Dallas Stars finding their form, shooting into contention

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 7: Jason Spezza
ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 7: Jason Spezza /

Two weeks ago, the Dallas Stars lurked on the outer edges of the playoffs. Today they find themselves firmly in the postseason picture.

When last we met, your Dallas Stars found themselves in a frustrating rut. They’d win one–usually at home–and look like bona fide contenders. Next, they’d lose one–usually on the road–and look miles away from the prize. You’d see flashes of brilliance here and there, but they lacked any modicum of consistency.

Those days now appear over. And if the last two weeks are any indication, we’re seeing a team jelling under the tutelage of their new boss. It’s showing in their structure. It’s showing in their overall level of confidence. They’re playing a reasonable brand of Ken Hitchcock hockey, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll plateau anytime soon.

For a number of reasons, this is very encouraging. The first twenty games provided plenty of hand wringing and wondering whether or not they would find that elusive “it”. A series of fits and starts began the season as they posted a 10-9-1 mark through the first quarter of the campaign.

Since then, they’ve won six of their last seven and have leapfrogged their way over some of their conference foes. This is no small feat. As usual, the NHL’s Western Conference is stacked. It’s best to make moves now and not have to rely upon a late surge. We’ve been there before with with this team, and the results aren’t always favorable. Plus, their game right now is super-entertaining to behold.

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Nowhere was this more apparent than during their recent home and home against the Chicago Blackhawks. Both contests had a playoff atmosphere. Both games went to overtime. Somewhat surprisingly, both fell in the Stars’ favor. I say surprisingly because divisional games have been their bugaboo thus far. More divisional losses would put a severe damper on their playoff aspirations. But if they start making headway in the Central Division, it only helps their cause. The matches versus Chicago featured fast skating and end-to-end action, and really gave a glimpse at the best the NHL has to offer.

If those games weren’t enough, the Stars further bolstered their case with last night’s tilt in Denver. If you follow this team at all, you know they seldom in Colorado. They seemingly emptied the tank on Saturday night while winning in a shootout against the aforementioned Blackhawks. Fatigue, thin air, and a lousy history pointed to the Stars perhaps falling to earth a bit.

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Well, the exact opposite happened. Dallas jumped on the board first and never looked back. Granted, the Avalanche were missing their captain, Gabriel Landeskog, who is in the middle of a four-game suspension for cross-checking Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk in the neck. Nevertheless, no one on the Dallas bench felt sorry for the shorthanded Avs. The Stars poured pucks into the net en route to a systematic 7-2 demolition.

The most heartening aspect of this run is the fact that they’re getting scoring from up and down the lineup. Sure, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin score at their usual pace. But you also have guys like Radek Faksa, Mattias Janmark, and Brett Ritchie chipping in. Scoring depth is a coveted commodity in today’s NHL. If this continues, the Stars promise to be a very dangerous bunch as this season progresses.

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There’s no rest for the weary, though. Two of their next three are against their Central Division bunk mates. Six of their next eight are on the road. But you don’t even have to squint to see it right now. The Dallas Stars have bought in to Hitchcock’s system and are playing their best hockey of the season. The rest of the NHL will soon find out.