The Dallas Stars are off to the best start in franchise history and for that reason, they will be able to rest easy over their short Christmas break.
It was setting up to be a fun season. The Stars already had Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and John Klingberg on board, plus they had added Patrick Sharp, among others, in the offseason. The team had been showing signs of greatness the past two years and it is all coming together now.
While many had high expectations for the Stars, I don’t think anyone predicted their high-level of play throughout the first two and a half months of the season. Through 35 games, the Stars have the best start in their franchise’s history (26-7-2, 54 points) and there’s a few things that have contributed to their early success:
Star players have risen to the occasion.
Coming into the season, the Stars knew they would have to rely heavily on their budding superstar duo of Benn and Seguin, plus their newest discovery in defenseman John Klingberg. In 2014-15, they were the key players in most victories and led the Stars through thick and thin.
During most of October, November and December, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have been battling near the top of major statistical categories. At the moment, they both have 46 points, good enough for a tie at second behind Patrick Kane.
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Jamie Benn has avoided a slump after his Art Ross-winning season last year. He has 22 goals (tied for most in the league) and 24 assists to go with a +/- of 17. Tyler Seguin is busy in some of the same categories with 19 goals (fourth in the league) and 27 assists with a +/- of 15.
John Klingberg has risen to the elite level regarding defensemen in the NHL. His 5 goals and 27 assists has him second to only Erik Karlsson in total points for defensemen. To go along with that, he has become one of the best at losing defenders and his puck handling has improved since last season.
Together, these players form one of the most deadly trios in the NHL and it’s the reason why each of them has a game-winning goal in 3-on-3 overtime. Benn, Seguin and Klingberg are among the best of the best in the league and they have not eased off a bit in 2015 which is why the Stars have the most points in the league at the moment.
The Stars are winning games against the best in the NHL.
The Stars had a lot of different problems in the 2014-15 season but a major one was their ability to play consistent against elite teams in the league. In one game, they would play well and pick up a big win while they would get throttled in other games. That simply hasn’t been the case this season.
In their first look at an elite team, the Stars were able to beat the Washington Capitals 3-2. Though the Caps did not have their No. 1 goalie, Braden Holtby, in between the pipes, their stacked forward lines consisting of Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom provided enough firepower to win games.
Even though Ovechkin tied the game up in the third, the Stars were able to pull out a victory behind an incredible goal by Jason Spezza. The win has continued to look more and more impressive as the Caps have made their way up to second behind the Stars in the league standings.
Next, they faced off against a Montreal Canadiens teams without Carey Price and absolutely destroyed them 6-2. The offensive onslaught continued all night long with Benn, Seguin, Spezza and Sharp all scoring goals. They were able to frustrate star players like Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban, which led to such a lopsided final score.
Most recently, the Stars went up against the Chicago Blackhawks in a possible preview of a Western Conference Playoffs matchup. Again, the Stars used their speed to wear out the defense and attacked all night long to win 4-0.
The story of this game was how good the defense looked against Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, another great duo in the league. Antti Niemi, a former Blackhawk, served up a 20-save shutout and got some help from everyone else on the defensive end.
The Stars did have one hiccup on the second night of a back-to-back. A 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues did not look good and the team looked sluggish, but they will have a chance to change their fortunes against a rival team when they play them on back-to-back nights Dec. 26 and Dec. 27.
The goaltending duo of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen is working.
One concern for fans was if the new and improved goaltending would work for the Stars. They had traded for Niemi during the draft and were hoping that another No. 1 goaltender would light a fire in Kari Lehtonen.
Though Lehtonen has had a few rough games this season, his record of 11-2-0 is quite impressive and Niemi’s record of 15-5-2 is just as good. When one is having an off night, the other has usually been able to come in and change the game. A classic example of that was against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 21. Lehtonen gave up two early goals that put the Stars in a hole. He was quickly replaced by Niemi who came in the game and stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Stars’ 6-3 win.
The two goalies are former teammates with the Finnish national team and have been arguably the biggest reason the Stars have been successful since goaltending has been a flaw in the past few seasons.
It’s obvious that the Stars are a real threat this season and all of the points made above are the reasons why they are succeeding in such a great way. Christmas will give them much-needed rest as they prepare to get back to work and finish up what could be a special season.