FRISCO -- With the Dallas Stars about to kick out a key part of their schedule, coach Glen Gulutzan is trying to balance pushing and prodding his team to raise its level of play, and keeping the message positive at the same time.
After Saturday’s 2-1 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild, Gulutzan‘s demeanor wasn’t exactly upbeat. He was not pleased with some elements of his team’s performance.
Gulutzan was happy with the win, which cut into the Wild’s lead over the Stars in the standings, but was irritated with his team’s first period, when they turned the puck over too much and gave Minnesota a few too many scoring chances. The stellar goaltending of Kari Lehtonen kept them out of trouble.
“We relied on our goalie a lot. We have to be better. We have to be better,” Gulutzan said after Saturday’s game. “I’m ecstatic about the two points and it’s going to help us, but we have a different level we need to get to.”
Monday, after looking at some video and talking to some of his players, Gulutzan had a different outlook on things.
“The most positive thing I got was from the video was that we played physical, and some guys had some good games. The positive thing I took from today in talking to Benny (Jamie Benn) and (Eric) Nystrom is how dead they were Saturday,” Gulutzan said. “When you hear it from a majority of your guys and your workers that they didn’t have much energy in them, but we came out physical and we played hard. Yeah, we turned some things over and it just goes to show you how important rest is. That three (games) in four (days) and travel to LA, they felt dead Saturday.
“I come away from it now thinking maybe that I shouldn’t have been, in my own mind and not to them, so down on them. I felt for the most part they worked that game and that’s all we can ask for.”
The Stars have won two of three since the All-Star break and three of their last four games overall. But in a 1-0 win over Anaheim just before the break and Saturday’s win over the Wild, Lehtonen was the reason the Stars got the two points. Lehtonen’s teammates know they have to ramp it up during a stretch where the Stars play 12 games in 20 days leading up to the trade deadline.
“We definitely need to play better than we have lately. We know how big these games are. This is the month we have to start winning and play real well,” said Stars forward Loui Eriksson. “The last game we had too many turnovers early and gave them too many chances. We have to clean that up, the turnovers and just overall play I think.”
The Stars' next four games are against Phoenix, Columbus, Buffalo and Los Angeles. Phoenix and Los Angeles are two teams the Stars are battling for those final two playoff spots in the West. Columbus and Buffalo are two teams who are out of the playoff picture.
"This is a big stretch for us. The next three, four games are games we’ve got to have," said defenseman Alex Goligoski "We know we have a tough month coming up schedule-wise. Realistically this month is going to make or break us. We’ve got to go on a little run here and pick up points in all these games."
And that's why right now is good time for the Stars to get their game in order. Gulutzan said getting the level of play up at this point of the season is the like the season itself – it’s a grind. But he and his team have to keep plugging away if they want to climb up the standings and into the top eight in Western Conference.
“It’s millimeters now. You just have to keep pushing and coaxing and encouraging. That’s your job as a coach,” Gulutzan said. “Not so much asking for more, but just keep heaving up in different directions. Heave up one side that might be sagging a little bit, just keep pushing the team forward. But you have to stay positive because these are grinds. It doesn’t get easier if you’re negative all the time. You’ve got to look for push and good things.”
*Brenden Morrow is expected miss the next three games with neck/shoulder problems. Morrow will miss Tuesday’s game and then isn’t expected to be on the Stars’ upcoming two-game road trip to Columbus and Buffalo.
*The Stars sent defenseman Adam Pardy to the Texas Stars on a conditioning assignment. Pardy will play games with Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday and then is scheduled to rejoin Dallas in Columbus on Thursday.