Even though he hasn’t been an NHL head coach for all that long, one thing that was apparent about Stars first-year head coach Glen Gulutzan from the moment he was hired was that he isn’t one to mince words.
A prime example of this came after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Calgary. H was definitely pleased with the outcome but also offered a frank thought about what his club needs to do better if they are to make a further push toward Dallas’ first playoff berth in three seasons during this week’s four-game road trip.
“Yeah, we have to start good. We have to be prepared to play because we put them [Calgary] behind the eight ball quick,” Gulutzan said. “I felt like we lost a lot of battles today along the walls. Our individual battle level has to be a lot higher. When you lose battles, you’re going to give up some chances. That’s what the game’s about.”
The Stars finished the four-game homestand with a 2-2-0 record and even though there is a certain level of comfort associated with playing on home ice and being around friends and family, there are also times during a season when heading out on the road is a good thing.
“I think it’s a good time to go on the road to be honest with you,” Gulutzan said. “There’s a lot of pressure at home. There’s a lot of pressure at this time of year. The media and the coaching staff and everyone is you’ve got to win your home games. The players feel it and the players know it. They see the same things and know the same things that we do.”
He added: “Sometimes it’s easier to get on the road this time of the year and just kind of let loose for a road swing and just kind of put pressure on other teams in their buildings that have to win games. So I think the road trip comes at a good time for us because our game isn’t quite where it should be and we can get away and get it to where it needs to be.”
The trip starts on Monday night in Calgary, a team the Stars are 3-0-0 against this season. Darryl Sutter’s club has had trouble scoring goals with six goals over their last five games, a stretch which came after the Flames netted 21 goals in their previous five games.
Stars All-Star center Jamie Benn
looks forward to facing the Flames again just two days after beating them 4-1 at American Airlines Center and knows he and his teammates can expect a similar type of game at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“The emotions and the playoff atmosphere is going to carry over. There’s two big points on the line,” Benn said. “We’re both pushing for a playoff spot and trying to get in. I think it’s going to be a hard-fought game.”
Once Monday’s game is in the books, the Stars will venture across Alberta to Edmonton and will face the Oilers on Wednesday night at Rexall Place. Dallas is 3-0-0 against the Oilers so far this season and has outscored them 11-3 in those games. But this is an Edmonton team that is 18-15-5 at home this season and a club who is 5-2-3 in their last 10.
And it also looks like Tom Renney’s team has taken this spoiler role fairly seriously as the Oilers have beaten the likes of the Panthers, Predators, Flames and Sharks on the road during the month of March, so this will be anything but an easy game for the Stars.
On Friday, the trip resumes in Vancouver, a club Dallas is 2-1-0 against this year. Of course, the Canucks took the most recent meeting by a 2-1 scoreline at the AAC on March 22, but the Stars delivered an impressive 5-2 win during their last trip there on March 6.
The Canucks have since clinched the Northwest Division title but the status of top line winger Daniel Sedin remains uncertain as he is battling concussion-like symptoms after taking an elbow to the head during an overtime loss in Chicago last week. Still, even without both Sedins, this remains a Vancouver club that is among the best in the Western Conference.
San Jose will be the final stop on this trek as the Stars will face the Sharks at HP Pavilion next Saturday in their final back-to-back of the season. Dallas has only a 1-3-0 mark against San Jose this season but did beat the Sharks in the last meeting, a 4-3 shootout win on March 8 at the AAC. These same two clubs will meet again just three days later for the sixth and final time this regular season in Dallas on April 3.
No matter who or where they’re playing, if the Stars are to have any sort of success on this trip, they will need to start games strongly, much like they did on Saturday against the Flames, when they led 2-0 at the first intermission.
“That’s something we want to do, is we want to see if teams are ready. We learned our lesson against Chicago when they came out and gave it to us there in the first couple minutes and that’s what we want to do to teams,” Benn said.
And of course, the Stars will need to continue to receive the same sort of stellar performances they’ve gotten from No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen
down the stretch. “When you’re a goalie in this league, there’s always a lot of pressure,” Lehtonen said. “I’m just trying to do my best and have fun. Hopefully we can keep it up and keep winning.”
Maybe some of that added fire comes from his burning desire to return to the postseason for just the second time in his NHL career as he has two games of playoff experience, both coming in 2007 with Atlanta.
“When you lose, it hurts a lot more this time of year. And when you win, you’re more excited about it,” Lehtonen said. “There’s only a few games left, so it’s easy to get excited and go out there with lots of energy and that much on the line.”