Stars riding hot streak down final stretch
Another game on Saturday night at American Airlines Center and another win for the Dallas Stars, 2-0 over the Anaheim Ducks. It has become a familiar tune over these last few weeks as Glen Gulutzan's club has roared to a 10-game point streak and has now won five straight and has a 9-0-1 record over their last 10 games.
So it shouldn't surprise anyone who follows the National Hockey League that the Stars are one of the hottest, if not the hottest team in the league right now. Only the Penguins, a team that beat Dallas in a shootout about 10 days ago at the AAC, can equal them in their last 10 games. Pittsburgh had a 9-1-0 record in their last 10 heading into a Sunday afternoon tilt with reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston.
But Saturday's win over the reeling Ducks, who are teetering on the brink of playoff elimination, was a nice win, especially considering that the Stars came into that one after a hard-fought shootout win over the Sharks on Thursday.
And even though beating San Jose for the first time in five games was a big achievement, Gulutzan and his staff weren't content to revel in their recent accomplishments. No, the first-year head coach saw several things that needed to be addressed and the Stars were much better against Anaheim in allowing just 21 shots all night.
"Yeah, we wanted be a little tighter. We had to clean a couple things up from last game. Tonight still wasn't a Picassso. That's what I told the guys," Gulutzan said after the win over the Ducks. "It was OK but I thought our goalie to me didn't look like he was going to let anything in just looking at his body language. I think that gave us some confidence and I thought we packed it in pretty tight around him as far as second-shot opportunities. He made the ones he needed to. It was a better defensive effort but they're a tough team to play against. They're real good offensively in our zone."
Dallas also got a huge boost from the return of captain Brenden Morrow for the first time in 18 games. No. 10 had been bothered by a combination back and neck issue and hadn't seen the ice since Feb. 2 at San Jose. He delivered a power play goal in the second period against the Ducks, his first tally since Jan. 17 against the Red Wings and it proved to be the game winner.
The Stars also got fellow fan favorite Steve Ott back after he had missed the San Jose game due to back spasms. And other than defenseman Sheldon Souray, who is day-to-day with a lower body injury suffered against the Sharks and fellow veteran Radek Dvorak, who status is similar after suffering an ankle injury against Anaheim, the Stars have their full complement of players, which can make for some tough decisions for their new head coach on gamedays as to who sits and who sees the ice.
"It's a good problem they tell me but I don't like it. It's the worst part of my day. The worst thing that you have to do is tell guys that have played well for you that they're not playing," Gulutzan said. "On the flipside, it creates competition and all that but we've been playing well and everyone's chipped in so it's been a tough part of my day to tell guys they're not going. But on the flipside, we need everybody this time of year and if you get a little banged up, we have quality guys that can come in that you have confidence in. Everybody's got to contribute."
However, the 40-year-old head coach tempered those remarks a bit with what is the best part of his job, seeing guys like No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who had 21 saves for his third shutout of the season against Anaheim, get rewarded for their continued strong effort.
"I talk about the worst part of my day. The best part of my day was when that buzzer rang he got a shutout because that guy deserves that and we owed him one from Edmonton," Gulutzan said.
But it's not hard to see why the Stars are on the current run they're on. They have simplified their game, much like it was when they started 11-4-0 and their first-year head coach was the toast of the league. Assistant coach Paul Jerrard, who accompanied Gulutzan from the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League, also deserves his fair share of the credit not just for the strong work he's done with the corps of Dallas defensemen, but also for what he's done with the Stars' penalty kill.
That's a unit that over the last 10 games, has allowed just one power play goal, a huge asset not just down the stretch but also heading into a possible playoff run. However, the main man behind the Dallas bench has also not allowed his club to get too high even with their current success or too low when the club was struggling and he's always finding things to work on in order to make them an even better hockey club.
"Anytime you get into these runs, you just have to make sure you keep maintaining your game a little bit. Sometimes these things you can win games without maybe putting in the right effort or doing the right things. You just have to make sure you tweak, not tweak but make sure that you're reminding the guys about what's making us successful so habits don't creep into your game," Gulutzan said. "We're going to do that again here in the next couple days and just try to keep this thing moving."
Dallas returns to the ice on Tuesday night in Minnesota, the first game of a back-to-back that will also take them to Winnipeg for the first time this season on Wednesday.