41 Games into the 82-game season finds the Dallas Stars right on the edge. They could make the playoffs. They could miss the playoffs. It’s all in front of them, and it’s mostly up to them.
Lately they’ve had longer stretches of play that remind us of the team that would not be denied in March and April last season. But punctuating the entire first half are too many fatal mistakes, reflected in a record that is below where they need it to be.
But – here they are. And it’s all still in front of them. Assuming nothing catastrophic pops up, because every team is like that, hoping nothing catastrophic pops up, here’s my take on the things that they’ll have to consider and do if they want to make it to the playoffs.
1)Not All Games Are The Same
-NHL math, hybrid divisional/conference playoff formatting and seeding means that you have to pay attention to where you’re at and work for maximum effort and energy especially in key games. For example: the Stars next 2 games are at home against Ottawa and Winnipeg. Beating the Senators and losing to the Jets is not the same as beating the Jets and losing to the Senators. While 2 points is gained either way, it’s vastly more important to beat the team just above you in the standings. This is not to say that you can pick and choose which games you win and lose, but, if you’re managing things like injuries and rest, the opponent matters.
2)The Power Play
-The Stars are built to skate and score. They seem to have found their skating legs and one of the byproducts of that is drawing penalties. But the Stars have to make them count. In fact, one of the more dependable first-half indicators for Dallas is “when scoring a Power Play goal…” The Stars Power Play converted in only 18 of their first 41 games, however, they were 11-4-3 in those games. If the Power Play can score in 24 of their final 41, their chances to make the playoffs greatly improve.
3)Minimize The Damage
-The Stars will not be in the hunt for the Jennings Trophy, nor will they even scare the Top 10 in GAA, but – they gotta be a smidge better. They’re allowing a little over 3 goals a game, and too many times, the wounds have been self-inflicted. Other teams are going to make plays and score, but the Stars have to continue to work to cut down on the unforced errors, and Kari has to also continue to work to get his personal numbers back to where they normally are. It’s a total of about half a goal a game all the way around, but that would be a huge difference.
4)Big 3 Gotta Have Big Finishes
-The Stars leaned on Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in the early season and Jason Spezza has been coming on lately. The team has received some great scoring from down the lineup and they have to sustain that. But this team makes the playoffs if Seguin, Benn and Spezza are all beasts in the second half. Because of the team’s youth on the back end, they have to score, they have to have the puck, and those three have to set the pace.
5)Realize Your Predicament
- Everybody has to take the one-thousand-foot view here. Early stumbles have put the Stars in a place where they cannot afford another long sequence without winning and picking up points, and as mentioned earlier, they have to be ready when the teams directly above them are standing across the ice. Kari Lehtonen is on pace to play… oh … maybe every game the rest of the way… so perhaps he’ll get more rest. And Lindy Ruff knows about when to go to the whip, and when to let them all rest the bumps and bruises. The Stars look like they’ll get Patrick Nemeth back in March, and Patrick Eaves will be available before then. Val Nichushkin is another matter. So while there may be some help coming, everybody has to dig in.
But – and finally – believe this – it’s doable.