A cursory look at the NHL standings shows a Dallas Stars team on the outer fringes of the playoff picture. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In horse racing parlance, we are at the virtual quarter pole of the hockey season. The Dallas Stars find themselves in the back-middle of the pack in the Western Conference. Truth be told, I expected at least a mild improvement over last year’s bunch. The eyeball test has suggested as much. But through the first twenty games of this campaign, Dallas has exactly as many points (21) as they did at the same time last season.
Now, while this might cause concern, the long view must rule of the day. First and foremost, the team is in the process of implementing an entirely new system. Hard work and a focus on defense are hallmarks of a Ken Hitchcock-coached team. And as “they” say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. These things take time.
Thus far, reviews are mixed at best. Take the recent road trip, for instance. Dallas pulled a solitary point out of a possible six. Losses at Carolina, Florida, and Tampa Bay all looked as bad as they seemed. Even then, they bookended that horrid away stretch with some very solid home victories.
In fact, the home versus road splits are the sharp line of demarcation for this year’s Stars. In the friendly confines of American Airlines Center, they’re a dominant 7-2-0. Away from home, they’re a paltry 3-7-1. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what the problem is.
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Road woes aside, the Stars are still very much in the playoff hunt. Granted, it’s at the back end of the conference standings. But given the uneven nature of their season to date, this is a positive development. There are enough flashes to remain encouraged. Plus, the roster contains enough star power to portend a run of improved play and a climb in the standings. Moreover, this team is still trying to absorb the game plan and overall wisdom from their new boss. Growing pains are expected, yet they aren’t killing the season.
These early-season personality quirks were on full display during their most recent game against Edmonton. Yours truly was comfortably ensconced among the hoi polloi up in the 300’s. The Stars stormed out to a 2-0 lead. But true to form, they gave up three goals in less than five maddening minutes of actual game time. Amazingly, however, the good guys roared back with four unanswered goals of their own to salt away a boisterous 6-3 win.
That game provided an apt microcosm of their overall behaviors. The one truly exasperating thing about this bunch is their emotional fragility at this moment. They can look like world beaters for long stretches of games. But then they give up a weird goal, and you can pretty well see them grip their sticks a bit harder and develop a case of the yips.
Saturday was no exception, and you could see it in the arena. The Stars had that “Here we go again” look on their faces after giving up the lead in the opening minute of the second period. But to their credit, they used Devin Shore’s first goal of the season to pull even. From there, they never looked back. To be sure, those of are the types of catalysts they’ll need moving forward.
Look, it’s not flawless. There are warts that need a remedy. The penalty kill is faltering. They hemorrhage goals on the road. But the Dallas Stars possess something now that they lost a while back: structure. Sure, there are momentary lapses in form, but if we’re basing our opinions on the eyeball test, it looks better, and better is good.