeated the struggling Flames behind dominating performances from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. They learned the same lesson as in Edmonton.
To end the road streak, they found themselves with another lead late in Vancouver. This time, the Stars held off their opponents, survived their late waves of attack and earned two valuable points. Again, they learned what it took to seal a victory. They bent but did not break when the other team threw everything they had at the Stars to mount a comeback.
Keys to Success
Last season, the Stars struggled in shot differential. This season started out the same, but they outshot their opponents in three of their last six road games. They tied Boston in shots and were outshot by one in Detroit, so overall it was a really strong showing for a team struggling in that department.
The Stars blocked an astounding 88 shots during that span. They continued to struggle on the power play, converting only two of their 21 opportunities, but they were 85% on the penalty kill. Kari Lehtonen remained the critical backbone of the team as he stopped 182 of 194 shots for an impressive .938 save percentage.
Another crucial part of the 6-game road win streak was the production throughout the lineup. The dynamic duo of Seguin and Benn combined for 17 points over the six games. Role players Erik Cole and Ryan Garbutt and up-and-coming Cody Eakin produced as well. Youngsters Valeri Nichushkin and Antoine Roussel scored their first goals of the season. Grizzled veterans Vernon Fiddler and Ray Whitney also produced. Newcomer Shawn Horcoff scored, and Rich Peverley tallied two game-winning goals and a shootout winner. The defense also pitched in with a goal and 12 assists over the six road games. The team thrived on production throughout their entire lineup, and it directly translated to success.
— Jamie Benn (@jamiebenn14) November 18, 2013
Coming Back Home
The Stars returned to Dallas as they prepare to play four of their next five games at home. The players, management and especially the fans hope and possibly even expect the team to make the playoffs this season. The Stars have to take the lessons they learned over the past seven games and put them to use if they plan on breaking their five-year playoff drought.
The road warriors are back at home. Let us hope they brought their road game with them.