As the NHL playoffs lie in wait just around the corner, teams are reaching a critical, precarious point. All it takes is one strong winning streak to vault a team into a seemingly safe playoff position (see: the Phoenix Coyotes), or one uninspired losing streak to drop a team to a point where hope is rapidly fleeting (see: the Toronto Maple Leafs).
The Dallas Stars have finally found themselves in the former category, riding a 4-0-1 streak to end the month of February on a high note. The Stars started the season on a tear, leading the Pacific Division at one point early on, before falling into a horrible humdrum stretch throughout the season’s midsection. With the recent surge, however, the team has clawed their way up into the 8th and final playoff position in the West, a spot that the team hopes to hold on to or extend in the upcoming month.
Considering the Stars were in nearly identical positions the last two seasons at this time but still ultimately missed the playoffs, it’s hard to be confident that the trend will be bucked this season. But I digress, a 5-3-2 record in their last 10 at this time of year, including some hard earned points, is something to be excited about if you’re a Stars fan, and could potential lay the groundwork for a momentum swing that could take the team into the postseason.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the more noteworthy individual stories currently developing with the team.
-Still no Morrow: Apparently the minor neck and back issues that have been tweaking captain Brenden Morrow were worse than initially thought. Morrow hasn’t played since February 2nd, and only resumed skating this Thursday. The team has been managing well without him, but players like Tom Wandell, Tomas Vincour and Adam Burish simply haven’t picked up enough slack in Morrow’s absence, leaving the team with a thin two scoring lines. The Stars desperately need Morrow’s leadership if they hope to continue to battle with the other teams fighting for the final playoff spots in the West. There is still no timetable for his return.
–Steve Ott’s magic number: 57.3 That’s Ott’s faceoff percentage this season as of right now (the number of course fluctuates), ranking him 7th in the league. What makes Ott’s faceoff capabilities so impressive for the Stars is that he also has the two-way skills to play in any situation after an important faceoff win, including in the offensive zone with his team down a goal in the dying seconds or in the defensive zone protecting a late lead. He might not put up big numbers in other stat areas, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a key player for the Stars. It also doesn’t hurt that Ott adores taking on that extra responsibility on behalf of his team.
-Garbutt bringing the X-factor: When forward Ryan Garbutt was recalled from the AHL’s Texas Stars two weeks ago, it didn’t receive much attention. Garbutt had played well in Texas, but the 26 year-old was never drafted and had never played an NHL game at that point. But thanks to an abundant amount of hustle and hard work on the 4th line he remains in the bigs, having played the last 7 games for Dallas, scoring once and getting many other chances. Interestingly, the rest of the players on the team have followed suit and picked up their energy levels since Garbutt started playing. Could a 4th line call-up be the spark that the Stars needed heading into the regular season’s final stretch? If the Stars continue to win, don’t expect to see Garbutt heading back to the AHL any time soon.
Derek Neumeier primarily covers the Dallas Stars, but also other various topics related to the sport of hockey. A Journalism graduate of Mount Royal University, Derek also writes for Defending Big D, and has done previous work with the Edmonton Oilers as a communications intern and Hockey Canada as a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @Derek_N_NHL