The Dallas Stars are the poster child for what I believe is the most important message throughout an NHL season; this is why they play 82 games.
Dallas was my pick to win the Stanley Cup. A great mix of youth and veterans itching to win, the Stars had lofty expectations to build off their incredible 2019 campaign that saw them reach the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I’m not sure what it would look like if the sky ever fell, but that’s what happened in Dallas through the first nine games. The Stars stumbled to a 1-7-1 start; their lone win coming at the Washington Capitals on Oct. 8. It got so bad that second-year coach Jim Montgomery was already on the hot seat.
The man led the Stars, the most underachieving team in the past decade, to a playoff series victory in his first year after coaching NCAA hockey, and he was already in danger of being canned.
Since then, Dallas has played like that championship contender. Despite their four-game winning streak ending Sunday at Winnipeg, the Stars are on a five-game point streak and have a point in nine of their past 10 games (8-1-1).
What’s most bizarre of Dallas’ stretch is that it’s not the big boys making plays. Jamie Benn has six points in 18 games; Tyler Seguin is tied for the team lead with 11 points. Young forward Roope Hintz, who is out for the next two weeks with a lower-body injury, leads with nine goals. No one else on the team has more than four.
Defense and goaltending have ruled the day. Dallas has allowed one goal in six of its past nine games; the Stars have allowed three goals in the other three games and are 1-1-1 in those contests. They had a 2-1 lead Sunday against the Jets but lost 3-2 in overtime.
Ben Bishop (5-5-1) has won four of his past five starts, and Anton Khudobin (3-3-1) had won his past three starts before losing Sunday. Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said it best last week; you need two goaltenders to go deep into the playoffs. If Dallas’ tandem can stay healthy, that’ll play a factor in April.
The development of second-year defenseman Miro Heiskanen has been crucial, as he has nine points in 18 games. He’s proving to be a Norris Trophy candidate sooner rather than later. For all of the years Dallas has dealt with lackluster talent at the blue line, he and John Klingberg are going to carry the defense for the next decade.
Dallas continues its Canadian road trip Wednesday, and it’s not an easy path: at Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton. After that, though, the Stars get nine of their next 12 at home. That’s a stretch where the Stars could make a charge.
It’s been a long time since the Stars even thought a parade down Victory Avenue was possible. With this team, the chances are great. With this run they’ve been on, the threat of Dallas being a force in the Western Conference is alive and well.
Senators at Devils: You won’t find many times where the Senators will get love, at least for now, but Ottawa has looked good as of late. In this matchup where goaltending is uncertain, Anders Nilsson should outduel Cory Schneider. SENATORS
Jets at Lightning: Time will tell if Tampa Bay’s sweep of the NHL Global Series will launch some momentum, but at least coming back home from Sweden after a few days off should recharge them. They’ll also be up to play against a solid Jets team. LIGHTNING
Sabres at Blackhawks: Welcome to Regression Land, Buffalo. The Sabres have fooled us again. It’ll be a second game of a back-to-back for both teams, but the Blackhawks will be motivated regardless of the outcome of their game against Nashville. BLACKHAWKS
Last week: 1-2