(Photo courtesy of @ImValNichushkin on Twitter. Give it a follow. Brilliant account.)
So, Stars fans, we’ve arrived at the highly controversial, yet highly revered Olympic break. (We’ll give Ralph a break – no pun intended – for saying Olympics break. #SignRalph.) The Stars, following that horrific stretch in January, coast into the break sitting atop the Western Conference – or at least it feels that way.
For the first time since April of 2013, the Stars are one of the top 8 teams in the West, despite failing to get a point in 8 of their first 10 games in January. However, since that January 20th debacle in Nashville, Dallas has been unfathomably hot, earning points in all but one game – the night that Varlamov had somewhere close to 4756 saves, and the Avalanche won 4-3 in Dallas.
Also worth noting: the Stars won six times in that nine-game stretch. In those six games, not once did they concede more than one goal, and they shut out the opposition on three different occasions. Impressive, huh?
So what does all of this mean? If you’ve been a fan in the past few years, you should know that the Stars really have no problem being one of the eight playoff teams in the West – until they hit the month of April. Is this year going to be any different? Are they finally going to get back to playing playoff hockey in the American Airlines Center?
The easiest way to answer this is by looking at the upcoming schedule.
At first glance, you notice that it seems like they play A LOT of games. At least that’s the way I see it. Having those games in hand on Minnesota has been nice in terms of playoff positioning, but now it means that they will have to play two more games in the month-and-a-half remaining on the schedule. It may not end up making a huge difference, but it’s something worth keeping your eye on.
When you dive in further to the schedule, you notice that they have the St. Louis Blues three times, nine games against Central Division (#ConferenceIII) foes, and a lot of games against the Eastern Conference, which has given the Stars an absolute fit this season.
Some of the Eastern Conference games are going to be tough to win. Carolina, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Columbus are among those opponents, and Dallas has to visit each and every one of them.
There’s another aspect of the remaining schedule that will worry each and every Stars fan: in the second-half of their back-to-backs, the Stars have to face the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets once, and the Blues twice. (They also have to face the Panthers in the second-half of a back-to-back, but LOL.) That’s rough, especially given how poor this team has been in the second game of a back-to-back in these past few seasons.
With that being said, all of this happens after most of the Stars get two-and-a-half weeks off.
Jamie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin, and Kari Lehtonen are the only Olympians that the Stars are sending to Sochi. Benn will represent Canada, Nichushkin will represent Russia, and Lehtonen will represent Finland. Veterans like Sergei Gonchar and Ray Whitney will get much needed rest during this lengthy break, while younger, vitally important players like Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin will be able to prepare for the final 24 games of the regular season. This break also allows any injured players to rest up and get ready for the stretch run.
After bombarding you with useless information that you probably don’t care about, I personally think that if Stars are going to nudge their way into the playoffs this season, they have got to have the consistency they’ve had lately on the blue-line. They don’t have to run off nine-game stretches where they average one goal-against per game, but they can’t have any stretches where they’re giving up 3+ goals a night. Obviously this is nothing earth-shattering, but it’s something worth noting.
Keep the faith, Stars fans. The remainder of the regular season will be here before you know it!
STAT OF THE WEEK: Kari Lehtonen. That is all.