In spurts Tuesday night, the Dallas Stars looked like the team we were accustomed to seeing last season.
Despite falling 3-1 in Detroit - Dallas’ final trip to Joe Louis Arena - the Stars outshot Detroit 35-20, outhit Detroit 17-15 and, if not for Petr Mrazek, Dallas would have forced overtime for the second straight night.
Although Dallas now sits at 9-9-6 - 5th in the Central Division - the Stars are starting to show signs of a turnaround. Since losing 8-2 in Winnipeg on Nov. 8, Dallas has gone 5-3-4, gathering 14 of a possible 24 points.
In those 10 games they have a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.3, lower than their season average of 3.3, which is 30th in the league.
Also, in the five games Julius Honka has played, the GAA is 2.2.
Antti Niemi in his past five games has been fantastic, and may, finally, solidify the situation between the pipes.
In his past five starts, Niemmi has a GAA of 2 and a save percentage of .928 - both besting his seasons averages of 3.05 GAA and .906 save percentage.
Kari Lehtonen has struggled in last five starts - having a GAA of 4 and his save percentage in that stretch being .855. Both of which are worse than his season averages.
The defense, without Johnny Oduya, has played better in the last few games. Jamie Oleksiak is gaining confidence with each time he steps on the ice. Stephen Johns’ stint in the AHL seemed to get him back on track, and the young duo of Honka and Esa Lindell (Dallas’ lone goal scorer Tuesday) are playing solid minutes.
Jordie Benn has looked like Dallas’ steadiest defenseman, and John Klingberg is slowly, very slowly, turning his season around the past few games. Klingberg showed more offensive push and made smart plays with the puck along the boards Tuesday in St. Louis.
Who does head coach Lindy Ruff take out of the lineup to make room for Oduya when he returns? That’s not a decision I would want to have to make.
What needs to change for this team to really get going? Offense and special teams.
Dallas ranks 17th overall in goals per game with 2.5, and is 28th in the league in penalty kill at 77.1 percent.
In the past 10 games Dallas has scored 2.7 goals per game, scoring three or more goals six times - going 4-0-2 when notching three or more goals. See a trend?
The penalty kill Tuesday sunk Dallas. Both of Detroit’s goals came with the man advantage. Dallas has allowed a power play goal in four of its past five games.
Dallas has also scored one power play goal in its past five games, going 1-13 in that stretch, while they scored 11 power play goals In November - good for 19 percent.
The numbers, just the like the Stars, are all over the place. However, the numbers do show improvement in the net and on defense.
With Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza all online, the offense should find itself.
Thursday will be a test against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins (13-6-3). The Pens will be playing the second of a back-to-back Thursday after a showdown in Brooklyn with the Islanders.
Now is not the time for panic in Dallas. The New Year is around the corner. Dallas is slowly getting healthy and finding themselves.
And perhaps flipping the calendar to 2017 is just what this Stars team needs.