The NHL schedule has slowly crept from its dog days to nearing its final quarter. For the Dallas Stars, this means quite a bit. For one, they have 25 games left to play in their regular season. Second, since January 20th, the Stars have been playing their best hockey of the year by far. Their 14-4-1 over their last 19 games says as much.
This was highlighted by a 6-3 win yesterday in Minnesota in which left winger Jason Robertson tallied his second hat trick in as many games. That was the first back-to-back hat trick since the franchise moved to Dallas, and it underscores how the budding superstar has been carrying the team. They wouldn’t be in the position they’re in without him.
It’s been a long, drawn-out process, but the Dallas Stars are a contender now.
The same can be said for young goaltender Jake Oettinger. For most of this recent run, the Stars are simply getting a better effort from their netminder than the other team is. It’s resulted in a lot of wins at a time in which the Stars need them most. For his part, Oettinger just seems to come up with “that save” more often than not.
While the Stars have been on this heater, they’ve managed to maneuver into the first wild card spot in the Western Conference. Better yet, that spot should remain safe regardless of what happened on Sunday night. Far be it from mission accomplished, but it does warrant a deeper look into how this club reversed their fortunes.
The turnaround can be traced to January 20th. To that point, Dallas was 18-16-2 and had just gotten run out of their own barn by the hapless Montreal Canadiens on January 18th. It looked like the Stars were destined to underachieve yet again. The anti-Rick Bowness faction was in full throat and the team just could not get out of their own way.
But something has happened along the way. In fact, since January 20th, Dallas’s points percentage (.750) is only behind the Calgary Flames (.816) and the Colorado Avalanche (.789) in the Western Conference. This means they’re outperforming the likes of St. Louis, Minnesota, Edmonton, and Los Angeles. No small accomplishment for a team that was virtually dead in the water only six weeks ago.
It’s going to pain some of the fans, but credit has to go to the coaching staff for helping to pull the whole thing back onto the road. We all knew this team had the on-paper talent to be a playoff contender. They’re showing that potential now. Also, it helps tremendously when you have a goaltender who is developing into a bona fide stud like Oettinger. All star netminding will win a lot of games and cover up a lot of warts.
But, as I’ve said in this space before, the Stars haven’t left themselves any room for error. The rest of the field in the West has done them a favor by falling back to the pack a bit, but a bad week would likely put the Stars back on the outside looking in. For right now, they’re on the good side looking out, and I’d prefer they keep it that way.