It wasn't long ago that media were walking around the Stars locker room asking the players: "What is the difference between this year and last?"
I did it too and heard various responses. The team had just won five or six in a row and we were all trying to figure out just exactly how. The players themselves gave vague answers pointing to the attitude in the room and the confidence they now have. Kari Lehtonen was another common answer.
Fast forward a month and we now look at the season and ask the same question: How are they doing this? What is the difference? Except this time there's an obvious answer: They can win on the road!
Much was made about (especially by me) the poor road play last year. They lost 10 in a row away from home; 14 of 16 at some point. Their road play simply murdered their season right around this time last year and they wound up with a 14-20-7 record. A .427 points percentage.
Now they've won five in a row on the road for the first time in years and it's not only a contrast to last season, but a contrast to three weeks ago.
December 13th we posted the following: Dallas Stars In Need of Road Improvement. I argued they had been outscored 25-12 on the road in the West. They were 1-5-1in those games, and had 25 additional road tests in the West coming. It was a glaring deficiency that seemed sure to sink the ship that had stayed afloat on a diet of Eastern Conference teams early in the season.
So what did they do? They hauled off and won five straight road games. San Jose, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville and St. Louis. That ought to shut me up, eh?
Add it all up and it's an 11-7-1 road record this season (.605)
Continued after the jump...
11-7-1 on the road isn't stellar. They're not world beaters or anything. If anything this season we're finding out that what we'd consider "good" in seasons past is generally just "good enough" to keep yourself afloat. Then again only Detroit and Vancouver have better points percentages on the road in the West. A common theme with the third place Stars.
Without a four game stumble at home recently the Stars would have used this strong stretch on the road to keep pace with the likes of the Canucks, but as Brad Richards said after the St. Louis game, they haven't "taken care of business at home," making the road push a necessity to stay ahead of the Kings and Sharks in the division.
Special teams is the key
The road power play, which on December 10th sat at something near 3% on the season, is now at 10%. That doesn't sound great but it's been much more consistent and since that time it connects more often than not. Indeed, they have a PP goal in four of those five road games and have connected 19% of the time. Beats the heck out of 3%.
The penalty kill has been better as well. They've killed 15 of 17 penalties in that five game streak, good for 88.2%. Contrast it with a 78% on the road all of last year.
The PK together with the goaltending have held opponents to 2.00 goals per game in this stretch. That's how you win hockey games, and it's what they absolutely could not do last year.
It's unrealistic to think this will last much longer, but even a .500 record the rest of the way on the road would be leaps and bounds ahead of last years effort.
It won't be easy. 6-5-1 in the West on the road is great but they're not yet halfway through their 32 game Western Conference road schedule. They can start by avenging a lopsided result in Chicago last month tomorrow against the Blackhawks.