Stars in familiar situation at home
It wasn’t all that long ago, back on the morning of Feb. 17, two days after the Dallas Stars had beaten the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 on their home ice to finish a three-game swing through Western Canada with two wins that Dallas second-year head coach Glen Gulutzan said the success of that road trip was great but that what the Stars really needed to do as he put it was make hay at home.
That day, when the Stars were hosting Calgary, the same team that had beaten them 7-4 at the Saddledome just four days prior, Dallas was beginning a big three-game homestand. The Stars were hoping to build off that huge win over the Canucks at Rogers Center but lost both to the Flames that day and to those same Canucks later in the week, both by identical 4-3 scorelines to drop the first two games of the homestand.
Of course, that made last Saturday’s first game of the season against a familiar foe in the San Jose Sharks all the more crucial and to their credit, the Stars responded with a 3-1 win over their Pacific Division rivals, a game that saw Dallas standout center Jamie Benn earn a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal, an assist and a fight.
The Stars then headed out on the road and after dropping a tough one in overtime at Nashville on Monday, 5-4, they rebounded the following night in Columbus for just their second win in the final game of a back-to-back over the past two seasons with a 5-4 victory overtime victory over the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
Once again, the “m” word as in momentum was being discussed surrounding the Stars, who were again heading home for a quick two-game homestand at American Airlines Center before then venturing out on the road yet again.
But after losing 5-1 to the Oilers on Thursday, which was Edmonton’s first regulation win at the AAC since Dec. 2006, a game that Gulutzan aptly called nothing more or nothing less than “a stinker,” the Stars now head into Sunday afternoon’s game with the Blues again looking to salvage the final game of a homestand for the second time in just over a week.
If this seems like it could be becoming a disturbing trend, that’s because it is. Dallas seems to do OK on the road, which is more than passable but they seem to be a different club at home, where they have dropped three of their last four games.
Maybe a lot of that will change once Ray Whitney returns to the ice in what is expected to be another few weeks, but then again in a 48-game season do they really have time to adopt a wait-and-see approach?
Gulutzan, who has clearly grown by leaps and bounds in year two behind an NHL bench, said it best when he said the Stars need to make hay at home. They can remain in contention for a playoff spot merely by holding serve on the road. But if that is what their formula is going to be, then they definitely need to become something of a force to be reckoned with in the confines of the arena on Victory Avenue on the edge of downtown Dallas.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case more often than not so far this year. Sure, two of their last three home setbacks have come by one goal, but as Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News so aptly put it in a story on Saturday, this team’s biggest problem remains discipline, more specifically a huge discrepancy between how many power plays they generate and how many they allow in terms of trips to the sin bin.
That was a huge issue last season and one that Gulutzan promised would be addressed but unfortunately that power play gap has widened so far this season. But that’s not to say that is an issue that only rears itself on home ice. No, it happens on the road almost as frequently, like in that loss at Nashville last Monday.
But the fact of the matter is if the Stars, who played 10 of their first 15 games on the road, don’t start taking advantage of having most of their games at the AAC for the foreseeable future, then this is a club that will either find itself on the outside looking in of the race to end a four-year playoff drought or one that will again experience the heartbreak of missing out on the postseason by a point or two if it’s even that close in the end.