Here are some notes and observations as the Stars get ready to embark on the second half of the 2011-12 season.
The record. The Stars’ 23-17-1 mark puts them on a pace for 94 points, which is the current pace for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Since their 11-3-0 start to the season, the Stars are 12-14-1 over their last 27 games. Since that five-game losing streak in the middle of November, the Stars have not lost more than two games in a row. Since their five-game and four-game winning streaks in the first four weeks of the season, the Stars have won more than two games in a row just once.
The road ahead. February will be a big month for the Stars. They play 16 games over a span of 29 days and will have four back-to-back sets in the mix. They have road games against San Jose, Detroit and Chicago. Los Angeles, Nashville, Minnesota (twice) and Vancouver visit American Airlines Center.
All eyes on Lehtonen. The Stars will need Kari Lehtonen to be at his best over the second half and down the stretch if they are going to make it into the top eight in the Western Conference. After a spectacular 11-1-0 start to the season, Lehtonen has cooled off a bit. Since those first 12 starts, he is 4-6-1 with a 2.88 goals against average and .894 save percentage.
Trending up: Shots for/shots against. The Stars were outshot by an average of 34 to 27 through the first 19 games of the season, but they’ve turned that around over the last 22 games. In those 22 games, they’ve outshot their opponent 14 times and have averaged 30.5 shots while allowing 29.4. Over the last five games the shots against have down to 25.6 per game.
Trending up: The discipline issue. Through the first 20 games the Stars were shorthanded an average of 5.0 times per game while averaging 3.2 power plays per game. Cutting down on penalties and limiting the chatter at referees have been a focus, and it’s paid off. Over the last 21 games the Stars have been shorthanded an average of 2.8 times per game and have been drawing 3.4 power plays per contest. The number of power play goals against in the last 21 games? 10. The number of power play goals against in the first 20 games? 18.
Sore spot: The power play. The Stars’ power play has scored 19 goals this season, which is tied for the second fewest in the league with Tampa Bay. Only Phoenix (17) has scored fewer. As far as percentage, the Stars rank 26th at 14.1 percent. It’s an area that needs to trend up over the second half.
First half MVP. Jamie Benn. He’s put up 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) in the first 41 games and is on pace for a career year. It’s a breakout season for the 22-year-old, who won’t be underrated much longer. Close second: Loui Eriksson. The Stars’ best all-around player has 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) and is on a pace for a career year as far as points, and he leads the team with a plus-12 rating.
First half high point. The 4-2 win over Boston, the defending Stanley Cup champions and hottest team in the league at the time, before a sellout crowd at American Airlines Center on New Year’s Eve.
First half low point. The 6-0 loss to Florida at the AAC on November 15. It came in the middle of the Stars’ five-game losing streak and produced one of coach Glen Gulutzan’s best quotes of the season to date. “I just think the honeymoon is over,” Gulutzan said after the loss.
First half best goal. Jamie Benn stealing the puck in the neutral zone and then weaving his way through four Columbus defenders to beat Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason (October 18, at Columbus). Close second: Eric Nystrom’s airborne tally versus the Washington Capitals.
First half best save. The 144 saves Richard Bachman made while winning five games as a starter while Kari Lehtonen was out with a groin injury.