Speed. It's been the mantra for the Dallas Stars all season long, turning heads and inspiring game plans. Against certain teams in certain situations it's worked well for them, but like any tool, it must be used correctly- And it these last ten games are any indication, they're starting to understand the balancing act.
Dallas nabbed a point in San Jose last night despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back and trailing heading into the third period after a punch to the gut late in the second, and it was their patience that paid off for them again.
"We know we have to play the right way and we're getting a lot more pucks," Vern Fiddler said last night. "We're being a lot more deliberate in the sense of getting the pucks deep, getting them out. We're not getting ourselves into trouble."
Some pretty horrific burps of the puck aside in Phoenix the other night, they've limited their turnovers and are making safer plays. The result? 22.9 shots against per game over their last 10.
"I think we played a much more team game," Fiddler continued. 'We don't give up as much and we're getting more offense out of it."
On that side they're humming along at a 31.0 shots-per-game over that same ten-game sample size- A pristine +8.1 differential sustained over an extended period.
If the simplest of tenets where "advanced stats" are concerned is that taking more shots than your opponent is better in the long haul, the Stars can be said to be absolutely nowhere but on the right track.
In those ten games, allowing those 22.9 shots, they've seen 1, 1, 0, 2, 3, 0, 1, 0, 3 and 2 pucks in their net in regulation play. Two of them were power play goals. The remaining 11, in 10 games- That's just pretty remarkable for this team.
Without the proper time to do the research I cannot tell you the last time the Stars had three shutouts in a six-game span, but my money is on "a long time ago."
Lindy Ruff says patience is the name of the game where the difference is concerned.
"I think we've got more patience," Ruff told media last night. "I think there was times we went at it too hard instead of staying 1-0 for a period of time and taking the chances when they come. We got careless, created some great opportunities and games slipped away on us, so I thought the patience we showed was important tonight, especially since we played last night."
And now they're so close. Just a point out out 8th place.
The Stars have scored more goals than four teams ahead of them. They have a better goal differential than three teams ahead of them. They've won as many or more road games as three teams ahead of them. The areas where they've blown chances are home games, with just the third best total of wins in the conference at 13, and overtimes, where they were again stung last night.
Dallas is now 1-6 in overtime, and 4-10 overall when the game gets passed 60 minutes when you include shootouts. 10 extra points is a massive difference, and they know they have to find a way to get those.
"It's something we talked about right after the game," Ruff said. "That's an area we have to improve in. It's not good enough. Those extra points are there, we lost coverage again on the goal and they made us pay for it."
After all of last season's talk about "losing the right way," meaning at least getting to OT before dropping games, it's still an improvement. Now they have to take that next step.
Good news about Saturday night's pre-Olympic finale: Phoenix takes on the Chicago Blackhawks at home friday night before hopping on a plane for Love Field and losing an hour in the process. They're 2-3-1 on the second night of a back-to-back.
And the Stars, five out of those six points available on that road trip tucked in their pockets, get two days off to prepare. Coach Ruff's challenge is to keep a group focused where thoughts of their impending vacation may creep in.
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