The Stars returned home to take on the struggling Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon. With a win, Dallas had the opportunity to jump into the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. A few hours later, that is exactly what they did as they skated to a 4-2 victory at the American Airlines Center.
Raffl’s Haircut Leads To Two Goals
Michael Raffl was noticed early in warmups as he skated without a helmet, showing off a new buzzcut. Dallas has experience with dramatic haircuts as Roope Hintz went goalless for 11 games after cutting his hair earlier this season. The result was very different for Raffl, however, as he was a top player in the game, scoring two goals including the eventual game-winner. It was the first multi-goal game for Raffl since 2016. Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov scored the other two goals for Dallas.
“Scoring goals always feels nice,” Raffl said. “I think it’s even nicer to get the win because these games are never easy to play.”
Raffl joked after the game, informing the media that it was not his choice to warm up without a helmet. This, was the work of a couple of jokesters who hid his helmet, forcing him to show off his new haircut to a sellout crowd.
“I had to,” Raffl said. “I didn’t show any weakness. I didn’t care, I was walking out there.”
Rick Bowness laughed and spoke about the importance of players and staff enjoying themselves on a day-to-day basis, especially in the NHL where stress levels can be very high.
“We always want the guys to come to the rink and enjoy it,” Bowness said. “I don’t want them to look at it as a job, I want them to look at it as a game, and let’s have fun playing the game and have some fun in the room. But when it’s time to play, you play. You’ve got to enjoy it though. It goes by so fast. These guys are going to blink and their career is going to be over.”
For Raffl and his linemates Radek Faksa and Luke Glendening, scoring has been a topic of focus. The third line has been very good defensively and created plenty of scoring chances lately. On Sunday, they turned those chances into goals.
“I think it comes down to honest work for us,” Raffl said. “Try to be first on pucks and be painful to play against. Be first on pucks, be strong on the forecheck and have the third guy above so nothing is ever easy for them. We can play against any line, and it’s been a lot of fun. [Faksa] was very good the last three games.”
Oettinger Continues To Dominate
Jake Oettinger started his sixth straight game on Sunday and the 11th in the last 12 games overall. The 23-year-old has been on fire lately and continued his stellar play against Buffalo.
Oettinger stopped 38 of 40 Sabres shots, quietly putting together another excellent performance. Dallas needed the youngster to step up in the third period, when the team sat back a bit on their lead and let Buffalo come at them. This has been an issue for the Stars this season and continues to be an area of focus.
“The first two periods were great, and we’ve had some good third periods and then we’ve had some third periods like that where we just back off,” Bowness said. “We play as individuals, and we stop playing as a team. We make it way too easy for the other team to play. It’s something we’ve talked about and something we’re going to keep pounding at them. It seems to me like when we play Boston or Pittsburgh or those teams that we bare down a lot more.
When looking at the stats, it is alarming to see that Buffalo put 23 shots on Oettinger in the final 20 minutes. While the Stars had a healthy 4-1 lead, that style of play is risky and has led to collapses this season against Vegas and Calgary.
“We get a lead against Buffalo and then we don’t give them enough respect,” Bowness said. “They’re NHL players, I don’t care what the standings are. They’re good players and they want to win. We just stopped playing as a team and we play a three-quarter ice game which it makes it so easy for the opposition to keep coming at us.”
Harley Picks Up His First Point
Thomas Harley has been slowly improving his play since his recent callup. In six games, however, he had not recorded a point. That all changed on Sunday when he picked up the secondary assist on the first goal of the game, his first point in the NHL.
“Relief really,” Harley said. “It’s been coming for the last couple of games. You grow up dreaming it’s going to be a little more memorable than just a poke back down the wall. But, they don’t ask how they as how many so I’m happy.”
Harley has played seven straight games for the Stars, the most consecutive appearances during his short NHL career. Bowness has shown a new level of confidence in the youngster, who hopes to stay in Dallas this time around.
“There comes a point where he’s got to stay in the lineup,” Bowness said. “We’re to that point where if he plays well, he’s making us make that decision. ‘Okay, he’s ready.’ So he’s improved in the areas that we need him to improve in. He’s got a tremendous amount of confidence in his puck skills. You saw that the other night, which we love.”
With the victory and an Edmonton Oilers loss, the Stars jumped Edmonton into the second wild card spot. Dallas begins the month of March with one more home game on Wednesday night [March 2] against the Los Angeles Kings before heading out on the road for three tough Central Division matchups.
“I’d rather see us in the eighth spot than ninth or 10th,” said Stars coach Rick Bowness. “We’re not that far out of third. That’s your next step, to get in and stay in. It’s there, and you’ve got to go get it.”
He Said It
“I think that’s huge,” Riley Tufte said about the jokes in the locker room. “Especially throughout the season, you need to have jokesters like that and to have good laughs. It’s a long season, and it makes coming to the rink fun every day.”
Sam’s Three Stars
- Third Star: Thomas Harley, DAL (1 assist–first career NHL point)
- Second Star: Jake Oettinger, DAL (38 saves on 40 shots)
- First Star: Michael Raffl, DAL (2 goals, game-winning goal)
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!