By Martin Iheke
As the Olympic break comes to an end…. your Dallas Stars, who are currently holding on to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference look to end a six-year playoff drought with 24 games left in the regular season. It has been an up and down season to say the least for the Stars. After having a solid preseason, they started off with a 5-6-1 record through the first 12 games of the season. Then they finally found a philosophy that best suits their abilities by going with a puck-possession style using their speed and their record reflected that going 7-3-2 in their next 12 games. They continued their solid play into December with an 8-3-4 record before starting the new year off losing nine of their next ten games including a six-game losing streak in that stretch. Since that point, up until the Olympic break, the Stars appeared to have recovered winning six of nine and now hold the last playoff spot with their current record of 27-21-10.
The Stars have scored 164 goals and have given up the same amount of goals scored as well according to ESPN.com. I think that about accurately describes what they have been all season, which is average on offense and defense. They have gotten solid contributions from their star players in Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and rookie Valeri Nichushkin. If the Stars are to make a serious run in the final 24 games, these three need to continue to get better and learn to dominate play. Defenseman Alex Goligoski has bounced back from his poor start to the season and has been one of the better blue line players for this team. He and along with defensemen Brenden Dillon, Sergei Gonchar, and Trevor Daley have to continue to provide solid play on the back end. The Stars are hoping defenseman Stephane Robidas can return sometime next month after suffering a horrible leg injury back in late November. It would be like adding another acquisition without making a trade to help the Stars down the stretch. Kari Lehtonen has to continue to be great in net and not wear down as the season comes to a close. This is where backup goalie Dan Ellis will be needed to step up in games Lehtonen does not play so he is not overworked. The special teams have been sort of a mixed bag all season. The power play at times has been abysmal, ranking dead last in the league earlier in the season, but recently it has improved a little to where it is currently ranked 23rd according to ESPN.com. The Stars need to continue to move up in this area if they want to make the playoffs. They are a little better in the penalty kill ranked 19th according to ESPN.com. This area also needs to improve.
I think head coach Lindy Ruff has done a solid job for what he has had to work with. Remember, this is mostly a young and inexperienced team looking to find itself. Thanks to Ruff, they have found what works best for them and they have been able to bounce back from some tough stretches. The Stars have suffered from some key injuries and have been able to plug in players who have contributed. General manager Jim Nill should also be commended for not pushing the panic button when this team was going through a tough stretch of not winning. What will he do at the trade deadline which is on March 5th? I am guessing he will make a move if it makes sense for the team, financially and for the future. They could use another winger or a center to solidify the second line, but I would not be surprised if he waits until the offseason to address this need.
When their season resumes on Thursday, the Stars will play seven of their next nine games at home. It is vital that they take advantage of this stretch of games at home to really solidify themselves for a playoff spot. With Robidas close to coming back this team will be at full strength health-wise barring any other injury. That is pretty good for this time of the year.
2/27 vs Hurricanes 7:30 PM
3/1 vs Lightning 2:00 PM