The Stars head into an important home matchup with the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. Dallas has gone 5-2-1 since the All-Star Break, earning 11 of a possible 16 points over that span. Because of this success, they sit just two points behind the Edmonton Oilers for the second Wild Card in the Western Conference.
Stars Even Strength Scoring
Although the Stars have been winning a good amount of games recently, they have still had a serious problem putting the puck in the net at even strength. Over the last six games, they have scored only six goals, going 3-2-1 over that time.
“It’s just one of those dry spells,” said Jason Robertson, “We had a couple looks the other night, a couple looks at the end of the game. We had a pretty good first period, a lot of chances there and the second was a lot of special teams. One of those dry spells, but everyone in that locker room is trying to bury it.”
Dallas has had trouble in this category for a few seasons now. In 2018-19 and 2019-20, they ranked 30th in goal scoring. Last season, they ranked 24th with a plethora of injuries to deal with. This year, they have gone backward to 28th, despite a rather healthy lineup throughout the season. This streak ranges across multiple coaches, different lineups, and different adversity. Clearly, it is something rooted deep in the team.
“It’s on the guys to do a better job and raise that urgency,” Joe Pavelski said.
When the power play is hot and the goaltenders are playing above average, the even-strength struggles can be overlooked. However, as soon as one of those areas hits a bump (the power play has not scored in 14 straight attempts), the issue becomes blinding.
“We talk about it,” said Pavelski. “It’s something you need. The 5-on-5 scoring, if you can get an extra goal a night, it definitely goes a long way.”
Stars Against Lesser Opponents
The Sabres are a team that is clearly on the outside of the playoff picture. They are currently 29th in the league and recently parted ways with their franchise player and captain, Jack Eichel. However, these types of games have been a bit tricky for Dallas as of late.
Over the last month or so, the Stars have lost important games to the Montreal Canadiens (32nd) and Arizona Coyotes (31st). Earlier in the season, they were defeated by the Ottawa Senators (26th) twice. In each of these games, it was clear that one factor had changed, the overall intensity.
“It’s human nature to think you might have an easier opponent just to take your foot off the gas enough,” Stars head coach Rick Bowness said. “And that’s all it takes.”
Overall, the Stars’ intensity has been impressive lately. Sitting right on the bubble of the playoffs, they have been forced to take a playoff mentality into each matchup, something that is both physically and mentally challenging. Still, they have overcome some adversity and recorded impressive results since the break.
“For the most part, it has been good,” Bowness said of the overall intensity lately. “It certainly wasn’t there on Sunday [against Arizona] for two periods. Chicago was good, the game in Colorado, they’re a good team.”
Oettinger Will Start Sixth Straight Game
Jake Oettinger has been the clear storyline for the Stars over the last couple of weeks. The kid has started five straight games and nine of the last 10 overall. In his last nine starts, he has recorded a 6-2-1 record with a 1.85 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. He will start his sixth straight on Sunday against Buffalo.
“Clearly we are going to get him [Braden Holtby] back in here at some point,” Bowness said when asked how he handles the goalie situation right now. “But Jake’s playing really really well right now. Braden is a pro and he is a great character and a great teammate. You can see him at practice working his butt off and when his number is called, he’ll be ready to go.”
His last performance was another duel against a top-tier goalie. After outlasting one of his heroes, Marc-Andre Fleury, and playing the night before, Oettinger went head-to-head with Juuse Saros in Nashville on the night that the team retired Pekka Rinnes jersey to the rafters. While Saros was busier, Oettinger stopped 19 of 20 shots, playing an important role in his team earning one point.
“I want to be the backbone for this team like he [Saros] is for them,” Oettinger said.
- Andrej Sekera skated with the team on Saturday for the first time in a while. He remains on long-term injured reserve (LTIR)
- Newcomer Marian Studenic skated with the Stars for the first time after being claimed off waivers from the New Jersey Devils on Friday. He will NOT play on Sunday
- Riley Tufte and Thomas Harley both remain in the NHL. Harley has become a consistent player in the lineup while Tufte played his first game in nearly two months on Thursday–Joel Kiviranta was a healthy scratch
He Said It
“The team in New Jersey was pretty young,” Studenic said about what excites him about joining the Stars. “Here, I don’t want to say old team, but you have more experienced players here. You always can look up to someone and learn new stuff from there. It’s going to be different but I’m happy.“
Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!