The Dallas Stars are right in the middle of an intense playoff race in the Central Division. They currently sit just two points back of Nashville and maintain two games in hand on the Predators. If Dallas is going to make it to the postseason, they will need to do so by winning on the road. They play their final seven games of the season on the road, traveling through Tampa Bay, Nashville, Florida, and Chicago.
The Stars currently have an 8-9-4 record away from Dallas and have seen some struggles they do not see at home. They score fewer goals, give up more power play goals, their goaltending is not always as strong, and most importantly, they often start slow. Faster starts will be key for this team as they are often the better team when they are able to get the first goal holding a 15-4-5 record when doing so. That is a large difference from their 5-11-7 record when the opponent scores first.
They Only Need One
Dallas is not exactly a fast-start team in general, as they have only scored 31 first-period goals all season, ahead of only Buffalo in that category. However, on the road, it is a bigger problem, as only nine of those goals have come away from American Airlines Center. Watching a Stars game, you can nearly expect that they will either be tied 0-0 or losing 1-0 after the first period. It has become the norm for this team, but it is something that they need to address.
Dallas is in the bottom of the NHL in first-period goals, but they are also in the top five of first-period goals against. This means that if they can find a way to get just one goal in the first 20 minutes, their chances of success skyrocket. For the rest of the game, they are a much better team offensively.
They sit towards the top of the league in goals in the final 40 minutes of play while holding the opponents to very few shots and fewer scoring chances. The issue is that the lack of early scoring leads to much tighter games and the inevitable overtime and shootout losses that have found this team so often in 2021.
Easier Said Than Done
Having a faster start is a great strategy but is a lot easier said than done. That is especially true when you are playing four games in six nights consistently every week of the season. Dallas has been playing catchup to the rest of the league due to their excessive amount of postponed games earlier this season. They have not had two days off in months and will not for the remainder of the season.
When you are playing that much hockey, it is normal to take a little longer to get into the flow of a game. Mental and physical fatigue are essentially a constant these players have to fight through.
Lately, the Stars have looked a bit sloppy or even unmotivated in first periods before finding a way to get their skating legs going. It is understandable, and nobody will blame them for it, but that does not mean it will get them a playoff spot. Every team has to deal with adversity, and the team that handles it best usually skates around the ice with the greatest trophy in sports raised above their heads. Dallas is not making excuses, and they know what they are up against, but the time to make it happen is right now.
“The competition level is going to be high and that’s what makes it fun,” Mark Pysyk said. “You want to be playing in meaningful games, and every single one coming down is exactly that. We’re going to have to raise our intensity level every single night because other teams are fighting for first and we’re going to be fighting for our playoff lives.”
Dallas will play its final two home games against Carolina Monday and Tuesday before heading out on their seven-game road trip to end the season. It would not be surprising to see this playoff race come down to the final few games, but the Stars can help themselves greatly by finding a way to start their road games on time.
“Fate is in our hands” – Jamie Benn
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!