The Dallas Stars’ run over the last three weeks pushed them into a playoff spot that they are guaranteed to hold over the next two-and-a-half weeks as the league breaks for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. But there is a long ways to go and that’s why the Stars were talking about coming out of the break strong before the break even began.
“I did that [Friday],” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I made a point of getting to every player, talking about … the break and what I expect coming back.”
Even though the Stars took over the final spot thanks to their 6-1-2 run heading into the break, the race is still tight. You just have to look at the teams right behind them to see how close it is. The Stars, who hold the final wild card spot in the West, and Phoenix, are tied with identical 27-21-10 records, but the Stars hold the regulation/overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker. Vancouver is one point back and Winnipeg is two back. Coming out of the break strong will be key.
“Like Lindy was alluding to in the locker room, it is very important that we come out of the break prepared to go because the team that stumbles coming out is probably the team that is going to miss the playoffs,” said forward Ray Whitney. “We want to make sure we are ready to go and continue to play the way we have the last two or three weeks.”
While Ruff, Jamie Benn, Kari Lehtonen and Valeri Nichushkin are in Sochi taking part in the Olympics, the rest of the Stars are expected to take a few days to recharge the batteries but then get back to work and begin preparing for the stretch drive, mostly my working out.
“Probably three or four [days off], you want to get back into light workouts so you’re ready when you come back so that the sting of the first few days doesn’t really hurt you,” said Ruff. “Three or four days off, it’s good for the mind and the body. And then you’ve got a couple days every other day to get back in it and then you’re ready to practice again.”
The Stars will then hold several days of practice, a mini-camp of sorts, as they prepare to return to action at the end of the month to kick off the stretch drive.
“We need to be one of the strongest teams coming out of the break. We need to play the game quick, we need to be a team that looks real sharp,” said Ruff. “We’ve put the practices together, although I won’t be there for the first five. Our practices are in place and told the team that they were not going to change and that the intensity would be the same as they were going in. I told the players that we need everybody to buy in at maximum intensity for those days so that we don’t miss a beat when we come back and play.”
The Stars will have 24 games remaining after the break, 12 at home and 12 on the road. Seven of their first nine games will be at American Airlines Center.
“I do know that post break, that first 10 days is probably the most important part because you’re either ready and you gain some valuable points or you look back and say you weren’t ready to play,” said Ruff.
The last nine by the numbers
Here’s a look at some numbers from the Stars’ final nine games heading into the Olympic break.
*The Stars were 6-1-2, picking up points in eight of nine games and collecting 14 of a possible 18 points for a .777 points percentage.
*The Stars outscored their opponents 27-12 during that stretch, averaging 3.0 goals per game and allowing 1.33 goals against.
*The Stars outscored their opponents 7-4 in first periods, 13-4 in second periods and 7-2 in third periods. They were outscored 2-0 in overtimes.
*The Stars allowed one goal or fewer in six of the nine games, including three shutouts.
*The Stars averaged 30.2 shots per game and allowed 23.8 per game.
*The Stars were 7-32 (21.9 percent) on the power play,
*They were 23-27 (85.2 percent) on the penalty kill.
Quotable Lindy Ruff
On if the season so far is what he expected: “I feel that the ups and downs are part of the schedule. I think as I said going into the New Year, somebody asked and my quote was to try to stay consistent. We had a tough stretch we went through where we dealt with some injuries, we dealt with some illness. We should have won some games and found ways to lose them, but I think the true character of the team was able to bounce back and push us right back into contention there. These hills and valleys are something that every season has, every team has them. You want to limit the down time. I thought that we could have got out of that a little bit quicker. That would have been nice. At the same time, we’ve been able to put something good together here, bounce right back and get into the picture.”
On the Stars’ recent defensive play: “We had a little bit of a period of time where we weren’t consistent enough with it. We’ve played an eight or nine-game stretch here now where we’ve been pretty darn consistent with how we’ve played. I think we’re locked into a pretty good style. We’ve had success with it and we’ve been rewarded with a lot of points in that segment. I think some people probably had us wrote off because of the tough stretch we went through, but I think the players deserve a lot of credit for turning it up and getting us right back in the picture.”
On which Stars player could most use the upcoming break: “[Alex Chiasson] was probably the longest conversation because it’s been a trying year for him. But he’s a young player who has to battle through that. He recently has had some good opportunities around the front of the net that hadn’t gone for him. Chances in games have gone way down, so chances for individuals will go down automatically and if you don’t score on that one chance or maybe you get a second at even strength, you’re held off the score sheet. But I told him you’ve got to think positive, think the net is big and if you keep going, it’s going to go in.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.