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Dallas Stars Seek Road Consistency against Senators, Maple Leafs

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With a 7-3-1 record (.682) at the American Airlines Center, the Dallas Stars have proven they can compete with anyone who comes calling in Texas. Their 3-4-0 mark on the road, however, leaves a little to be desired for a team trying to distance itself from 27 road losses a season ago.

The Stars opened the season with four of six on the road, winning three of them and allaying our fears of "roaditis" reprisal for a time until they finally embarked upon their first Western Conference road swing and lost all three of them in varying degrees of painful fashion. Proving they can beat a West team in their building will have to wait because Dallas is taking a rare trip to Ontario to play what we hope will Eastern Conference foes who are just as inviting as the Islanders, Devils and Panthers were.

It's been nearly two years (December of 2008) since the Stars ventured into these particular hostile environments. An 8-2 drubbing of the Maple Leafs included a hat trick for once-local-boy James Neal but the Ottawa trip was less fruitful in a 5-4 overtime loss. Still, three points out of four was good then and it would be good now for a team that could use a little confidence away from home.

We like to joke and say the East is, err... Not exactly up to the lofty level of competition in the West (11 of the top 15 points percentages in the league are in the West) but these two clubs are not to be overlooked. After all, everyone has their moments at home.

Let's look at the opportunities, challenges and distractions for the Stars this week...

The distractions are plenty for the Stars in Toronto. Many Dallas players, coaches and executives are from the area and grew up with the Leafs in one way or another (I think Trevor Daley is on record as being a Leafs fan growing up.) There's family that want tickets, friends to see, and players see it as a special destination.

As for it being "the center of the hockey universe," you tell me. The Leafs have never won a Cup with more than six teams in the league (their last coming in '67), haven't won a division title in 10 years, haven't made the playoffs in over six years... But, the media, the tradition, the HHOF, etc... all make it a special hockey destination.

Speaking of the media, Brad Richards could be in for an interesting time with the Canadian hockey-media-machine up there. The salivation over his potential availability in February has barely begun but that won't stop interested parties in taking the opportunity to write and ask about it.

Richards' situation walks hand in hand with the other distraction they'll put up with this week: Questions about ownership. When you go to Los Angeles, no one asks about that. No one talks about it at home either but the Canadian media is very interested in the whole mess and one imagines that Joe Nieuwendyk will try to field most of that nonsense himself.

That being said, these guys are very professional and their focus will remain on the ice. Still, Crawford told the DMN it's a big deal: "It's a special place,'' Crawford said. "The players might play it down, but it's a big deal to everyone. I just think it's such a rare occasion that we need to embrace it as something special and try to use that to help us.''

Let's shift our focus back on the ice. What can the Stars do to turn their 2-0-1 home stand into an extended run?

The power play, of course. (We're going to keep beating this dead horse as long as we must.)

We wrote last week that the Stars 4% road power play was their downfall in Anaheim and Los Angeles. I told you that the Stars have had 20+ chances this season to score on the PP while behind in a game and had only done it once.

Good news: They got it up to two! The tying goal against the Avalanche in the third period on Saturday was only the second time the power play had connected while losing this season. After having PP chances late in games against the Lightning, the Ducks, and the Kings, they finally connected. If they're to pull points out of this trip, I'm betting the road PP% is better than 4% when they get back.

(How is the Devils road PP% STILL worse than Dallas' ?)

If they're to break out on the road, this could be an opportune time to do it. (Home PK stats:)

League Rank Team Home Games 
Times Short Handed PPGA Home PK%
23 Toronto 11 31 6 80.6%
24 Ottawa 9 35 7 80.0%