Stars Seek a Turnaround

After a more than forgetful month of February, the Dallas Stars have regained their stride in the past week: posting three straight wins against Western Conference rivals. The streak could not have come at a better time, as the Stars witnessed their Pacific Division and Western Conference leads melt away. Piteously, the Stars recorded a mere three wins during the month of February. That span was a direct result of mounting injuries to the team. But with the recent acquisition of defenseman Alex Goligoski from the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as the return of Jamie Benn, Krys Barch and Adam Burish, the Stars have found their winning system once again. Throughout this season, Dallas has been a team that relies on solid goaltending and quality special teams — both of which have shown up in the past week.

Kari Lehtonen has regained his step in recent games. (HermanVonPetri/flickr)

Kari Lehtonen appears to have reclaimed the superb play that helped carry the team over the course of the season; the Finnish netminder allowed a scant five goals in the last three games. The special teams has also improved. The Stars’ penalty kill gave up only one goal in the past three games, and the power play has scored timely goals in two of those three wins.

In the past two games, Dallas has shown the resiliency it carried so well throughout much of the season. Going down 2-1 against a gritty Nashville Predators team, the Stars found a way to battle back and score two third-period goals to earn the two points. In their most recent contest against the Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas carried much of the game. After going up 2-0, the Stars gave up two late goals, one of which was with under a minute to play, and let the Coyotes tie it up. However, a bad penalty taken by Phoenix forward Radim Vrbata with under fifteen seconds left in regulation allowed the Stars to capitalize. Even with the penalty, it still seemed the Coyotes had earned at least one point in the game; there was only ten seconds left in the third period and Phoenix had battled back and captured most of the momentum.  However, after the Coyotes won a defensive-zone faceoff, Brenden Morrow battled for the puck along the boards and allowed Mike Ribeiro to get the puck to Loui Eriksson. No. 21 slid the puck across the top of the crease to a wide-open Jamie Benn, who buried the puck over the glove of Ilya Brzygalov with only 4.8 seconds left, clinching the game for the Stars, while simultaneously depriving the Coyotes of any points.

As the team tries to regain its composure, these two wins are crucial. A mere two points had separated the Stars from the Predators; only four points were between Dallas and Phoenix. With less than twenty games to play in the season, crunch time is here. Every point becomes vital. And if a team can prevent inner-conference and inner-divison rivals from gaining points, they are increasing their chances of a playoff berth.

Besides the statistics, these two wins should do wonders for a Stars’ chemistry that had become completely adrift of late. And with the return of center Brad Richards and defenseman Nicklas Grossman in the next few days, the Stars should augment their push towards the playoffs.

Alex Goligoski has fit nicely into the Dallas defensive corps. (bridgetds/flickr)

Finally, it appears General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk made the right move in acquiring Goligoski from the Penguins. The offensive-minded defenseman has paid immediate dividends for the Stars, recording a goal and two assists in four games, as well as a plus-three rating. In the game against the Predators, Goligoski scored the game-tying goal, and then assisted on the game-winning goal later in the third period. Not only does he add more reliability to the backend, but he provides an offensive spark to the defense that was missing throughout the season. With Stephane Robidas and Goligoski manning the point, it should boost the overall confidence of the powerplay.

If Richards can quickly rebound from his mild concussion, the roster will be completely intact again. When that happens, Dallas can put the dismal month of February behind them and focus on March and April.