Stars still have time to ‘make hay’ in March

DALLAS– When the calendar turned from February to March, the coming month was supposed to bring good things for the Dallas Stars. After all, Glen Gulutzan’s club had just finished a stretch where 12 of their first 21 games were played on the road.

And with the start of a new month, Dallas was looking at playing nine of their 13 games in March at American Airlines Center. However, that isn’t exactly how things have turned out. Through their first nine games of the month, the Stars are 4-4-1, which includes a home record of 2-3-1.

Of course, those two home wins during the month are pretty impressive, beating both Anaheim, who is hot on the heels of Chicago, considered hands down to be the best team in the entire NHL thus far, and San Jose, a longtime division nemesis. But earlier in the month, Gulutzan stated how important it was for his club to as he put it, “make hay” at home and the Stars have definitely failed to do that.

With their home record currently sitting at 6-6-2, the Stars currently have the worst home record in the Western Conference and third-worst in the NHL. Dallas begins a five-game homestand on Saturday night against Colorado at the AAC, their longest run of games on home ice this season and there’s no overselling how important this stretch is to determine if the Stars could indeed end a playoff drought that has reached four seasons or if that run of postseason futility extends another season, a development which could put the job security of both Gulutzan and Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk into some serious question.

Those in the Dallas room are definitely not overstating how important this homestand is, especially the Stars’ most veteran player at the blue line, Stephane Robidas, who feels his club’s recent struggles on home ice boil down to a simple yet very correctable issue.

“Like anything, it’s the consistency in our game. I think that‘s the main thing we’ve got to focus on is consistency from game-to-game and consistency within the game. Like against Calgary, sometimes we get a great first period. In the second, we’re awful and in the third, we play better,” Robidas said. “You want to be consistent and keep playing the same way over and over. Teams like Chicago and Anaheim, that’s why they have success. They keep playing the same way. It doesn’t matter who they’re playing, where they’re playing, what time or what period it is, they play the same way.”

The longtime NHL d-man hit the nail on the head when he says that consistency is something that has eluded the Stars so far in this truncated 48-game schedule. Consider this fact, through 30 games, Dallas has won back-to-back games only twice. The season’s best stretch to date came in early February when the Stars won four straight, beating Edmonton on the road twice, Phoenix on the road once and defeating Anaheim at the AAC.

Dallas’ only other winning streak of the season came earlier this month when the Stars beat St. Louis at home and then beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings at Staples Center, 5-2 just several days later.

Of course, Robidas isn’t just talking about consistency from a big picture standpoint. He’s talking about that issue within the framework of an entire 60-minute game. And should the Stars be able to right this ship, they could not only turn things around in March but could also swing the pendulum of their playoff hopes in a more definite and positive direction.

“If you do that [be consistent] and you play the right way, the bounces go your way and all the right things will happen. That’s the mindset we need to have, to play the right way, the same way all the time, for 60 minutes and good things will happe,” Robidas said. “We’ve got enough skill guys and guys who can put the puck in the back of the net. That’s not the issue. We’ve just got to make sure we defend very well. That’s got to be a staple of our game. We’ve got to be hard to play against. I think if we can do that, it’s going to help us.”

Besides facing the Avalanche, a team with the NHL’s worst road record and a club that hasn’t won away from home since Valentine’s Day, Dallas will also host the suddenly hot Minnesota Wild at the AAC on both Monday and Friday in an interesting scheduling quirk before then hosting the Kings on March 31 to end the month. The Stars will then conclude the homestand the following night on April 1 against the Ducks.

However, the man behind the Dallas bench isn’t thinking about the bigger picture. Instead, his focus is where it should be, on beating the Avs on Saturday night to start the homestand in the most positive of fashions.

  “That’s irrelevant to us,” Gulutzan said when asked about the importance of the homestand after morning skate on Saturday. “It’s tonight, this game. Confident we can win on the road, just got to win this game.”

Dallas figures to get defenseman Aaron Rome, who has missed the last 12 games with a foot injury, back in time for Friday’s second game of the week against the Wild.

“Yeah, he’s just a few days away from being able to go. Health wise, the foot is good enough to start progressing full speed on as far as healing goes. He’s 50-50 for Monday but he’ll certainly be a game player for Friday,” Gulutzan said.

The Stars’ only other current injured player is fourth-line winger Ryan Garbutt, who suffered a broken hand last week and was expected to miss about two weeks of games.

“Yeah, he’s not on the horizon yet. He skated today [Saturday],” Gulutzan said. “He’s going to keep skating because he can skate but he can’t shoot or anything like that. Until he heals, he won’t be a game player. That’s an easy one.”

While it is more than a bit perplexing why the Stars, who have an 8-7-1 road record but can’t seem to do much at home, have struggled so much at the AAC this year, it doesn’t matter where the game is played, Gulutzan will stick with the same approach that he has used since he was hired to coach the club in June 2011.

“We’ve just got to play our game, make sure we’re playing for each other and doing the little things, have some purpose to our game, exactly what we’re doing,” Gulutzan said. “We’re going to have to battle. We’re not going to blow teams out of the water, but we’ve got to battle for each other.”