It's back on the road for the Dallas Stars, who open a three-game trip in Buffalo Monday afternoon. The Stars also play at New York Rangers (Tuesday) and New York Islanders (Thursday).
The road has not been a friendly place for the Stars, who are 6-11-4 away from home this season including nine losses in their past 12 (3-7-2). With the Stars (18-18-8) sitting four points out of a playoff spot 44 games into the season, getting the road game in order is key if they are going to make a push up the standings.
"Every game is important for us now, but on the road, where we've struggled, this is going to be huge for us," said defenseman John Klingberg.
These upcoming points on the road are important for the Stars because they've given up some points at home recently, picking up only three of a possible eight points over the past four games at American Airlines Center.
"We have got to establish some type of road game," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "When you give [points] away at home, you have to get them back on the road, and our road record hasn't been good enough. The only way to get this thing going on a consistent basis is to be a winner on the road."
So, why do the Stars struggle on the road?
"It's been a combination. You really can't point to one thing," Ruff said. "I would say some of our recent woes have been the scoring."
The Stars lost two of three on their last road trip and will point to goal scoring in the two losses. The Stars were shut out 2-0 at Anaheim on the final game of the trip. In St. Louis, where the trip began, they scored three goals but couldn't finish opportunities that would have pushed them ahead in a 3-3 game and St. Louis scored the game-winner on a late redirection goal.
"Our special teams battle when we hit the road, that's been the second biggest issue," Ruff said.
The penalty kill has been a big issue. The Stars have allowed 25 power-play goals on the road this season, and their road penalty kill ranks last in the league at 67.1 percent. The Stars have allowed a power-play goal in 16 of 21 road games, and almost one-third of the goals they have allowed on the road (25 of 76) have been power-play goals. The penalty kill has been a key reason the Stars have a league worst 3.62 goals-against average on the road. Five-on-five play hasn't been the issue; the Stars rank sixth in the league at allowing 2.11 goals per 60 minutes on the road.
The hope is the PK can build on the performance in Saturday's game against Minnesota when it went 4-4. That a was a bright spot in the disappointing 5-4 loss to the Wild. It was disappointing that the Stars got off to a terrible start and fell behind 4-0 in the first period, and then disappointing that they lost in regulation after rallying to tie the game 4-4. The Stars fell to 3-11-4 following a win and continue to struggle to put together any kind of run.
"Frustrated. Frustrated, " Ruff said when asked of the team's state of mind right now. "That could have easily been one of those games that could have been 10-1 [Saturday] night. You've got to give these guys a lot of credit, they hunkered down and battled hard to get back in the game. It seems to be the theme for the whole year. We're battling hard. We just haven't been able to put a string [of wins] together."
*The Stars held a short practice in Frisco Sunday morning before departing for Buffalo. Cody Eakin and Patrick Eaves did not skate. It was a maintenance day for both players.
"[Eakin] hasn't practiced the last couple times, he's been a little banged up, so both him and Eaves didn't go out [on the ice]," Ruff said.
Eaves has seldom skated in practices or taken part in morning skates since October due to rest an injury issue.
*Defenseman Patrik Nemeth, who was recalled from his conditioning stint in the AHL on Saturday, practiced with the team Sunday. He skated as the seventh defenseman.
*Monday's radio broadcast of the Stars-Sabres game will be carried on KLIF 570 AM instead of The Ticket. Pregame show starts at 11:30 a.m. and the game broadcast begins at Noon.
This story was not subject to 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.