Enjoy this, Dallas Stars fans. Savor it.
If you've stuck with this team faithfully through the last couple of years, you've earned it.
It's hard to say that 20-10-3 means anything on Monday, December 20th, but in this case it does. It really does. Let your friend, the Penguins fan laugh at you. Let your boss, the Red Wing fan tell you they've accomplished nothing of significance. That's fine. You enjoy this right now, because if you've watched the last 197 Dallas Stars hockey games like I have, you deserve to stick out your chest, at least today, and say "this team is for real."
197 regular season games ago the Stars were coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals against the very same Red Wings they beat last night. They had just acquired Brad Richards. They had finally broken through in the playoffs after so many disappointing first round exits. Marty Turco had silenced his critics. Brenden Morrow was coming into his own. They were supposed to compete for it all in 2008-2009.
What's happened since then?
We saw perhaps the most injury plagued season in Stars history and a 12th place finish. We saw the firing of Dave Tippett. We saw the budget get taken away, and with it expectations. We saw a decaying team erode what "Dallas Stars" meant to the league for the last decade. Another 12 place finish. The owner that brought us a Cup steered the franchise into the gutter and his name became a poison that eats away at attendance even today. We were told the team would be sold in July. It wasn't. We were told the team would be sold before the season started. It wasn't. We were told the team would be sold before the end of the year. It hasn't been.
And all the while the Kings and Coyotes have risen and excelled and the Sharks raise Pacific Division banner after banner; the banners we used to take for granted every year. The Stars have faded. Irrelevant. An after thought in the consciousness of the hockey world.
Not today. 20-10-3 may be only just slightly better than other teams in the conference thanks to these ridiculous standings, but after the Stars swept their back to back this weekend, it's time to say "You know what? This is FUN. This team has been REALLY good so far."
It's time to let yourself feel good about it for a minute.
How are they doing it?
As a community of Stars fans, I think that's a question we try to answer every day. How? Why? What is different?
Personnel? The goaltending has made a huge difference, there's no doubt, but that's not all of it.
Coaching? They're saying some different things in the room this year, sure. They've changed their fore-checks and some of their PK strategies and whatnot. They have a new face among the assistants, but this isn't all of it either.
Was it the departure of Turco, Modano and Lehtinen? Is being a younger group helping? Were there some old habits creeping in from what now seem like ancient times? Maybe, but that's hardly the whole reason things have changed.
Maybe it's a little bit of "all of the above." Whatever it is, the whole seems to be greater than the sum of those parts (that have changed). Winning is contagious. It breeds confidence. Adam Burish told me they go into every game expecting that they're going to win, and while he wasn't here last season he said he can see the culture has changed. The confidence of the group as a whole wasn't there last year.
Another thing we've been saying all along is "this could all come crashing down with a single bad week" because of the tightness of the standings. That's something the players have to look over their shoulder at all year long, and we certainly believe it to be true, but is it?
I'm pretty sure they already had a bad week. A really bad week. A loss in Columbus, an UGLY loss in Chicago, a pretty ugly win (be honest) over Carolina and then an absolute beat down in Phoenix constitutes a bad week. After that they were to face three of their next four on the road against good Western Conference foes. It looked like the bad week would turn into an extended slump and somehow they go ahead and, after TERRIBLE starts in each game, WIN all three of the road games and get a point at home against the Sharks.
Again, you just have to ask, "How??"
Last year through 33 games they had 38 points. Not all that far away from this seasons 43, but at the same time, they didn't get win #20 until January 16th. They're both simultaneously "not that much better than last year" and "WAY better than last year." Figure that one out.
Or better yet, don't figure that one out.
It might all shatter tomorrow. It might get even better. We don't know. Don't worry about the points pace this morning. Don't worry about the combined records of Detroit, Nashville, Vancouver and Phoenix coming up next week on the schedule.
Today, on this wonderful Monday, just enjoy it. It's been too long since we've had this much to enjoy.