If early returns are an indicator of success down the road, then the Dallas Stars have gotten off to exactly the right start.
A year ago at this time, the Dallas Stars were in the midst of a fitful start to the 2014-2015 campaign. Two losses were followed up by two wins, and then the maddening trend of overtime losses started with a flabbergasting 6-5 defeat to the Philadelphia Flyers at American Airlines Center.
By the end of last season, their erratic nature caused them to miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons. In terms of goals scored, they only trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning in NHL scoring and they were tops in the Western Conference by a significant margin. Conversely, however, the Stars were fifth worst in goals allowed in the entire league. It made for a frustrating season that started with such heightened expectations.
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Fast forward to Saturday night versus the Florida Panthers. After wobbling a bit in the early stages of the second period and falling behind 2-0, the Stars got better as the game wore on and stormed back to win, 4-2. Their record is now 4-1-0, which is good for a tie for first place in the murderer’s row that comprises the NHL Central Division.
This development is pleasing in more than a few ways. While the scoring punch is still showing to be as lethal as ever, the efforts they’re getting on the defensive end and in net are light years better than they were at this time last season.
All the while, you have Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Ales Hemsky clipping along at a point a game or higher.
The improvement on the back end is in no doubt attributable to off season additions such as defenseman Johnny Oduya and goalie Antti Niemi. But something I’ve noticed early on is an improved focus on defending by the entire team. Their positioning has been better. As a result, they have given up fewer odd man rushes. Goaltenders have not been left out to dry as often, and it’s showing up in the win-loss column.
Stars coaching must be given its due as well. Where a commitment to defending was seemingly abandoned for long stretches last year, this season has shown the exact opposite. Granted, there have been a few swerves and lurches here and there. But save for the third period meltdown versus the Colorado Avalanche on October 10th, they’ve been able to contain their uneven patches long enough to secure victories.
All the while, you have Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Ales Hemsky clipping along at a point per game or higher. The contributions of Cody Eakin and Mattias Janmark cannot be overlooked, either. It’s only a matter of time before Patrick Sharp joins the party to provide even more scoring depth.
On paper, the aforementioned Stars are scary enough. It just so happens that these guys are thus far playing to their paper. As a long suffering Stars’ fan, this is encouraging, if not downright exciting.
Of course, my excitement is tempered. The Stars are only five games into the season, after all. Slumps and injuries happen and can derail the most promising starts. But if early returns are any indicator of what may come, the playoffs are certainly within this team’s realm of capability.
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