Stars with key qualities of a playoff team
Since the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline passed on April 3, the Dallas Stars have proceeded to win six of their last seven games and now the Stars find themselves just two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with just five games to play in the truncated 48-game regular-season schedule.
After Stars fans saw club General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk trade away captain Brenden Morrow and fellow veterans Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy prior to the deadline, signaling that a full-on paradigm shift to a youth movement was now official, few could have predicted this impressive surge, but it has been a sight to see. And now that the Stars have five games left, it's time to assess their chances. Dallas clearly has several key things currently going in their favor and here's a look at those positives:
A Solid Road Record
Through 21 games, the Stars are 11-9-1 away from home this season, a solid road mark for Glen Gulutzan's club. In fact, for much of the season, Dallas has been better away from home than they have been on their home ice at American Airlines Center. It might be a basketball-based theory but it clearly applies to any sport, that idea from former NBA head coach Doug Moe, his oft-mentioned plus-minus theory that if you can win the bulk of your games at home and go .500 on the road, you will make the playoffs. The Stars have kind of modified that theory a bit as their home and road records are now nearly identical, but being several games over the break-even point on the road is never a bad thing, especially at this time of year.
Dallas' Thursday win over Vancouver was not only a huge win for the Stars, one which allowed them to vault over an idle Detroit to occupy ninth place in the West alone, just two points behind Columbus, who is currently in eighth with 49 points, but it was also vital because it was Kari Lehtonen's first game back in net since he suffered a groin injury in the first period of a 5-1 win over the Kings on April 9. Backup Richard Bachman filled in quite well for Lehtonen during his absence, but seeing Kari stop 37 of 38 shots on Thursday night at the AAC against a Vancouver team that will make the playoffs for a fifth straight year was definitely a welcome sight for Stars fans as well as his teammates and the organization as a whole. Lehtonen has two games of playoff experience, gained in 2007 with the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers, proof positive that he wants another and much longer taste of playoff hockey.
The Stars Have Clearly Found Their Offensive Groove
With five games remaining, the Stars have found the back of the net 123 times thus far this season, ranking fourth-best in the West. Dallas is averaging 2.81 goals per game, a rate that puts them as the No. 9 scoring team in the entire NHL. Despite losing Jagr and Roy, the Stars offense has clearly found its groove and has been getting contributions from everyone across the board during their current run of good form. Vernon Fiddler, who has 11 points (3-8-11) in his last eight games, has been on one of the better offensive stretches of his career and Eric Nystrom has also delivered his share of points. Of course, the Stars have also gotten a string of solid showings from two guys who are expected to help carry the offensive load in Jamie Benn and Ray Whitney, but seeing this team get scoring from some unexpected sources down the stretch is a great sign to say the least.
Big Players Are Making Big-Time Plays
Benn had a goal and an assist in Thursday's win over the Canucks, giving him back-to-back multiple-point games for the Stars. Before that, the 2012 All-Star center had just a pair of markers over the previous seven games. So if Benn has again rediscovered his offensive touch, that is definitely a great sign going forward. But Whitney has also been doing more than his part on the offensive end as the veteran winger is currently on a six-game point streak, just one short of matching his season-long seven-game point streak between March 12 and 24. Loui Eriksson, a 2011 All-Star, does have an assist in two of the last three games but has just four points over his last 10 games. Eriksson has had a pretty tough year offensively but if he can chip in down the stretch, that would take some of the pressure off both Benn and Whitney as would getting rookie sensation Alex Chiasson healthy although that currently appears unlikely.
The Entire Roster is Pretty Healthy
Other than Chiasson, who is currently out with a shoulder injury and a date for his return, if it even happens before the end of the regular season, is at this time unknown, the Stars are pretty healthy. Only winger Lane MacDermid, who has been sidelined with a chest injury since April 7, is currently on the shelf for the Stars along with fellow newcomer Chiasson. Getting Lehtonen back for the win over the Canucks was huge and a lower-body injury on defenseman Trevor Daley earlier this week that forced him to miss practice on Wednesday appears to be nothing more than a blip on the radar as Dales was back at the Dallas blueline on Thursday. Daley has also been contributing offensively, with five points in his last 10 games. Sure, guys have knocks and little nagging issues at this time of year, but those concerns all become secondary with a spot in the playoffs on the line.