Teams usually try to shake the doldrums with a trade or a coaching change. The Dallas Stars
have done it by changing the general manager.
Dallas was 7-7-3 in early November when owner Tom Hicks fired GM Doug Armstrong and replaced him with the tandem of Les Jackson and Brett Hull. Though the new co-GMs have generally confined themselves to injury-related callups, the Stars have been transformed into one of the NHL’s best teams. They are 28-14-2 since the management change, though their bid for a franchise-record eighth-straight win failed in Phoenix on Thursday night; the Coyotes snapped their seven-game winning streak with a 5-2 victory.
The Stars will meet the Red Wings Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET) in the NHL Game of the Week on NBC.
The question is how a team that was barely breaking even has gone to a powerhouse that entered the weekend second to Detroit in the overall standings.
The answer: improved defense.
Before the change, the Stars allowed 50 goals in 17 games, 2.94 per game. Since then, they’ve allowed 101 in 44 games, just 2.30 per game (excluding shootouts). The offense has been just about the same, averaging 2.82 goals per game before the change and 2.78 since.
The Stars have also cut down on opponents’ scoring chances. They were allowing 29.4 shots on goal per game before the change; since then, they’ve allowed just 25.3.
They’ve also made major improvements on the penalty kill. Dallas allowed 13 goals in 80 opportunities (83.8 percent, 10th in the NHL) in its first 17 games. Since the management change, the Stars have allowed just 20 goals in 177 chances, an 88.7 percent success rate that has moved Dallas to the top of the heap in penalty-killing. The Stars have also helped themselves by cutting down on their time in the box: The Stars were giving opponents 4.7 power plays per game before the change; since then, they’ve cut that figure to 4.0.
Woe, Canada — Unfortunately for Dallas goaltender Marty Turco, the Stars have just two games remaining against Canadian-based teams. Since becoming the Stars’ No. 1 goalie in 2002-03, Turco has absolutely owned the six teams from north of the 49th Parallel. He’s 44-11-3 against the six teams based in Canada during the past five seasons, and 48-14-5 lifetime.
They love New York — Anaheim became the third team in NHL history to complete a sweep of the three New York metropolitan area teams on the same trip when the Ducks topped the Devils 2-1 at the Prudential Center last Friday. The Ducks join the 2001-02 Los Angeles Kings and the 2006-07 Nashville Predators (who won two games in shootouts) as the only teams to sweep their three-game swing through the Big Apple and environs. The Ducks allowed just two goals in the three games, the fewest ever surrendered by a team during a three-game visit to the metropolitan area.
Pacific Division teams in general have had a great time in the New York area this season. Anaheim, Dallas, Los Angeles and Phoenix have combined for a 9-3-0 record, with San Jose coming to the area for three games beginning Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
King of New York? — The New York Rangers know who their goalie will be for the next six years after agreeing on a new deal with Henrik Lundqvist. Now they need to know which Lundqvist they’re getting.
Through the first two months of the season, Lundqvist showed the same sharpness he displayed in helping the Rangers reach the second round of the playoffs last spring. He was 15-9-2 with a 1.83 goals-against average through Dec. 1, helping the Rangers survive an offensive drought while playing every game. But all that work may have taken a toll: Since then, he’s had a 3.35 goals-against average — and New York has struggled to a 13-15-5 mark in its past 33 games, dropping back to ninth place in the East.
Penalties killing them — One reason for the New York Islanders’ recent slump is the fact that their penalty-killers have struggled after doing solid work for the first three months of the season. The Isles allowed at least one power-play goal in nine consecutive games from Jan. 19 through Feb. 7 — and went 1-7-1 in that span. In the 10 games before that, the Islanders killed 36 of 39 power plays and allowed no more than one PPG in any game, going 5-1-4 during that stretch.
Another recent problem for the Isles has been a huge disparity in power plays at home. They’ve had just 15 power-play chances (and one goal) in their last seven home games — and that includes nine in two meetings with the Philadelphia Flyers, meaning they had just six chances in the other five. Meanwhile, their opponents have had 31 power-play chances — and scored eight times, including four game-winners.
Not that the Isles’ power play has been all that good anywhere. Before scoring four times in seven opportunities in Thursday’s 5-4 win at Toronto, the Isles had scored just four times in 33 chances in their previous 11 games.
Afternoon delight — The Toronto Maple Leafs don’t play many afternoon games at home. But given their success rate, they might wish they could play a few more. The Leafs’ 3-2 overtime win over Detroit on Feb. 9 was only their fifth afternoon game at home in the past 12 years — but they’ve won all of them. The Leafs’ last previous matinee at home came on Feb. 9, 2002, when they beat Montreal 4-1.
Imperfectly perfect — The Edmonton Oilers may have solved Minnesota goaltender Nicklas Backstrom, but they still haven’t beaten him. Backstrom took an 8-0-0 record against the Oilers into Tuesday’s game at Edmonton, where he was pulled with his team down 2-1, having allowing two goals on 11 shots in two periods. Edmonton scored twice against backup Josh Harding before Brian Rolston’s late power-play goal for Minnesota — pinning the loss on Harding and leaving Backstrom still unbeaten against the Oilers.