As the Dallas Stars enjoy a league-mandated five-day bye-week break with their friends and/or family, they are secure in the knowledge that they will be competing for a Western Conference playoff berth when they return this Friday.
Dallas entered the break with a dominating 5-1 victory over Edmonton at the American Airline Center on Saturday, January 6. The Stars’ sixth victory in their last eight games improved their record to 24-16-3 (51 points) and into the first wildcard playoff spot and three points out of third place in the Central Division. They are four points ahead of Colorado, which holds the second wild-card spot and a four-point lead over ninth-place Minnesota.
“(This win over Edmonton was a) great team win, it’s how we wanted to play the last game before the bye week, said defenseman John Klingberg, who went into the break as the leading scorer among NHL defensemen with 39 points in 43 games, including points in eight of his last nine appearances. “We did everything we could now, and it will be nice to have a break and come back ready to play a lot of hockey.”
The Stars are also receiving outstanding performances from Alexander Radulov (four goals, nine points in his past five games), captain Jamie Benn (three goals and 10 points in his last nine games), and Tyler Seguin (seven goals, 11 points in his past nine games).
Coach Ken Hitchcock hedged that the timing of the break may cool off a team that has been red hot. “These are extended breaks, and you don’t know if you lose your edge or whatever,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t think you can tell that until you go through the break. I would prefer to play every second or third day and get into a routine. That’s the best hockey you can play, is when you’re on a routine.”
“Everybody’s desperate right now, and you’re going to see this until really a few teams are really out,” Hitchcock added. “It’s what everybody expected when you had parity in the National Hockey League, and they’re getting it now. It’s very demanding of the players, really demanding of the coaches in preparation because of the little edge matters. But man, it makes for good hockey to watch.”
The Stars have come a long way from their mediocre early season play. After they went 9-9-1 in their first 19 games, the Dallas has posted a 15-7-2 mark since Nov. 18 and are tied for the third-most points in the NHL during that stretch.
“We’ve come a long way,” Hitchcock said. “We’re in the hunt now with everybody, not just with one team or 12 teams chasing one spot. We’re in the hunt with everybody. We have a long ways to go, but we’ve come a long ways.”
The Stars have begun to formulate an identity, one that Hitchcock really appreciates. “As a coach, you’re looking for an identity,” he said. “You’re trying to forge an identity knowing if you get it you have a chance to win every night. That’s where we’re at now. We have an identity. Everybody knows how we play and what the trigger points are. We are really taking pride in being hard to play against, and that’s helping us grow our group. The confidence is growing in our group because we are harder to play against. Every week we play we are getting a little harder to play against.”
Dallas has won six of their last seven games at home (6-1-0), and are 16-5-1 at American Airlines Center, one of the NHL’s best home-ice marks.
Their play on the road has improved tremendously, as well. After losing nine of their first 12 on enemy ice (3-8-1), the Stars have posted a 5-3-1 record in their last nine road games for an 8-11-2 overall slate.
Their play within the competitive Central Division has also gotten better, including wins in three of their last four and six of their last nine.