COMMENTARY | The Dallas Stars have been unstoppable on the road of late. They've won the games they should win, they've won the close games, and they've won the games they had no right to win - thank you Kari Lehtonen for stealing that win in Vancouver.
What it means is that a team that struggled on the road early in the season is now outshining their home performance by a good way. Dallas currently holds a record of 8-5 on the road after reeling off six straight wins, while at home they have lost more than they won, albeit two of those after regulation. It's the opposite of the formula prescribed for contending teams: maintain a .500 record on the road, and make up the difference by a stronger performance at home.
In fact, the only two blips for the Stars in the month of November have been an overtime loss to the Avalanche (back when they were still amazingly good) and a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks that was anything but a blowout. So two strong performances, but not the desired results.
The truth is that the Stars haven't been allowed to find any consistency at home. They opened the season with two home games, but since then have found themselves more often on the road, playing 13 of the first 20 games away from the American Airlines Center. And those games at home have come one or two at a time, a trend that won't change yet, with a return for an upcoming game against the New York Rangers in Dallas, and an immediate departure for a game in St Louis against the Blues.
But what's the difference? Or with this road-heavy stretch are we just seeing the results of a team hitting their stride, and that success will continue with a return to Dallas?
The Stars have undoubtedly taken strides. A record of 7-2-1, after a start of 4-5-1 is clear evidence of it. But that comes with eight of the last ten games being played on the road. It's a chicken or the egg conundrum. Have the Stars improved as a team after the first ten games, and the results are showing that? Or have the Stars improved as a road team, and that is the reason for the rapidly increasing point total? Keep in mind, the only two home games in the last ten have been losses.
The safe bet says that the Stars have improved. That's backed up by the eye test, with passing and zone exits and possession looking much cleaner since the frustrations of the early season. And they're further backed up by the stats, with both fancy and traditional stats corroborating. In the first ten games Dallas had a goals for average of 2.5, and a goals against average of 3.0. Those two numbers were flipped in the second ten games. That half goal swing is obviously huge.
There is however one area we can look at where Dallas has clearly come up short at home. And that is the powerplay. A mark of 0-24 with the man advantage through the first seven home games certainly plays a factor in their middling success at home. Now, the Stars powerplay hasn't exactly been lighting it up on the road either. Dallas ranks 27th in the league on the powerplay, having scored on 8 of 70 opportunities so far. Now of course, that means their road splits are much more favorable, having scored on 8 of 46 opportunities. That's far from lights out, or even particularly threatening, but it's an improvement on the 0-fer at home.
Over the next couple of months, as the schedule begins to balance out, the Stars will have a chance to find some rhythm at home. Part of that needs to include success on the powerplay, as Dallas must start taking advantage of their opportunities. With the improved overall play of the team at even strength of late, the powerplay might be the key to turning a solid home record, into a contending one.
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