The Dallas Stars were not supposed to be contenders this season right? All we kept hearing over the summer and in the preseason is that the Stars had a chance to improve this season a bit after back-to-back seasons without trips into the playoffs, but that they were still not going to have a good shot at being a playoff team. Most publications and hockey “experts” picked the Stars to fall somewhere between 7th and 11th in their predictions and no one I can find had Dallas better then 7th, much less leading the Pacific division and taking one of the top spots. But as the NHL inches close to the halfway point of the season (most teams will hit it in about two weeks), there is a “surprise” team contending not just for the division title in the Pacific, but also for the western conference lead with the Detroit Red Wings. Dallas took over first in the conference for about 24 hours after beating the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night in front of one of the better crowds to be at the AAC this season. 5-2 is an impressive win no matter how you do it, but the Stars continue to win games in certain areas.
This team still struggles in some areas and has things that draw concerns from fans and media members, but finds ways to win games. Dallas gives up more shots then they take most nights, had one of the worst starts ever to a season by a special teams unit as a whole that we have seen around here, and often seem to disappear for 10-15 mins of games. But this team is finding ways to win, something they did very little of last season.
A lot of it starts with the team confidence, and it shows. Brad Richards is leading by example and leading the offense, but is not being relied upon to do it all himself. The team has two solid scoring lines up top most nights, but the third line is being lead by the likes of Steve Ott and Adam Burish and they are chipping in to along with causing problems and stirring things up like expected. The team as a whole just looks like they are playing a world above last season. The defense did not change over at all from last year and was expected to be one of the worst in the league, but they are playing as a unit and the pairs look like they have confidence in each other. Teammates being able to rely upon their mates on the ice as boosts confidence in each player that they can help the team and play their roles. And with that happening, everyone seems to be stepping up at the right times and playing each night like we wished they had the last two seasons. Consistent goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft when the team needs it is also huge too. Turco may have been here a while and been a All-Star in the past, but he was starting to really show age and downturning and it has only continued in Chicago. Something that shows how much more consistent and overall better the team is playing: Dallas did not get three wins in a row all last season, but the Stars have won three or more games in a row four times already this season.
Tonight the Stars host the Calgary Flames and hope to keep their winning streak going. This is the second of three straight games at home and in a stretch of five home games in six. The Flames have been sliding down again this season, and there are starting to be a lot of screams for the team to just blow up and fire their coach. It has been a bad few years for the franchise and they don’t look like will be coming out of it for a couple more years at least. So this is an opportunity for Dallas to continue their stellar season and just beat up on one of the few garbage teams in the west. Puck drops at the AAC at 7:30PM.