Since Dec. 13, the Dallas Stars have been one of the best teams in the NHL.
That may be surprising to those who haven’t followed them closely. The Stars, after all, are pretty much assured of missing the playoffs.
But it’s true — the Stars are 26-15-5 in their last 46 games, a 102-point pace over a full season. And based on score-adjusted Fenwick, they’ve been the league’s fifth-best possession team during that stretch, below only the Kings, Islanders, Blues and Penguins.
It was the 10-13-5 start that killed their playoff hopes. The Stars were the 18th-ranked possession team through that stretch, and their goaltending — a position GM Jim Nill may still need to address this offseason, even though starter Kari Lehtonen has been better lately — made things even worse.
“We’ve gone on a pretty good run here,” forward Shawn Horcoff said earlier this week, “but we’ve had a tough time making up ground. Given the situation here, we really feel like we are going to have to win out.”
Possible. But unlikely.
At the very least, the Stars can look forward to next year. While it may not have surprised Nill when his team started poorly this season, assuming the goaltending can improve, his expectations for 2015-16 should be high.
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These are pretty decent times for Dallas — the club has won nine of 12 in March, continues to keep its slim playoff hopes alive and, now, could get a huge piece of the lineup back for the final few games of the regular season.
Sophomore Valeri Nichushkin, who’s been out since mid-November following hip surgery, has been activated from injured reserve and will head down to AHL Texas on a brief conditioning stint, the club announced on Friday.
Nichushkin, 20, has missed almost the entire regular season with the aforementioned hip injury, appearing in just four games. It was a fairly significant loss for the Stars; in his rookie campaign, Nichushkin appeared in 79 games and performed well, scoring 14 goals and 34 points while averaging just under 15 minutes per game.
The big Russian also played in all six of Dallas’ opening-round postseason games against Anaheim, scoring a goal and two points.
Texas plays twice this weekend, then once more again on Wednesday, meaning Nichushkin could get back into the Dallas lineup when the club hosts St. Louis next Friday. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of state the club will be in when Nichushkin’s ready to return; the Stars head into Friday’s game in Edmonton eight points back of Winnipeg for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, but do have a game in hand on the Jets.
Not even the two goals from Deryk Engelland were enough to give the Calgary Flames a win over the Dallas Stars on Wednesday.
The veteran blue liner, not known for his offensive numbers, scored twice — his first two goals as a member of the Flames in his 68th game with the club — but Calgary lost 4-3 in the shootout on home. The Flames still get the single point, staying one ahead of the L.A. Kings in the Pacific Division playoff race.
Meanwhile, the Stars, on Tyler Seguin’s shootout winner, have won four straight to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. It might be too late. They’re six points back of the Winnipeg Jets, holders of the final Wild Card spot with eight games remaining on their schedule.
It could’ve been worse for them on this night.
After all, the Stars did get out to a two-goal lead on the Flames, who have made a habit of erasing opposing team’s leads as this season has gone on. What, exactly, was Dallas thinking?
The Flames, in their trademark fashion, suddenly erased the Stars’ cushion. Johnny Gaudreau got Calgary on the board. Then Engelland netted his first of the night. Those two goals came one minute and five seconds apart.
Dallas once again gained a lead late in the second period, and again, the Flames, on Engelland’s second goal was enough to send it to overtime.
All the latest from the blue paint…
Dallas, Calgary do battle
Pretty significant matchup at the Saddledome tonight when Karri Ramo and the Flames take on Kari Lehtonen and the Stars.
Ramo, getting his fourth consecutive nod, will look to secure two vital points for Calgary — the Flames head into tonight’s action holding third place in the Pacific Division, tied on 86 points with Los Angeles but ahead courtesy the tiebreaker. Ramo gets the start ahead of Jonas Hiller after going 3-1-1 in his last five starts, posting a .913 save percentage.
Lehtonen, the first goalie off at this morning’s skate, looks as though he’ll make his eighth straight appearance. The Finnish netminder has been playing well of late and is a big reason why the Stars have managed to claw their way back onto the fringes of playoff contention: Dallas is 8-2-0 over its last 10 and Lehtonen is 4-1-0 over his last five, posting a stellar .940 save percentage (just eight goals allowed on his last 133 shots faced).
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The Dallas Stars kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Monday with a 4-3 victory over Buffalo, but captain Jamie Benn suffered an undisclosed injury in the process, per the team’s website. Benn missed Tuesday’s practice as a result and is questionable for Wednesday’s game in Calgary.
“Jamie is a little bit of a concern,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “He was hurting late in the game and he was sore today. We’ll see.”
Defenseman Trevor Daley (knee) didn’t join the Stars for their practice on Tuesday either, but he’s skating and will travel with the squad for their four-game road trip. Daley, who has missed nine straight games, is expected to play before Dallas heads home.
The Stars might also get 20-year-old forward Valeri Nichushkin (hip surgery) back in the near future too, but first he’ll report to AHL Texas for a conditioning stint. The plan is for Nichushkin to take part in three minor league contests, starting with Friday’s game.
Dallas is eight points behind Winnipeg in the Wild Card race with just nine contests left. It would take a miraculous run for the Stars to make the playoffs now, but they’ve certainly been doing their best lately with a 8-2-0 run.