After seeing the last 11 days of their December schedule postponed, the Dallas Stars began 2022 with a solid performance. While it was far from perfect, over the month of January, they held an 8-5-0 record, going 4-2-0 at home and 4-3-0 on the road. Their above-average play pushed them up the standings and briefly into the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference with half of the season still to go.
Stars Home Success Continues
If you take away the two consecutive losses to the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals, the Stars’ month at home looks awfully similar to the rest of the season. January included home wins over some of the best teams in the league including the Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Boston Bruins.
Not only did Dallas get the full two points in these matchups but they found new ways to win each night. Against Florida, it took every second of their effort to come away with a wild 6-5 shootout win. Facing the red-hot Penguins, who had won 10 games in a row heading into the game, Dallas came up with two goals in the final five minutes to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 regulation victory. And finally, when Boston came to town on Sunday [Jan. 31], the Stars ran them out of the building from the drop of the puck in a dominant 6-1 win.
In the losses to Montreal and Washington, the story was very different. Facing the last-placed Canadiens, the Stars racked up over 50 shots and 100 shot attempts but could not find a way to score enough goals to win. A few big mistakes up the ice ended up in their own net and they skated away with a 5-3 defeat. When Braden Holtby faced his former team for the first time, the Capitals controlled the game from start to finish and it was clear that Dallas simply had nothing going in a 5-0 loss.
Overall, a 4-2-0 record at home is one that they will be happy with and something they can continue to build on in February.
Stars Four-Game Road Trip
Following the disappointing loss to Montreal on home ice, the Stars headed out on a four-game swing through the east coast. With their poor play on home ice so far this season and the excellent play from the other teams in the Central Division, this looked like a make-or-break trip for them. If they failed to return with significant points, they likely would drop way out of the playoff picture. Facing four struggling teams in the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils, Dallas knew they needed to take advantage.
While it was far from pretty, the Stars left New Jersey on the final night with all eight of the possible points. They won the first two games in high-scoring 5-4 fashion before shutting down the Flyers and Devils in 3-1 and 5-1 victories. Yes, these teams have struggled this season, but with the way the Stars had played on the road, these wins were enormous for their confidence and position in the standings.
What Worked & What Did Not For Dallas
Worked: Offense & Secondary Scoring
The key to the success in January was the increase in scoring production overall. In 13 games, Dallas scored 44 goals. That 3.4 goals per game average is far better than the sub-3 average they had the rest of the season.
A huge part of this increase was the emergence of a legitimate second line. Jamie Benn was reunited with Tyler Seguin, and the two, along with Denis Gurianov, began producing real points for the first time all season. The end of the month also gave us a glimpse at the potential of Alexander Radulov, who found chemistry playing alongside Jacob Peterson and Joel Kiviranta. After riding the dynamic top line for nearly 50% of their offense, this secondary scoring was a huge step in the right direction for Dallas.
“That’s what we need,” Bowness said. “We need the contributions from the other lines. Seguin’s line stepped up big tonight, Glendening got a big goal for us, Rads. That’s what we need. We need some more offense spread out through the team.”
In the month of January, Seguin tallied 10 points in 13 games (6G, 4A), Benn recorded four points, and Gurianov had eight. While these numbers are nothing spectacular, the improvement was huge as the line consistently showed up in games, racking up scoring chances and playing a much better two-way game. Dallas will look for them to continue to produce as the season goes along.
Speaking of the dynamic top line, they continued their success for yet another month. Joe Pavelski led the way with 21 points (7G, 14A–including his first career five-point night), Jason Robertson tallied 15 (7G, 8A), and Roope Hintz just kept scoring with 15 points (8G, 7A).
The line as a whole racked up 51 points over the 13 games. What they did on the other side of the ice, though, does not get as much attention but may be even more impressive. Rick Bowness began utilizing the trio head-to-head against the opponent’s top lines. Playing against Sidney Crosby, David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin, and many other elite players, they held their ground and mostly shut down the opponent’s best guys.
Didn’t Work: Defense, Goaltending, & Penalty Kill
Unfortunately for the Stars, with the increase in goal-scoring, also came a decrease in their team defense and goaltending play. Over those same 13 games, the Stars allowed 42 goals against. For a team that has been so strong defensively over the past few seasons, they continue to struggle to keep pucks out of their net.
“We’re certainly not happy giving up four goals, but we’re certainly happy we scored five,” coach Rick Bowness said. “We have to tighten up. We’re trying to find ways to win 2-1, 3-2, but if we can find a way to score four or five goals, we want to do that. But there are too many goals going in our net.”
While the team has not played well defensively, the goaltending certainly has not helped. Jake Oettinger held a 2.73 goals-against average and .897 save percentage (1.26 GAA, .959 sv% in November), while Braden Holtby recorded a 3.52 GAA and .891 save percentage. This stat line is even more alarming because of how strong this goaltending duo had been earlier in the season.
Finally, the last piece to the poor defensive numbers is the Stars penalty kill. This has been a struggle all season and continued to hurt them in January. Dallas allowed a power-play goal in 11 of the 13 games over the month. The only teams not to score on the power play were the Penguins and Flyers.
The issues seem to change every night, as some nights they kill 90% of the penalty before seeing a bad bounce end up in their net, while other nights the opponent scores off of the opening faceoff with the man advantage. No matter the specifics, this stat needs to be fixed or they stand no chance of making the playoffs.
Overall, the month of January was a good one in terms of points for the Dallas Stars. Their eight wins pushed them into the playoff picture and instilled some hope in the dressing room. However, they still remain out of a playoff spot and have seen recent struggles in their defensive game, goaltending, and penalty kill. Moving forward, they need to find a way to sure up those areas while continuing to receive secondary scoring up front and from the backend. It seems simple, but if those things happen, I believe this team can sneak into a playoff spot. If not, you know how the story goes.
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!