<
>

Push for the playoffs

1/31/2012

FRISCO -- The Dallas Stars kick off the stretch drive when they head to California later this week for games against Anaheim and San Jose, and it will begin what they hope is a push to a place where they haven’t been the last three years – the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“This is our playoff push now,” said captain Brenden Morrow. “We’re going to be pushing from the get-go and we’ve got a pretty big hill to climb, but we’re all committed to do that in here. We’ve had meeting after meeting about what it is going to take and what you are willing to do. We feel like we are up to the challenge.”

The Stars come out of the break in 10th place in the Western Conference, three points out of the final playoff spot. If you go based on points percentage, they are in ninth place and a little closer to that final playoff spot. They sit in the middle of a group of six teams ranked 7th through 12th and separated by a total of six points.

“We still have our own fate in our own hands. We don’t need teams to beat them or teams to beat so and so. We can do it ourselves,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “We play all the teams that are ahead of us. We can catch every one of them, we play head-to-head. That’s where you want to be. You want to have that in your hands. We have no excuses moving forward. We’re healthy, we’ve had a break and we got to regroup. We have to do a few things better – our power play and some D zone stuff – but I think our best hockey is coming.”

The Stars will need to play well to climb into a playoff position. History – at least history since the lockout – says that it will take anywhere from 91 to 97 points to get into the playoffs in the Western Conference. Since the lockout the 8th and final playoff spot in the West has gone to teams with point totals of 95, 96, 91, 91, 95 and 97.

At the All-Star break, the points pace for 8th in the West this season is 92 points. Time will tell if that stays steady or moves up or down, but Gulutzan doesn’t want to focus on some numerical goal for April.

“It’s a slippery slope if you get too focused on the amount of points. If you are not achieving them then you are falling off. You’ve got to live day-to-day in this game,” Gulutzan said. “We don’t want to start staring at the big picture, it can get overwhelming.

“Everybody is predicting how many points it will take, but who knows how many points it will take. Certainly it is going to be in the 90’s but where, I don’t know.”

Instead, he and his staff are looking at shorter-term objectives. The Stars want to make sure they are right in the thick of things when a grueling month of February comes to a close.

“We broke February into two segments within the 15 games before the trade deadline (Feb. 27),” Gulutzan said. “We have to be in striking distance at the end of this month. If not, then we’re going to be in trouble, but we feel we should be right in striking distance.”

During February the Stars also will play six games against the teams ranked 7th through 12th in the standings. Over their final 34 games, the Stars have three games against 9th place Minnesota and four games against 11th place Calgary, two teams right around them in the standings.

“Those are the teams were trying to catch,” Gulutzan said, “so more importantly we have to do well in those games.”

A look at the race for the final playoff spots

As teams come out of the break, it appears that the teams ranked 1-6 (Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago) have created some pretty good separation from the rest of the West. Those teams have anywhere from 64 to 67 points, except for San Jose. The Sharks have 60, but have played fewer games than anyone in the conference and are in a solid spot.

For now, it appears, that would leave six teams – Los Angeles, Minnesota, Colorado, Dallas, Calgary, Phoenix – battling it out for those final two spots in the West.

There’s a long way to go and things can change. One of the teams in the top six could slip back, one of the teams currently fighting for those final two spots could go on a roll and create some separation from the others, or somebody could fade away.

Here’s a look at the team’s currently ranked 7th through 12th that appear to be battling for the final two spots for the time being.

7. Los Angeles Kings

Record: 24-16-10 (58 points)

Regulation/OT Wins: 20

Games Remaining: 32 (12 home, 20 road)

Back-to-backs: 7

Head-to-head with 7th-12th: 8 games – Minnesota (2), Colorado (1), Dallas (1), Calgary (2), Phoenix (2)

Completed season series with 7th-12th: None

Key injuries: F Simon Gagne (concussion) out indefinitely

Outlook: The Kings host Columbus in their first game out of the break and then head out on a six-game road trip (St. Louis, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida, NY Islanders, Dallas). The Kings play 10 of their 14 games in February and 20 of their final 32 games on the road, where they have posted a solid 11-5-6 mark so far this season.

