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As playoff race heats up, Stars must fix road scoring woes

Holding onto third place in the Central Division, Dallas' 58 goals in 27 road games are fewest in the NHL

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Stars have fixed a few problems on the road, including their goals against and penalty kill.

But while Dallas still is pretty good defensively and at shot suppression away from home, it simply can't get its goal scoring uncorked on the road.

Saturday's 3-2 loss to Arizona was another good example. While the Stars got late goals from Brett Ritchie and Alexander Radulov, they were held in check for most of the game by Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper. As the team tries to hold onto their third place standing in the Central Division, it has just 58 goals in 27 road games, fewest in the NHL.

That's barely above two goals a game, and it's in sharp contrast to the 3.0 they score at home. On Saturday, Dallas had 35 shots on goal, but simply couldn't get the traffic in front of the net it needed.

"When it was there to take a shot, we took it," said winger Alexander Radulov. "But there was no one in front of the net, the puck was there loose and we didn't battle enough for it for 60 minutes.

"It cost us the hockey game, that's it."

Video: Montgomery discusses loss to Coyotes

To be fair, the Coyotes were pretty motivated and pretty good. They had been struggling recently and had lost nine straight to the Stars, so they were on point from the start. But those are the challenges this team has to overcome if it hopes to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence.

And scoring goals will be a big part of that. As much as the Stars have found a great identity in being one of the best defensive teams in the league, they still need to augment that with scoring. Dallas was held off the board for the first 55 minutes of the game and then made a late charge with goals from Brett Ritchie and Radulov.

But there were clearly things they could have done better earlier in the game.

"I thought we had some good possession time, but I didn't think we penetrated the middle of the ice with pucks or bodies well enough," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said.

They also didn't complete detailed plays at high speed the way the Coyotes did.

"We just didn't make finishing plays," Montgomery said. "Their one-timers were right in the wheelhouse. We had opportunities for one-timers and we didn't put it right in the wheelhouse. We were a little off with our passing execution on the power play."

Video: DAL@ARI: Ritchie, Radulov score 27 seconds apart

As a result, the Coyotes scored twice with the man advantage, and the Stars went 0-for-3. It was in direct contrast to Monday when the Stars scored three times on the power play in a 5-4 win at home over the Coyotes, and it was noticeable to the players.

"They won the special teams (battle)," said center Tyler Seguin. "They weren't generating much the first half on the 5-on-5. I thought we were controlling the play, and special teams gave them the lead. Third period they got that third goal and we stopped playing and then we started again. It just wasn't a good, full 60-minute effort by us tonight."

The Stars say a complete game effort is key, that they can't concentrate only on goal-scoring. Still, they rank fifth in road goals against at 2.73, 14th in road shots on goal against at 31.3 and third in road penalty kill at 84.3 percent. They even rank 18th in road power play at 18.2 percent.

So the lack of even strength offense does stand out on the road.

The top players continue to carry the team, as Seguin has 22 points and is plus-6, while Radulov has 18 points and also is plus-6. While that's below the point-a-game pace they usually have, the real shortage has come in depth scoring.

That said, if everyone did a little bit more, the problem could be resolved.

Video: Ritchie on late goal, needing to match intensity

"It's just work," Radulov said. "We need to work harder and execute, bring more energy, get to the front of the net. There's always a rebound there, so we just have to stand there and be better at that."

And they have the belief that they can fix it. In rallying for two late goals, the Stars came close to tying the game Saturday. Now, they return to Dallas for a day off Sunday, hit the practice ice at Comerica Center in Frisco on Monday, and resume this road trip with games at Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina.

"I think we've taken good steps as a hockey team," Seguin said. "We've got to bounce back and show that we're not just streaking up and down. You want to be able to bounce back quick. Go home, get some rest for 24 hours and then get back at it."

Because fixing the road scoring could have a huge positive impact on this team's ability to make the playoffs.

"When we play our best, the power play is getting a goal and two of the four lines are getting a goal," Montgomery said. "If we get to three goals, we usually have success."

It's just that, so far, been really, really hard to get to three goals away from home.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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