Just like that, the Dallas Stars are the hottest team in the Western Conference. If it weren't for the incredibly torrid pace of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Stars would have the best record in the NHL over the past ten games. The Stars are sitting firmly in second place in the conference and have built somewhat of a cushion over the rest of the Pacific Division, which mostly means that a loss doesn't send the Stars right back to the back of the bus.
It's a great feeling to have and the Stars are well on their way to proving that they are a team to be taken seriously. They've had wins against Detroit, Washington, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Phoenix and have shown an ability to not only compete against the best the NHL has to offer, but to do so while embracing a system the Stars struggled with last season. The confidence of this team is at an all-time high and it's safe to say that at this point the Stars are at a level not enjoyed since 2007.
It's amazing what a six-game winning streak can do for a team.
What is worrisome, however, is the threat of this team suddenly falling back to earth. Is the success of the Stars so far this season just a product of a friendly schedule? Are the Stars' imperfections being masked by goaltending that has been stellar and given the team a chance to win? The Stars, throughout this improbable winning streak, have won games that "they had no business winning" and have had to fight off bad starts to come roaring back for a victory late in the game.
Is this sort of success sustainable?
After last night's overtime win against the Minnesota Wild, Marc Crawford was obviously upset with his team's performance. He was very succinct in conveying his thoughts on whether this was the Stars' best effort and it seems to be -- at times -- that this is a trend the Stars are building. There have been games in which the Stars played great from the first period to the third and we praised the complete effort of the Stars in these wins. Lately however, and especially during this win streak, the Stars have been able to overcome pockets of extremely poor performances and win the game.
Despite the uneven effort throughout the game last night, Crawford was still able to praise his team's ability to get the win.
"I thought we gutted it out in the third period," Crawford said after the game. "We did not have our best stuff tonight. Part of it is because Minnesota really played well and they were desperate. Give them credit. They played with some desperation, especially late. We're really, really happy with the way our guys dug in tonight and found a way."
This is the theme of the season so far. Find a way.
They Stars, especially over the last month, have been vastly outplayed to start games and yet have been able to get the win in the end. One or two games like this and you get a bit concerned with the inconsistent effort. when it seems most games follow this trend you start to think that perhaps this is actually who these Dallas Stars are as a team. They're resilient, they have an incredible amount of heart and resolve and for the first time in a long they rally around each other when it's gets tough out on the ice.
"I give our guys our guys a great deal of credit," Crawford said. "They dug in tonight and found another level to play at. Those are things you do when you become a good team. You can see our confidence is very good right now. A lot of the attributes we've got now... the "stick with-it-ness" and finding another level...the determination..those are things you need to remember even when things are not going so well."
At times we have worried about whether these bad starts would come back to haunt the Stars as the season has progressed and whether these pockets of poor play was a true indication of this team's level of potential. Yet the Stars have proven that they won't be defined by the times they play poorly and will instead have the identity of a team that will be tough to beat, even when you've got them against the ropes.
That's not what it's been like lately in Dallas, as we've witnessed over the past few seasons a team that tended to fold when things got tough. Goals allowed late in the period or late in the game would take away valuable points from the Stars and the inability of this team to win in overtime or the shootout led directly to not making the playoffs last season. Several players on the Stars expressed last night, including captain Brenden Morrow, that this team is much different than those of the past and that right now the Stars are more of a true "team" than they've been in recent memory.
"We have a lot of different guys chipping in," Stephane Robidas said last night. "Different guys at different times. Our goaltending's been really good. I think we're playing with a lot more detail in our game and we do the little things."
The Stars are not a perfect team. It's tough to say that any team is truly "perfect" but it's easy to worry about whether the slow starts, the inconsistent effort within games themselves and the mental lapses at times will bring this good feeling crashing down. A six game winning streak is great, but when five out of six of those games have been one-goal victories you wonder if a bounce here or a bounce there would change things drastically.
The Stars are currently sixth in the NHL in points percentage (second in the West), a position that we should all be very happy with. However, of the teams in the top eight the Stars have the lowest ratio of goals for to goals allowed. They're power play and penalty killing percentages are near the bottom of the NHL. They allow a very high number of shots compared to the rest of the NHL and they're faceoff percentage is in the bottom half of the NHL.
They Stars are winning right now in spite of all these facts and no matter how you may feel about these statistics I can guarantee you one thing: the Stars may find success now but unless these numbers start to trend upward long-term success for this season will be doubtful. It's impossible to expect a team to win one-goal games night after night and while the Stars are finding a way now, there's going to be a time when the Stars will need to take a step to that next level.
What is happening, however, is that the Stars are learning the valuable lessons needed to be successful when the games really start to matter. This is a team that -- despite the struggles -- is finding a way to win and is embracing the true meaning of being a team. Starting with the goaltending that bails out the Stars when things go slow to the way the Stars respond after allowing a late goal, this team is building the foundation for long-term success for when the peripherals start to even out.
We write about the imperfections, the inconsistent play and some of the issues that are plaguing this team throughout the season so far but the reality is that the Stars are finding a way to win, and doing it differently each time. What's been built throughout this winning streak is a confidence in the team as a whole, that players other than the superstars can rise up and make a difference and that's what makes great teams so successful. It's not about one player or one goaltender, it's the entire roster from top to bottom.
The Stars are facing a tough schedule ahead of them this month and Marc Crawford knows it's not going to be easy. Yesterday he talked about how different aspects of this team step forward when others are struggling and how that's been the key to success for the Stars.
"You obviously are going to be tired at times and your goaltender needs to play well and keep you in games," Crawford said before the game against Minnesota. "We saw that the other night when we came back from Carolina. We weren't very good in the first period. Washington was. Our goalie stemmed the tied for us and allowed us to get better as the game went on. That's where it all connects. You want to play a style of game where if you don't have your best stuff, you're not porous defensively. If you can do that it makes the game that much longer. You get a deeper chance to get yourself involved in the game and hopefully something good can happen from it."