Last season, the Dallas Stars were 5-6-1 in the second game of back-to-back contests. The year before that, they were 4-8-1.
According to Nick Emptage at Puck Prediction, overall, home teams win about 55 percent of games in which at least one team played the night before, while road teams come out on top around 45 percent of the time.
Using these numbers, let’s take a look at how the Stars performed compared to the average odds. In 2013-14, the club went 2-1-0 at home in the second game of back-to-back matchups (67 percent) and 2-7-1 on the road (20 percent). While it may seem that the Stars’ back-to-backs were unfairly distributed regarding home and away contests, the team still failed to win even half of the games it mathematically could have on the road.
In 2014-15, the trend of road-heavy back-to-back scheduling peaked; all 12 of the Stars’ second-day contests were on the road. Their almost 42 percent winning percentage in those games was more than double what the team accomplished the year before and fell much closer to the statistical average calculated by Emptage’s greater than 10,000-game analysis.
In a small sample size in 2015-16, Dallas has gone 2-1-1 on the back end of doubleheaders, and all four to this point have seen the Stars play in another team’s building. The team will again participate in 12 back-to-backs; however, this season, three of those contests will come inside the American Airlines Center.
It seems as if the Stars are trending in the right direction when it comes to success in the back half of these pairings. The rotating goaltending tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi is certainly helping that, as statistics show that playing the rested backup is almost always the right call. Lehtonen is 11-2-0 with a .915 save percentage, while Niemi is 13-5-2 with a .909. When your “backup,” whoever it may be at the time, is putting up the numbers of a capable NHL starter, back-to-backs are bound to seem less daunting.
Tough Sledding Ahead
Although the Stars have made winning look simple at times in 2015-16, the road is about to get much rougher. This week, the Stars will use two of those home back-to-backs. While this may seem like a Christmas gift from the schedulers to the men in Victory Green, the holiday company Dallas will play host to erases any thought of smooth sailing. The week promises to be a Central Division heavyweight bout, as the Stars will travel to Minnesota Monday, host Chicago on Tuesday, then come out of the Christmas break with an immediate weekend home-and-home with St. Louis.
Following those matchups, three of the team’s next seven games will be against Central Division opponents, meaning that seven of the Stars’ next 11 contests will be grueling divisional battles.
For a team that’s gotten off to an all-time start and currently leads the league with 50 points, the true test is yet to come. Dallas has squared off against its own division just five times in its first 33 games, and the Stars haven’t dominated those contests by any stretch, going 3-2.
The Stars’ hot start has afforded them six points worth of breathing room in the Central, but both Chicago and St. Louis (44 points) have the opportunity to make up ground this week against a team that is trying to cleanse itself of its history of floundering in back-to-backs. While the two-man system in net and offensive firepower have gotten Dallas off to an encouraging start in back-half matchups, this week will provide a true indication of how good this team really is.