In a season that’s been weirder than their own standards, the Dallas Stars appear to have hit their stride since the Christmas break.
If the DFW Metroplex was a hotter hockey market, then the Dallas Stars would no question be the talk of the NHL. Between a horrid 1-7-1 start, a massive rebound, a firing of their head coach, and the spectacle of the Winter Classic, there’s been no shortage of their names being bandied about. It might make a team of lesser character crater.
That’s not to say it’s been all smooth sailing on the ice. Even after they stumbled out of the gates, there have been just enough lulls to keep a skittish fan base on its toes. But when everything is boiled down, it’s hard not to be impressed by the team’s resolve both off and on the ice.
To wit, since October 19th–which is the line of demarcation from the bad start–the Stars have posted a gaudy 23-7-3 mark. That’s 49 points obtained out of a possible 66. That means they’ve pulled in a little over 74% of the points on their schedule in that stretch. If you extrapolate that over an 82-game sample size, then the Stars would be on a 121-point pace, which is just phenomenal by any metric.
Further, you can’t overlook the events of December 10th. It was on that day that the Stars abruptly parted ways with then-coach Jim Montgomery over “unprofessional conduct”. The organization was tight-lipped about the dismissal at the time, which only fed rampant speculation. It has since come out that Montgomery entered an inpatient rehab program for alcohol abuse. Montgomery himself released a statement indicating that his dismissal was the right move.
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Again, a lesser team might’ve wobbled off course in light of all they’ve been through. But if anything, the Stars appear to have galvanized. It’s not without its flaws, though. Despite their recent four-game winning streak, they have developed a habit of giving up the first goal, or two, before storming back to take control. One need look no further than the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. Facing early penalty trouble–and a game misconduct from Corey Perry–the Stars gave up an early 2-0 lead. No problem. They proceeded to roar back with four unanswered goals to win in front of 85,630 frenzied fans at the Cotton Bowl.
The Winter Classic was a unique spectacle. Despite the fact that it was the lowest-rated telecast of the series, it was no small feat that a non-traditional hockey market managed to pack 85,000-plus into a dated football palace for the league’s showcase event. It was the second-largest attendance in the history of the NHL, and it should remind the remaining doubters that hockey is thriving in places it didn’t used to.
Last but not least, the efforts of interim head coach Rick Bowness need to be appreciated here. He took the reins in the uncertainty following Montgomery’s ouster and has managed a 7-3-1 record of his own. The bottom line here is that the Stars finally have the right mix inside their locker room to withstand things that might have unraveled past teams.
It’s all pointing to something quite positive as they enter the second half of the season. The Stars are third in the Central Division, fourth in the Western Conference, and are firmly in control of their destiny, in terms of their playoff fate. It’s a stark contrast from where they were in October, so give the players credit for persevering through all the controversy.