Dec 17, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff on the bench during the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Only two games remain in the critical five-game Dallas Stars homestand, and both are against powerhouse teams. What can the Stars do to make sure they pick up wins in both contests?
Last night, the Dallas Cowboys slipped by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-20 and officially snapped the Bucs’ powerful five game win streak.
Everyone was losing their minds about it in the metroplex. The Boys picked up their 12th win of the season and reasserted their lead in the NFC East. But all of those people that were going crazy seemed to forget that just one day earlier, the Dallas Stars spoiled a win streak two times the size of Tampa Bay’s.
On Saturday afternoon, the Stars welcomed the Philadelphia Flyers to Big D for a matinee showdown. The Flyers were riding a ten-game win streak and were considered the hottest team in the NHL.
But Dallas quickly subdued that assumption. Behind a strong performance from the bottom six on offense and Antti Niemi in the crease, Dallas built up a 3-1 lead and defeated the Flyers to officially snap their streak.
That was the third game of the Dallas Stars’ five-game homestand. This homestand has been deemed a critical one and head coach Lindy Ruff even hinged the success in the remainder of the season on it.
They are 2-1-0 so far, with a win against the Anaheim Ducks and Flyers and a hard-fought loss to the New York Rangers. Their final two opponents include the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night and Los Angeles Kings on Friday night. Following that, the Stars will take off for Christmas and then head out to Arizona for a one-game road trip.
But these next two games hold a lot of weight in determining the Stars’ position in the standings. They still have games out of hand on just about every team around them, so wins are crucial.
Here are three reasons that Dallas has a strong chance at going into the Christmas break on a three-game win streak.
Dec 17, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) in game action in the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
1. Niemi Is Taking Names On Home Ice
Remember when all Stars fans were up in arms about the goaltending tandem and were sure that it was destined to fail this season? That was a fun time.
I am by no means saying that the duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi is perfect this year, but I am definitely saying that the team’s inconsistent start is not their fault. There have only been a small handful of losses by Dallas this season where the goaltending is responsible. But other than that, the two Finns have been standing on their heads for the Stars.
The main catalyst behind this Stars’ homestand so far has been the play of Antti Niemi. He is 2-1-0 in his past three starts at home and is 7-2-1 on the year, along with a 1.81 goals against average and a .943 save percentage.
In the last two starts (New York Rangers and Philadelphia), he’s given up two goals and averaged a .968 save percentage.
His dominance at home is a major advantage for Dallas and keeps them in every game, no matter how slow of a start they get.
If the Stars stick with Niemi (as they most likely will) for the games against St. Louis and Los Angeles and Niemi can keep up his performance, Dallas could quickly find themselves with two more wins in the bag.
Nov 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel (21) and right wing Brett Ritchie (25) and center Radek Faksa (12) celebrate a goal by Ritchie against Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) during the first period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
2. Faksa And Roussel Helping Out In All Areas
The Dallas Stars may not be getting the best play out of their best players, but the bottom line forwards are definitely chipping in and picking up the slack.
Two forwards in particular are contributing in multiple areas. Those two are Radek Faksa and Antoine Roussel.
Over the past three games in particular, Faksa has two goals, an assist, and a +3 rating. He’s done all of this in just 17:30 average ice time, skating down the middle of Antoine Roussel and Brett Ritchie. The line brings a lot of energy with each shift and has recently been promoted to the Stars’ second line.
Roussel, on the other hand, has one assist and a +2 rating over the last three games. Both players not only play on the same line, but also share a job on the top penalty kill unit.
On the PK, the two have helped shut down opposing power plays. They both play a stingy style and hound on the puck, usually catching the opponent off guard. So far through this homestand, Dallas is 8/9 on the penalty kill.
If Roussel and Faksa can keep up their energy on the PK and continue their gritty efforts in each shift, they could be the prime contributors in two upcoming Stars’ victories.
Nov 3, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars right wing Patrick Eaves (18) celebrates a goal against St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) during the third period at the American Airlines Center. The Stars beat the Blues 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
3. Stars Know How To Hang Around In Games
The Dallas Stars have a combined record of 1-0-2 against the Blues and Kings this year (1-0-1 vs. Blues, 0-0-1 vs. Kings).
In the one win against St. Louis, the Stars dominated for the entire 60-minute frame and came up with a big 6-2 win. Five different Stars players scored in the victory on home ice. In the overtime loss, Dallas was severely outplayed. They were outshot 31-21 and played a majority of the game in the defensive zone.
In the Los Angeles game back in late October, the Stars once again gave a soft effort. They were outshot 39-20 and LA controlled the final 40 minutes. But Dallas still got a point in an overtime loss.
The biggest key to these two overtime losses is that the Stars know how to hang in games against these two teams, even when they are severely outplayed. The offense makes the most of the chances they find and the goaltending holds strong.
If Niemi can continue to ride his hot streak and the offense can continue rolling as they’ve done the past three games, the Stars could find themselves flying past both opponents.
Can these factors push the Dallas Stars to two more wins and their first three-game win streak of the year as they go into the Christmas break? Let’s wait and see. It all begins tomorrow night when the Blues come to town.