Will Dallas Stars goaltender, Kari Lehtonen (pictured left) be able to get enough breathers in a shortened, yet condensed season?
As soon as the Collective Bargaining Agreement was finalized between the NHL and the NHLPA on Saturday with the signing of the memo of understanding, the schedule that the league had been rumored to be sitting on for many months was finally released. Teams were given some idea about the start of their seasons so that their staff could plan accordingly.
One aspect of the Stars’ schedule was very well known, long before the official schedule was released.
Take a deep breath and hold on tight.
Of course, every team is looking at a 48-game schedule within approximately 99 days. However, it’s the travel that has the Stars standing out among other teams. Already the most traveled team in the league year in and year out thanks to their membership in the Pacific Division, the Stars will look to play a very division-heavy, lockout-shortened schedule in a very small time frame.
The league looked favorable on Dallas to start the marathon session. Starting at home versus divisional rival and defending Pacific Division champion, Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas will not leave the central time zone for the first two weeks. A true test for the Stars will be their ability to address their issue with back-to-back games from last season. Going 1-11-2 last year in the 2nd game of a back-to-back undoubtedly left the Stars watching the post season from home for a fourth season in a row. January starts with a back-to-back between the aforementioned Coyotes and then the Stars will jump on a charter to St. Paul and face the Minnesota Wild. January ends with a road back-to-back as they head to Columbus then up to Detroit to face the new-look Red Wings. Monthly prediction: 4-2-1 (9 points)
The NHL was not in the mood to celebrate the month of romance with Dallas. Of the 14 games in a 28-day month, only 6 are in the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center. And keeping with the hellacious month of December the league originally had for the Stars, after a home-and-home with Phoenix, Dallas heads to Colorado then north of the border to take on the kids in Edmonton. Not a bad trip by any means, especially since they get a travel day then face the Ducks in Sheldon Souray’s return to Dallas. However, even with 3 days off, they then take the infamous Western Canada trip, starting with a back-to-back against the Oilers and then down Alberta to face the Flames in Calgary. The Stars will complete their season series against the Oilers on the last day of February as Edmonton comes to Dallas (teams face non-divisional teams 3 times in the shortened season). Monthly prediction: 6-6-2 (14 points)
The Stars will either make or miss the playoffs in the month of March. At this point, teams are going to start seeing the wear and tear of a lot of games in a very short time. Back up goaltenders will be looked upon to give number ones a rest while the older players of the league will feel the extended time off in their backs and legs. When you couple the fact the Stars have 13 games, nine of which are at home (yes, you read that correctly…NINE) along with the fact that every game (with maybe the exception of the one game against the Flames) will be against teams that either made the playoffs last year or are expected to contend for the top-8 this year. Dallas will face the defending Stanley Cup champion, Los Angeles Kings three times, twice on the road. Oh, in addition to the home cooking in March, there is only one back-to-back. Dallas’ “March to the Playoffs” begins here. Monthly prediction: 9-2-2 (20 points)
This is where we see if March was “lucky” for the Stars and put them in a position to return to the post season after missing for four years. If you take a visual glance at the month of April, it looks like a checkerboard with all the every other nights in which the Stars play. Only twice does Dallas enjoy a two-day break and the two back-to-backs they have are one home and one road. The Stars go Duck hunting to start off the month as the first three games are against Anaheim. Dallas will also face San Jose three times and the Kings twice more as they look to establish their position against the Pacific Division. Despite a rough month, I think the Stars do enough in the preceding months to find themselves in the top-8 of the Western Conference and will make the playoffs. Monthly prediction: 6-7-1 (13 points)
I think it’s going to take 45-50 points to get into the post season. The Stars will finish with 56 and sit 5th or 6th in the West as I think LA will win the division and San Jose will finish 2nd. Dallas will take 3rd and Phoenix and Anaheim will complete the Pacific.