Stars Look to Build on Consistency With Win in Chicago
Winning in the National Hockey League can often be traced back to two things – special teams and goaltending. If a team can find success in these two areas, wins take care of themselves.
It makes sense, really; it’s not rocket science. If a team can score when it has the man-advantage while limiting the opponents’ chances when they have it, well, the good guys are going to outscore them in games most of the time. Goaltending can also be a team’s most effective penalty killer and give your team a foundation for 5-on-5 play.
Look no further than the Stars’ 4-3 win at Chicago last night. Alex Chiasson’s power play goal was Dallas’ first man-advantage goal in five games, with the Stars dropping three of the previous four contests. Add in Antoine Roussel’s penalty shot goal in the third (the game-winner), and that practically qualifies as a special teams goal as well.
The numbers don’t lie – Dallas has points in 13-of-17 games (9-4-4 record) this season when playing “even-or-better” on special teams (matching the opposition’s power play goals or scoring more in the game), while going 4-5-0 in games in which they dropped the special teams match-up.
Dallas is 9-6-0 on the road this season while only going 4-3-4 at home. The road success cannot be only correlated to the Stars’ 17.6 power play percentage away from home, but it certainly helps. The same can be said for the team’s home record and a power play percentage of only 2.7% at American Airlines Center (dead-last in the league with one total power play goal at home on the season in 37 chances).
Why the difference on the road versus at home? Even the players don’t have the answer.
“I don’t know why we win on the road,” said goalie Kari Lehtonen. “I wish we could find out why and then do it at home.”
Lehtonen certainly was a main reason the Stars won at Chicago, stopping 47-of-50 shots, salty numbers no matter the opponent. He literally gave the Stars a chance to win with his play. Like most net-minders, he plays better when he gets a lot of shots and stays involved in the game. Lehtonen definitely had that on Tuesday night.
It was a reversal of roles for the Stars, who have outplayed the opposition lately, especially at even strength, but had little to show for it.
“It’s been hard because it seems like we’ve been playing well and not getting rewarded,” said defenseman Alex Goligoski. “But we had a really rough outing (tonight), our goaltender saved us and we ended up with two points. All you can say is, ‘that’s hockey.’”
The Stars are a work in progress. GM Jim Nill and head coach Lindy Ruff are both stressing patience as the team builds to become a consistent winner again. It’s the right way to do it, as this is not either’s first rodeo.
The Stars’ best players are younger, which is a change from just a few years ago. Joe Nieuwendyk began the trend and Nill has continued it.
Playing in arguably the toughest division in hockey – the Central – expect the ups and downs to continue as the Stars mature as a hockey team and gel. The next long-term key will be on defense, as most of the team’s best prospects are blue-liners.
For now, the Stars look for more consistency on special teams, especially at home. A healthy Lehtonen will take care of the goaltending.
Next up are the Maple Leafs on Thursday. That’s good news since the game is in Toronto. The road has been good thus far to the Dallas Stars. Hopefully that solid play will eventually follow them home.