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Road trip may be just what Stars need right now

With key players slumping, Bowness believes Dallas' forwards can create more chances by sticking to the system

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- After a horrendous start, the Stars have become a pretty good road team. Dallas is 12-10-2 overall and 6-3-0 in their past nine away from home.

That could be important, as the team starts a three-game road trip Saturday (6 p.m. CT; FS-SW+; KTCK) and plays seven of the next nine away from home. Just as important, adopting a good "road game" mentality could be a smart strategy for a team that has been swerving during a strange part of the schedule.

Dallas lost a 7-0 game in Minnesota heading into their eight-day winter break, came back and beat Tampa Bay, 3-2 in overtime at home, and then lost a 5-3 game at home to Toronto. It was a black-and-white display of what can happen when the team sticks to its defensive game plan and what can happen when it doesn't.

 

[GAME DAY GUIDE: What you need to know before the Stars face the Devils]

 

Asked if the road should allow the Stars to focus on defense, Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said that's the plan.

"In a perfect world, that's how we're going to play," Bowness said. "We're going to play on the road like we played against Tampa. We were a little loose against Toronto, so we've got to tighten that up. We're a team that builds defense first and offense from defense, and we've been able to do that the last couple of games."

The message has been hammered home since last season, and the Stars have listened, as they lead the NHL in goals against average at 2.50 per game. Interestingly enough, though, they are second at home at 2.19 goals allowed and just seventh on the road at 2.83. While the road can allow the team to roll four lines and play everyone consistently, it also allows home teams to get better matchups.

Video: Stars preparing themselves for tough New York swing

"We're at our best playing all four lines, so that should be good for us," said forward Jason Dickinson. "We need to focus on what we do well, and I do think that starts with good defensive team play. We are who we are. It's not pretty all of the time, but it is effective and we need to keep doing that on this road trip."

That said, it would also be nice if the Stars could up their scoring.

They rank 27th overall at 2.58 goals per game and 21st on the road at 2.54. In addition, several key players are in slumps right now. Tyler Seguin is in his second 11-game goal drought of the year. Miro Heiskanen hasn't scored a goal in 20 games. Meanwhile, Joe Pavelski has one in his past 18 and John Klingberg has one in his past 30.

"Joe has had a couple of good looks and it's a funny thing -- when you're not scoring, you're shooting right in the middle of the net and when you're scoring, you're taking that extra half a second and picking the corners. When you're not scoring, you're hurrying your shots, and I think that's what Joe is doing," Bowness said.

"Tyler, we need him to get more opportunities … we don't think he's getting enough scoring opportunities, so we're really going to work with him to create them," Bowness added. "He's getting the best D and the best checking lines for the most part, and sometimes you just have to fight your way through it. There's no easy solution. When you're in a scoring slump, you have to work harder and you go to the net more and you look for greasy goals and you hope something hits you and goes in - all those little things.

"When you're not scoring, you want to make sure you're doing everything to give you that opportunity. If you're looking for an easy goal, it's not going to happen."


Bowness believes forwards can create more opportunities by digging in and sticking to the system.

"I think the forwards are doing a better job of reading what's there and taking what's there," Bowness said. "And it really helps when we get our defense involved. That's how we want to play."

Jamie Benn had two goals two games ago. Alexander Radulov had two goals last game. Denis Gurianov has two goals over the past two games. There are signs of light, but the Stars need to find a way to capitalize on them while still playing a smart "road" game.

Dickinson was talking about the structure of the team and it was suggested to him that the Stars have a lot of good defensive forwards.

"We really do, so why not use that to our advantage," he said. "We've got a lot of guys who are good defensively, and everybody buys into the system for 60 minutes. When we do that, we really are hard to play against."

Sitting in a 2-4-0 slump that stretches over an odd span of 21 days, now might be a good time to return to that premise on a more regular basis.

 

Stars (28-18-4) at Devils (18-24-8)

Saturday, 6 p.m. CT

Where: Prudential Center

TV/radio: FS-SW+; The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Minnesota Wild when they return home to American Airlines Center on Friday, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

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, and listen to his podcast.

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