Stars’ point streak shows strong start no fluke
The Dallas Stars march on.
On Sunday, the Stars beat the Calgary Flames 3-2 in a shootout, giving them back-to-back victories to start their three-game swing through western Canada. Coach Glen Gulutzan’s club has won four straight road games and has earned at least one point in the standings in seven straight games overall.
The Stars continue to be carried by their top two lines, but they are getting solid contributions from all four trios. In a victory Friday at Edmonton, the Stars got goals from their third and fourth lines before first-line winger Michael Ryder added an empty netter for a 3-1 final score.
Against the Flames, it was the Stars’ top line that delivered yet again. Loui Eriksson scored Dallas’ first shorthanded goal since November and Michael Ryder netted is team-leading 28th of the season. Eriksson also scored in the shootout, along with second-line center Jamie Benn, who only recently returned from a leg injury.
The formula for this club remains a simple one: Get pucks on net, kill penalties, get solid goaltending, and the rest should take care of itself. It was the same recipe that served this club so well during an 11-4-0 start that had the Stars being the toast of the NHL under their rookie head coach.
The players admit they went away from that simple formula during their November losing streak and that they didn’t seriously recommit themselves to adhering to that approach again until not all that long ago.
However, the results now speak for themselves. Dallas continues to get a healthy amount of pucks on net and the Stars’ penalty kill, a unit directed by assistant coach Paul Jerrard, continues to get the job done.
As for the goaltending, starter Kari Lehtonen has been rock solid between the pipes and could earn some serious consideration as team MVP should the Stars end their three-year playoff drought. Lehtonen has kept the Stars in a lot of games throughout the season and hasn’t let in too many soft goals.
The Finnish-born netminder always has seemed to be there to deliver a top-notch save whenever his team needed it the most. And he has been pretty decent in the shootout, a tall order for any NHL netminder. Lehtonen played 33 of the Stars’ final 34 games last year, as then-coach Marc Crawford had little faith in backup Andrew Raycroft.
Well, Raycroft is now in Cedar Park with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. Rookie Richard Bachman showed he was more than capable of being an able lieutenant to Lehtonen back in late November and early December while the affable Finn was recovering from a groin injury.
Dallas will complete its three-game trip on Tuesday night in Vancouver. And with a full day off until their big game with the Canucks, there isn’t any reason to think it won’t be Lehtonen between the posts come Tuesday, if the talented Euro does want a breather, Bachman has already shown he’s more than capable of stepping in and delivering a pretty stellar performance in his own right.
And no matter how the game against the Canucks turns out, the Stars could have a familiar face waiting on them. Captain Brenden Morrow resumed skating on Monday after a three-week absence. He could be back play Thursday against the Sharks, a contest that figures to loom large in the playoff race.
Although it is only two straight wins to start March for the Stars, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Last season, the Stars dropped five in a row to end February and did get it together early in March. But everyone remembers how they fell short — one point to be exact — by falling to the Wild in the regular-season finale last April.
If this group can get at least a point on Tuesday and head back to Big D with some serious momentum, especially with a two-game homestand against San Jose and Anaheim on the horizon, then this could be a team local fans could really get behind. After all, the Stars have only 16 games left, an even split of eight at home and eight on the road and it’s clear their playoff push is well under way.