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Stars in a good position but with work to do coming out of break

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The month of January proved to be a bumpy road for the Dallas Stars. But despite picking up only eight of a possible 22 points (3-6-2) in January, the Stars are still in pretty good shape at the All-Star break.

At 31-14-5, the Stars have the third-most points (67 in the NHL and rank second in the league in points percentage (.670). They are second in the Central Division and Western Conference based on points and are tops in the Central and West in points percentage. Through Tuesday’s games, they have a 13-point lead over the ninth-place team in the West, putting them in good position to make the playoffs for the second time in eight seasons.

“Standings-wise, we’re looking good,” said defenseman Alex Goligoski. “It’s a spot that we, as a team, haven’t been this high, so I feel good about where we’re at. We’ll have a little break here, and 30-some games left, and we’ll go from there…It’s keep working on things. It’s a process.”

Part of the process over the course of a long season is maneuvering through ups and downs. All teams go through them. And after a great start to the season that saw the Stars put together a franchise-record 59 points through the first 39 games (28-8-3), along came January.

“It’s important to know we had a bad month, but it is also important to know we are a good team, and we know how we play when we have success,” said center Jason Spezza. “We’re in a good position. Things could be a lot worse. Teams go through ups and downs, and the natural thing is to kind of split hairs a little bit. I think we just need to take a deep breath and go back to the way we were playing at the beginning of the year.”

Dealing with a little adversity and fighting through it isn’t always a bad thing. The Stars had to grind out a 2-1 win over a struggling Calgary team that was playing on the second night of a back-to-back just to hit the break on a winning note.

“You don’t want to struggle through a game like this, but it hardens you,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “You realize how hard this league is and how hard every play is. Some of this adversity tells you a lot about players, and you get to evaluate under the gun.”

So, the Stars hit the break and Ruff’s message to the team was to get away from the game for a few days and then start preparing for next week when the Stars get back to playing games.

“I want them to step away for three to four days…just totally step away. You want them to take care of themselves because you get them for an hour the Monday before you play Tuesday, so it’s all in the players’ hands,” Ruff said. “The message was completely remove yourself from the game and totally decompress. Clear your mind and we’ll approach the last 30 games as a new season.”

And like the start of the season, the Stars will have goals for that new season after the All-Star break. January gave them issues to address. They scored 2.18 goals per game and allowed 3.18. Their special teams struggled.

“We have a long way to go,” said captain Jamie Benn. “We have to figure out our stuff here. I think that we still can be way better and can improve on a lot of things. I think that we can probably still work harder, especially in the defensive zone, in the neutral zone and working away from the puck. It’s just paying attention to the little details like backchecking and playing your positions.”

Added Ruff: “Offensively we’ve got to get a little bit more finish. It’s the time of year where things tighten up a bit of, and we’re a better offensive team than that. We’re misfiring on some good opportunities, and we’ve got to be better at executing.”

And the Stars are going to have to figure out things on the road, where they have lost eight straight (0-5-3) and play eight of their first eleven games out of the break.

But for now, it’s take a break and get away from the game.

“I think [the break] will be good,” Ruff said. “To go into the break with [the win over Calgary] is a good thing. You can go in with a positive mindset, and then when we come out, we know that we've got work to do.”

“We have a good team, and when we play the right way, we know we are a really good team,” said Spezza. “We just need to go into the break, enjoy some time away from the game and then come back and be excited about what is ahead of us.”

Here’s a look at how the Stars have fared month by month in some key statistical categories.

Category October Nov. Dec. Jan. Total
Record 9-2-0 10-3-0 9-3-3 3-6-2 31-14-5
Points percentage .814 .769 .700 .363 .670 (2nd)
Home 5-1-0 4-2-0 7-1-0 3-2-0 19-6-0 (2nd)
Away 4-1-0 6-1-0 2-2-3 0-4-2 12-8-5 (8th)
Goals for/game 3.64 3.39 3.47 2.18 3.20 (2nd)
Goals against/game 2.73 2.46 2.27 3.18 2.62 (15th)
Shooting percentage 11.6 10.4 10.5 6.9 9.9 (2nd)
Save percentage .910 .914 .918 .893 .910 (20th)
Power play 26.3 27.8 18.0 12.9 21.3 (5th)
Penalty kill 81.3 80.5 81.1 76.5 79.9 (21st)
Shots for/game 31.5 32.5 33.1 31.8 32.3 (2nd)
Shots against/game 30.2 28.8 27.9 29.8 29.0 (12th)
Close Game Fenwick (Possession) 55.1 51.5 54.0 54.9 54.0 (3rd)

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 reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.
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