8. Minnesota Wild

Record: 24-18-7 (55 points)

Regulation/OT wins: 19

Games remaining: 33 (19 home, 14 road)

Back-to-backs: 4

Head-to-head with 7th-12th: 12 games – Los Angeles (2), Colorado (3), Dallas (3), Calgary (2), Phoenix (2)

Completed season series with 7th-12th: None

Key injuries: F Mikko Koivu (shoulder) has resumed skating. F Guillaume Latendresse (concussion) is skating. F Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion) out indefinitely.

Outlook: The Wild hit the break on a positive note, winning two straight following a dismal 17-game stretch where they went 2-11-4. The Wild play 19 of their final 33 games at home, where they have posted a solid 13-6-3 record so far this season. Mikko Koivu and Guillaume Latendresse are skating and will be a boost to the Wild’s offense when they return.

9. Colorado Avalanche

Record: 26-23-2 (54 points)

Regulation/OT Wins: 19

Games Remaining: 31 (15 home, 16 road)

Back-to-backs: 3

Head-to-head with 7th-12th: 7 games – Los Angeles (1), Minnesota (3), Calgary (2), Phoenix (1)

Completed season series with 7th-12th: Dallas (Won five points to four points)

Key injuries: F Matt Duchene (knee) is out indefinitely.

Outlook: The Avalanche have 15 home games to 16 road games and only three back-to-backs the rest of the way, but 12 of their final 31 games are within the Northwest Division, against which they are 2-10-0 so far this season. Forward Matt Duchene may be at least a couple weeks away from returning from his knee injury.

10. Dallas Stars

Record: 25-21-2 (52 points)

Regulation/OT Wins: 22

Games Remaining: 34 (16 home, 18 road)

Back-to-backs: 6

Head-to-head with 7th-12th: 11 games – Los Angeles (1), Minnesota (3), Calgary (4), Phoenix (3)

Completed season series with 7th-12th: Colorado (Lost four points to five points)

Key injuries: F Brenden Morrow (neck) will return after break.

Outlook: The Stars will be as healthy as a team can be at this time of the season and will have a full lineup for the first time in a long time. February will be a key month for the Stars. They play 16 games in 29 days, including four back-to-backs. They are 0-7-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.

11. Calgary Flames

Record: 23-21-6 (52 points)

Regulation/OT Wins: 21

Games Remaining: 32 (19 home, 13 road)

Back-to-backs: 4

Head-to-head with 7th-12th: 14 games – Los Angeles (2), Minnesota (2), Colorado (2), Dallas (4), Phoenix (4)

Completed season series with 7th-12th: None

Key injuries: F Matt Stajan (ankle) and G Henrik Karlsson (knee) are day-to-day. F Curtis Glencross (MCL) expected to return late February/ early March. F David Moss (ankle) is out indefinitely.

Outlook: The Flames play 19 of their final 32 games at home, where they are 13-7-2 this season and 14 of their 32 games left come against teams ranked 7th through 12th in the Western Conference.

12. Phoenix Coyotes

Record: 22-20-8 (52 points)

Regulation/OT Wins: 20

Games Remaining: 32 (18 home, 14 road)

Back-to-backs: 3

Head-to-head with 7th-12th: 12 games – Los Angeles (2), Minnesota (2), Colorado (1), Dallas (3), Calgary (4)

Completed season series with 7th-12th: None

Key injuries: D Derek Morris (lower body) is day-to-day.

Outlook: Five of the Coyote’s first six games out of the break and 18 of their final 32 games are at home, but they have been a lackluster 10-9-4 at Jobing.com Arena this season. They are in pretty good shape on the injury-front coming out of the break.