The Dallas Stars recently finished up a 2-0-2 road trip. A record like that can leave things open to interpretation. On one hand, the Stars went unbeaten in regulation. They got points in every single game, and claimed six of a possible eight on the trip. On the other hand, the Stars were defeated in half of their games. On those nights, Dallas once squandered a 3-0 third-period lead and then lost another game when outshooting their opponent 43-24. Plus, those two losses came at the hands of a couple of teams at the bottom of the NHL standings.
But don't forget, on the trip Dallas overcame a three-goal, third-period deficit of their own to beat a quality Minnesota opponent. Plus, as it has been all season long, the Stars response off the loss in Calgary was terrific. They came back the next game and dominated Vancouver. It's also worth pointing out that of the four games on the trip, two of them were the dreaded back-to-back variety. Factor all of that in and 2-0-2 looks pretty solid again.
The bottom line is this. If you play .750 hockey anywhere, you're living right. If you play it on the road, it's even better. You needn't get caught up in the details. The road trip the Stars just had is one that any team would be happy to take, any time. Heck, it's a homestand they'd take, too. However, life in professional sports doesn't always offer the luxury of being objective. Surroundings almost always determine how the present is viewed.
Forget about the six points the Stars grabbed for a minute. Imagine this was last season and the Stars lost a three-goal, second-intermission lead in Calgary. Imagine that they scored one goal on 43 shots against a guy who was brought in to be the backup goaltender in Edmonton. Imagine what your reaction would have been.
You know what? You don't have to imagine. Let's revisit a couple of games. Almost exactly a year ago, on the day after Thanksgiving, you might recall a Stars game against Minnesota. Dallas fell behind 3-0 quickly. They exploded for three goals in the final four minutes of the second period to even the score. They then took the lead with 6:31 to play in the third period. But the Wild tied the game with under two minutes to go, and then scored a couple minutes into overtime, handing Dallas a 5-4 OT loss.
Fast forward to February. (I apologize in advance for the wound I'm about to scratch). Stars vs. Red Wings in Dallas. The Stars had two different two-goal leads in the third period, and the Wings came back from both. The last one featured a game-tying goal with 1:42 remaining on a play that was so blatantly goaltender inference, the NHL referenced that specific incident when adopting the new challenge rule over the summer. Still, it was a 4-2 lead and a 6-4 lead eclipsed. Half a minute into overtime, the Red Wings won 7-6.
The Stars claimed points in both games. Furthermore, both games came on the heels of decent stretches. After the Minnesota loss, the Stars were 3-0-1 in their last four games. The Detroit loss capped off a 4-2-1 seven-game stretch. That's .875 and .643 hockey, respectively. Not bad at all. But for fans who woefully exited American Airlines Center after both games, that brought little solace. They looked and felt defeated. So did the Stars.
That's because heading into the Minnesota game, Dallas was chasing just to get back to .500 on the season. When the Detroit game came around, the Stars were still chasing, only this time they had less than two months left in the season to catch up.
Have you ever noticed how when you can't find your car keys, but you're in no hurry, it's an inconvenience, but certainly not earth-shattering? You retrace your steps, try to remember where you put them, eventually find them, and go on with your day. It's barely noteworthy. But when you're late, and have to be somewhere immediately, looking for your car keys becomes drastically different. You ransack your house, maybe start furiously talking to yourself. You literally start sweating.
Same exact event. Completely different reaction.
That's the difference with this year's team. Last year, the Stars were late. This year, they're in no rush.
You can see it through multiple events. Kari gets injured? ...The club responds by going 2-0-1 with Niemi in net. Jason Demers goes down with an injury? ...There are two NHL-ready defensemen on the roster ready to step in. The Stars don't look like they've got their legs under them? ...Lines get changed and everyone picks up their play.
Lose a couple of games like the ones on this road trip? ...Take it in stride and get right back to work.
The Stars weren't happy with either loss on the road trip, but they could be happy with the road trip overall. After the loss in Edmonton, they said as much. They've earned that objectivity. That's what an NHL-leading 20-5-2 record buys you. The ability to rationally look at what happened, take the positives as well as any negatives, and not allow things to derail you.
The most telling example of how you are affected by events is how you respond from them. After last year's Minnesota loss, Dallas lost their next three games. After the loss to Detroit, they went on to lose their next four. This year, when things have gone south, the Stars have consistently come back better.
On Friday night, the Stars knew they played well enough to win. But they didn't. So they tipped their cap to Anders Nilsson, grabbed their one point, chucked it onto their mountain of others, and looked ahead to the upcoming homestand. That's the outlook you're allowed to have when things are going well.
At 20-5-2, one-third of the way through the season, they're going as well as they ever have in Dallas.
The Stars are back home on Tuesday to begin a three-game week and a brief two-game homestand. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' before they do:
This week features the third straight week where the Stars will play games on consecutive nights. In recent years, that spelled trouble for Dallas. However, they have turned a corner when it comes to the second games of back-to-backs. From October 2011 through January 17, 2015, the Stars went 8-29-4 in the second game of consecutive nights. Since then, the Stars are 7-2-1. That includes a stretch of six games in a row where they are unbeaten in regulation (5-0-1). They are 2-0-1 in their three back-to-backs this season. After hosting Philadelphia on Friday, they head to St. Louis for a Saturday night contest with the Blues.
Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi enter this week as the only set of goaltenders to each have ten wins this season. Lehtonen is 10-1 on the season, while Niemi is 10-4-2. Heading into this season, both goaltenders had played about 80% of their team's games over the last five seasons, but the timeshare has served them both well so far this season.
The Stars have the #3 power play unit in the NHL, converting on 24.1% of their opportunities. Yet, over the last nine games, the Stars have had a tough time on the man-advantage. Dallas is only 3-for-26 dating back to November 17. That 11.5% conversion rate is less than half of their season-long average. The Stars have been held without a power play goal in their last four games, going 0-for-11 during that span. They will try to get back on the board this week as they face the 25th, 17th, and 3rd ranked penalty killing units in the league.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.