Stars in good stead, but plenty of work looms ahead

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 26: Jason Spezza
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 26: Jason Spezza /

With the All Star break now behind them, the Dallas Stars can now focus on the home stretch toward the playoffs.

Well, the Christmas break, bye week, and All Star break came and went in rapid fire succession. Through it all, the Dallas Stars easily played their most inspired hockey of the season. To wit, since December 21st, the Stars posted a 10-4-1 record. Good thing, too, because the majority of the Central Division decided play extremely well themselves.

Normally, a run of that magnitude precipitates a substantial climb up the divisional and conference standings. This year–especially in the loaded West–it only allows Dallas to keep pace in the wild card hunt. In fact, I’m hard pressed to remember a year in which the conference experienced a logjam of this nature. A cursory glance at the standings shows the obvious: only three teams in the Western Conference are really “out of it” at this juncture.

Of course, this means twelve teams will spend roughly the next two months jockeying for playoff seeding. This also means that come the end of the regular season, there will likely be a few pretty good squads on the outside looking in. This is the predicament the Dallas Stars find themselves in right now.

Now they’re not in bad shape by any stretch. They currently hold the first wild card spot and a relatively comfortable three point lead over the group of teams behind them. If anything, because of the tight standings, they’re essentially competing in playoff games on a nightly basis. It makes for some incredibly fun hockey, albeit not good for one’s already high blood pressure.

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Thirty-two games remain starting with tonight’s tilt versus the Los Angeles Kings. Conventional wisdom dictates that the Stars need to get to one hundred points in order to secure a playoff berth. So a little math determines that they need to procure forty of the remaining sixty-four possible points left on their schedule. At their current pace, they’re on a course to around ninety-eight. I’m not sure if that gets the job done. Despite their latest stretch of great hockey, they’ll have to get even better as the season winds down.

Fortunately, they have the personnel to keep it all up. Tyler Seguin continues to show a maturation that I candidly didn’t think possible under coach Ken Hitchcock.

I was concerned that Hitch’s grating style would eventually wear on his star center. And who knows, it still may. But for right now, Seguin’s game is evolving into a two-way juggernaut. The rap on Seguin was that he wasn’t necessarily cut out for things like defense and penalty killing. Well, Hitchcock has turned that notion on its ear. It speaks to the coach’s ability to, you know, coach. Bringing him back to the Stars’ organization wasn’t just a stab at nostalgia and getting butts in seats. It was a recognition by General Manager Jim Nill that this team could win now. Thy just needed a not-so-gentle nudge in that direction. Hitchcock provides exactly that.

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Furthermore, Seguin’s blossoming simply serves to complement the other core members of this bunch. Captain Jamie Benn, winger Alexander Radulov, defenseman John Klingberg, and goalie Ben Bishop round out the quintet that the Stars’ hopes rest upon. Granted, they’re not alone. But the fortunes of this team rest squarely on their marquis players. As they go, so do the Dallas Stars and their playoff fortunes.

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In horse racing parlance, the Stars are nearing the top of the stretch. They’re stalking the field and have hopes of finishing in the money.  They’re not the favorite, but they have that dark horse vibe about them, which can pay off big with the right horse on the right day. Sometimes you can see the win coming. Suffice to say, this is the expectation, not only from every level of the organization, but from a fan base that’s dying to cash a winning ticket.