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Stars See Improvement, but Seeking More Coming Out of All-Star Break

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

It’s been a roller coaster ride for the Dallas Stars so far this season. There have been highs and lows, along with good runs and some tough stretches.

They started the season with just one regulation loss in their first seven games (4-1-2). There was a seven-game winless streak (0-5-2). They put together an impressive 8-1-0 run. And they followed that up with a four-game winless streak (0-2-2).

“I said the one thing that has remained consistent is that we’ve been inconsistent. That’s been the tough part,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “These last 12-15 games we’ve put our most consistent stretch together and we are getting rewarded for it.”

The Stars turned things around in the last month, going from far back in the playoff race right back in to the middle of things. The Stars were 10-13-5 through their first 28 games and were 11 points out of a playoff spot on Dec. 12. They’ve gone 11-5-2 since and have pulled to within four points of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference as the NHL hits the All-Star break.

“We feel a lot better about where we are right now than a month ago,” said defenseman Alex Goligoski. “We had a tough start. We clawed our way back into it.”

The Stars record was much better over the past 18 games, and so were their numbers in some other areas.

*The goal scoring was up from 2.85 in the first 28 games to 3.44 over the next 18.

*The goals against dropped from 3.54 to 2.83.

*Shots for went up from 29 to 32 per game.

*Shots against dropped from 32 to 29 per game.

*Their team save percentage went from .890 to .903.

“I think our defending (has been the difference). We’ve been a lot better as a team in our own zone,” said Stars center Tyler Seguin. “We’ve always been a team that could score goals, but at the beginning of the year we were winning or losing games, 5-4 or 6-5, and we’ve been better with that and helped our goalie out.”

And the Stars say improved defending will be key when play resumes after the break.

“We need to continue to improve the defending part,” Ruff said. “We’ve cut down on the number of shifts where we spend the majority of it in our end. Our shots-for have been going up, and our shots-against have really been going down. That needs to continue down that track.”

“[We need to improve] defensively,” said Goligoski. “That’s what happens as the season goes on, games get tighter and tighter as teams get ready for playoffs, and that’s the name of the game. It’s definitely something we need to work on. I’m sure we will.”

One area that has tailed off recently has been the power play. It went 9-65 (13.9 percent) over the past 18 games, including 3-37 over the past nine. For the season, it’s 26th in the league at 15.0 percent. It will need to be a difference maker down the stretch.

It could have been difference in recent losses to Winnipeg and Boston. The power play went a combined 0-13 in those two games that the Stars had the better of play, had the better chances but struggled to get pucks in the net.

“We’re going to have to win these games that we dominate,” said Ruff. “It’s not going to do any good for me to stand here and tell you how good we played when we didn’t win. The guys that have to make a difference on the power play and get all those shots are going to have to finish. Special teams is going to be a really big deal. Goaltending is going to be a big deal.”

The penalty kill doesn’t get the attention of the power play, but it has had its ups and downs over the first 46 games. It’s 23rd in the league at 79.0 percent and has allowed at least one goal in 27 of 46 games this season. It was 79.0 percent in the first 28 games and 79.0 percent in the last 18.

“Down the stretch, our special teams – both the penalty kill and power play – are going to have to be better,” said Stars center Vernon Fiddler. “That’s on the leaders of this team, including myself, to push the guys on this team to get better at that. We’ll come back here Monday, work on those and get things going.”

But the Stars like the way things have been going overall for the past five weeks. They put together a nice 11-5-2 run to climb back into the hunt for a playoff and are within four points out with 36 games remaining.

“We’ve battled hard. You’ve got to give the guys credit. We’ve put ourselves back in the race,” said Fiddler. “We have to have a better second half. I think guys are just starting to come on here. I can see a little bit of last year coming into this dressing room. Guys are feeling good, and we are getting our system back in order. It’s helped up in the long run and hopefully it will us down the stretch.”

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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