How to fix the Dallas Stars in three simple steps

Mar 7, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger (29). Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 7, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger (29). Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s a lot of doom and gloom in Dallas Stars’ circles these days, and for good reason. As of Sunday night’s shootout loss, Dallas sits seventh in the eight-team Central Division, fully twelve points behind behind the fourth seed Chicago Blackhawks. In case you didn’t know, the top four teams in each division at season’s end will advance to the playoffs.

In short, the Stars aren’t there, at least not yet. And if I’m being fair, there have been some encouraging signs of life in their most recent two games. There was the resounding 5-0 win versus Columbus on Saturday night in which they looked great. Then there was the stirring comeback from a 3-0 third period deficit on Sunday that stole a much-needed point.

Despite a terrible February, the Dallas Stars aren’t far away from contending.

Still, there is that nagging lack of consistency that has plagued their season and put them in the pickle they’re in now. The good news is that they’ve got just under two-thirds of their season left to play. It’s going to be a brutal stretch of basically playing every other night, but there are three steps they can take to get this thing going in the right direction.

First and foremost, they can simply play more often. Two huge delays–the season-opening pause due to pandemic protocols and then the crippling February winter storm in Texas–put the them extensively behind the league in terms of games played. Simply put, the Stars haven’t had a chance to establish any kind of rhythm, and it’s largely been through no fault of their own. A more frequent schedule may actually help this bunch right now.

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Secondly, they’ve got to shore up their penalty kill. It was such a source of strength last season, but their lessened ability to kill of penalties is causing them huge problems. Take Sunday’s game for instance. Yes, there was a character-defining comeback that allowed them to tie the game at 3-3 and force overtime. But the Stars couldn’t kill off Nashville’s first two power plays en route to digging that 3-0 hole. A little simple math tells you that if they manage to avoid one of those goals, the comeback would have yielded a regulation win and not a shootout loss. The 17th-ranked penalty kill must improve if the Stars have any designs on contending. It’s probably their most important goal to accomplish.

Finally, they need to get healthier. This step is the trickiest one of the batch. It looks like left winger Roope Hintz will be in and out of the lineup as the team nurses him through his lower body injury. He was in on Saturday, but out on Sunday, and he is sorely missed when he’s not on the ice.

But the biggest absence thus far has been that of right winger Alexander Radulov. He’s been out since February 4th and is hoping to return in about a week. The Stars were 5-1-1 at the time he got hurt. Since then, they’re 2-7-4 and wholly appear to be missing Radulov’s infectious passion. One would assume that his return provides a spark.

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The really frustrating thing about the condition of this team is that they’ve played well enough to win more than a few of these games. It may sound like the loser’s lament, but the law of averages suggests that the puck luck they’re not getting at all right now has to play back into their favor at some point. As rough as this stretch as been, I’m not seeing a team getting run every night. So for now, my optimism will have to suffice.