After getting off to a poor 3-4-1 start, the Dallas Stars have turned things around. With the help of seven home games, Dallas finished November with an 8-3-1 record, propelling them into a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They have now won five in a row, six straight at home, and seven of their last eight games overall. How did they turn their season around? Let’s dive into that.
Stars Top Players Awoken
One of the main issues early this season was the lack of success from the Stars top offensive players. Roope Hintz had not scored a goal through 10 games, Jamie Benn was not making an impact, John Klingberg had not tallied any power-play points, and the list went on. However, over the last 10 games or so, things have changed. Jamie Benn scored five goals in eight games, Jason Robertson is a point-per-game player, John Klingberg has helped the success of the power play, Joe Pavelski is scoring at a wild pace, picking up his 400th career goal in the process, and Roope Hintz has emerged as the Stars best player, tallying 10 goals over the last nine games.
Hintz continued his stellar play on Tuesday night, recording his first career hat trick against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“When you’re getting all those chances and you’re a good player, it’s going to go in. It is, and it was just a matter of time. I know whatever his stats were after 10 games, but if he wasn’t getting chances then you’ll have a whole other conversation and a whole other set of worries, but when you see your best player getting chances like that you know it’s going to go in. It was just a matter of time.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
The only disappointment over this stretch has been the play of Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. The expectations were high this season as both players returned from surgeries that kept them out most of the 2020-21 season. However, Radulov has just one goal all season and sits at a team-worst minus-10 while Seguin has not scored in seven games. Right now, Dallas has been able to ride their hot players but they will need more from these two going forward.
Power Play Unstoppable For Dallas
One of the few things that went right last season was the Stars power play. That trend has continued into this season as Dallas currently ranks fourth in the league with a 26.79% success rate. Miro Heiskanen has led the way with seven power-play points while the top trio of Pavelski, Hintz, and Robertson have also played a huge role.
“They were moving it great on both units. It was good to see Klinger get on the board on the power play, he was outstanding tonight on both sides of the puck. We’ve got two really good units.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
The power play has been especially hot as of late, scoring 10 goals in the last 13 games.
Oettinger & Holtby Shut The Door
The rollercoaster ride that is Stars goaltending continued into the second month of the season. After performing well to start the season, Braden Holtby struggled in a few games before revealing a nagging lower-body injury that would keep him out. This led to the call-up of 22-year-old Jake Oettinger who has not played in the NHL since impressing in his first season in 2020-21.
Oettinger was thrust into the starting job the next night because of an illness that kept Anton Khudobin out of the game. He responded with a 28-save performance in the Stars 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on home ice. Since being called up from the American Hockey League, Oettinger is 4-0-0 and leads all NHL goalies with a .959 save percentage and 1.26 goals-against average.
“I think Jake’s confidence is really high. He’s dialed in and everyone in the room trusts him, and I’m sure that gives him a lot of confidence.”– Stars forward Jason Robertson
In even better news for Dallas, Holtby has been excellent since returning from his injury a week ago. In the two games since, he is 2-0-0 and recorded an equally impressive .960 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average. In his last game, Holtby stopped 40 Carolina Hurricanes shots, securing an important 4-1 win for Dallas. Among these stops was a highlight-reel scramble that brought the fans to their feet.
While Ben Bishop’s status remains unknown and Anton Khudobin has struggled all season, it is vital that Dallas receives solid goaltending from Oettinger and Holtby. There are a lot of factors that will go into the decisions made down the line but right now, these two have taken full control of the Stars net.
Consistency Is Key For Stars
The final piece of the success for Dallas is perhaps the most important. Consistency within the lineup. Over the past few seasons, the Stars have struggled to find any sort of consistency when it came to their forward lines and defensive pairings. Head coach Rick Bowness continued to shuffle lines on a seemingly nightly basis, trying to find the right chemistry to have success. While a large part of this was forced by injuries last season, it remained a focus for him to fix this season. Over the last month, he seems to have finally done that.
“It’s five guys working well together, and the lines have settled in, and they have a little chemistry right now. Guys are working and that’s kind of the result.”– Stars forward Joe Pavelski
Of course, players need to have success in order for their coach to have the confidence to keep them together. Aside from the success of the top line, the biggest change that led to this chemistry was moving Jamie Benn back to center. Since that move, each line has been effective and remained together for nearly every game. Here is how Dallas lined up over the last month.
If you are a believer in the importance of the NHL standings at Thanksgiving, things are looking quite optimistic for Dallas. The Stars hold an 11-7-2 record and currently sit in the second wild-card spot, just a few points back of second place in the Central division. While their current winning percentage is unsustainable, it was vital for them to go on a run just as they did in November. Now, they are in a much better spot as we head towards the Christmas season and finally look like the team that many people believed they would be. What will December bring? Tune in and find out what surprises ol’ Saint Nick has in store.
Sam Nestler is a 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 NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!