Dallas Stars Improving, But Know There's a Long Way to Go

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Stars have collected six of the last eight points available to them, but must change their habits if it's to continue.

When Stars fans woke up Thursday morning after the team's late night in Western Canada, Dallas had put together three wins in their last four games, evened their record at 5-5-1, and seen their top-two centers on the ice at the same time paying dividends.

It's enough to allow yourself a little peek at the standings just 11 games in to know that Dallas is right back in the thick of things.

Players and coaches, however, cannot afford such luxuries in a shortened season. Not when the available metrics and information say that they have such a long way to go with a very, very stout Anaheim Duck team coming to town Friday.

"We know we can play better than this," said Jamie Benn in the Edmonton visitors locker room. "We have to keep focused on getting better."

Looking at the trends in the game log, it still jumps out at you that the Stars have been out-shot 11 times in 11 games. It still jumps out at you that they've given up many more power plays than they've earned (54-36), and been short-handed more within a game eight times.

They're 29th in the league in shots per-game-for, and 29th in the league in shots-per-game against.

It's been said in this space in seasons past and we'll say it again: They can't keep this up and lean on Kari Lehtonen and a couple of individuals for long.

Glen Gulutzan, it seems, is telling his players the same and they're taking the message to heart in talking to the media.

"It's definitely not pretty out there," Benn told reporters last night. "We're getting the job done right now, but we've got to get better as a team. We came in here for the points, and getting four out of six on the road isn't bad, so we'll take it and go home and watch some video and try to learn from these games. We still take too many penalties and still turn too many pucks over, so we've got to learn from it."

Benn's line might be one of the only free from blame right now, having scored something like the team's last five even strength goals. The upheaval in the line combinations preceding the game in Colorado (or is it more appropriate to say proceeding being shut-out in Phoenix?) was ballyhooed for it's supposed ability to create more offense throughout the lineup, but the secondary scoring has yet to materialize.

Derek Roy, Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder are starting to produce some quality chances and have been in involved in a power play goal and an extra-attacker tally on a delayed penalty. It seems only a matter of time before that chemistry start to produce more, and they've yet to play at home with this combination of centers. More favorable match-ups and line changes could yield the results they seek.

Scoring from the bottom-six, however, has been virtually non-existent in the early going. Antoine Roussel contributed in his first game a week ago at home, but the Fiddler and Nystrom duo has yet to put a goal on the board. With limited even-strength minutes and a focus on the penalty kill, they may not, and that's alright.

It's the Cody Eakin - Reilly Smith - Tomas Vincour triumvirate which must chip in from time-to-time, and they've come close to doing so, most notably when the red-headed center ripped one off the inside of the post behind Devan Dubnyk last night. Is the former top-line for the Texas Stars inching closer to breaking through?

More depth scoring might go a long way, but the improvements must first come from taking care of things in front of Kari Lehtonen.

"We kept turning the puck over and putting the game in jeopardy," said Gulutzan last night. "Until we realize that we are a team that has to grind out games, we are a team that even if it gets a little dicey out there, we have to continue to play a certain way - we're not going to get traction. So I didn't like our response; I thought we turned way too many pucks over. We've got to learn to do a better job."

The turnovers are leading to the penalties, and they've now surrendered a power play goal in four of their last five.

Part of the challenge will be for Paul Jerrard's group to figure out how to continue to improve coverages and breakouts with an uncertain mix of pairings moving forward. It's doubtful that the team will keep such a high profile, highly paid defenseman (Goligoski) in the healthy scratch column as things progress, but Philip Larsen had such a nice game last night - Who do you take out? Oleksiak, who has been a great story in the NHL so far, just because he's the youngest? Aaron Rome, who seems to be finding some consistency? It's a difficult situation for all involved.

So they'll shuffle the d-pairs to keep everyone involved, but attempt to "stay the course" as a team, and hope that doing the little things right sees this won-three-of-four stretch continue to push things in a positive direction.

Enjoy the wins and peek at the standings, but know that there's a long way to go before they're truly on the path back to the post-season.

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