An Even-Handed Look at the Stars Season With Eight Games to Play


To be sure, the epitaph on the Stars season has yet to be chiseled. They're still two points back of Chicago and they hold the tiebreaker over a Blackhawks team that's going to have to go much of the rest of the season without one of their top playmakers in Patrick Sharp.

And they're still three points back of the Ducks with a game in hand and a head to head meeting remaining in a week. But I wouldn't blame anybody if they watched the seconds wind down in Nashville Saturday night and thought that was their best shot.

Afterall, the power play hasn't scored multiple goals in a game since January 17th, their top defenseman is going to be on the shelf for most of what remains in this regular season, and as Brandon Worley pointed out in the game recap thread last night, Kari Lehtonen is showing all the signs of a worn out goaltender.

And oh yeah, there's the impending free agency of Brad Richards and the flux of the ownership situation. Yes, compared to what this team was accomplishing even two and a half months ago, the fact the Stars currently sit 9th is a downer.

But allow to interject that in some ways, this season has been a success. Follow me after the jump.

As much as Stars fans probably don't want to hear it, the fact is the team has been making progress ever since that disappointing 2008-09 83 point campaign that came on the heels of a memorable playoff run in 2008 that ended in the Western Conference Finals. They upped their point total to 88 points last season and are within two points of equaling that mark with eight games to play.

And suffice to say, by this point in the season the last two years, they were playing out the string. The fact they're still in it with eight games to go is a testament to the heart of this team and to the vision Joe Nieuwendyk had when he took the reins as general manager back in the summer of 2009.

That having been said, there are still enormous holes in the Stars game right now. Most notably on defense where the depth wass so lacking that Jeff Woywitka was pushed into regular duty this season.

The fact he made enough of an impression on the coaching staff so actually stay in the lineup? That's a different topic for a different post.

Point is that while the addition of Alex Goligoski filled a hole on the Stars blue line, it still didn't do anything to address the lack of a true number one defenseman. Looking around at the rosters of the teams the Stars are fighting with and you'll see a Norris Trophy winner in Duncan Keith in Chicago, a Norris Trophy contender in Shea Weber in Nashville, a pair of young up and coming defensemen in Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson in Los Angeles, Keith Yandle in Phoenix, and Dan Boyle in San Jose.

I love the heart that the Stars defensemen bring night in and night out. But the fact is the Stars don't have any on their blue line that are better than any of the names I just rattled off.

During the first Defending Big D podcast of the season way back in October, we were all asked what are predictions were for this team. Without fail I predicted they'd miss the playoffs.

Now yes, I did have a change of heart at the end of January after the Stars went on that magnificent run to jump into the Pacific Division lead. But as I sit here looking at the standings and seeing Dallas on the outside looking in and having watched the Stars literally give games away because of their poor defensive zone coverage down the stretch, what I saw the grim potential for back then is rearing it's ugly head today.

OK, now that I've forced you to the ledge, let me walk you back with the story of the 2007 New York Islanders, who appeared to be dead in the water as far as playoff contention was concerned after dropping a 2-1 decision to the Ottawa Senators. They sat four points back of the Montreal Canadiens with four games to play.

Worse yet, they were in 11th and would need to leap frog four teams in the next week to make it in. A 3-2 shootout win over the rival Rangers tied them with Carolina at 86 points for 10th and kept them in it. But Montreal won their next game to keep the four point cushion.

Then the Isles beat one of the teams they had to beat ahead of them, the Toronto Maple Leafs, by a 5-2 score, in their final home game of the season. Suddenly they were a point back of 9th place Toronto and two back of Montreal.

But they'd still need a ton of help in the final weekend of the season. First, they needed to beat the Philadelphia Flyers on a Saturday afternoon to stay alive, which they did by a 4-2 score. Then they needed some help from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the form of a regulation win over Montreal.

That night, the Leafs and the Habs staged an old fashioned shootout at the Air Canada Centre. When the dust had settled, Toronto had eliminated Montreal from playoff contention with a 6-5 regulation win. Toronto stayed one point ahead of the Islanders as the season entered it's final day.

And so for the Isles, everything had been setup for them to complete this miracle run to the playoffs.

Beat the Devils, who helped out their New York metro neighbors by starting Scott Clemmensen.

A first period tally from Richard Park put them up 1-0. Then at the 7:51 mark of the third, Park added his second to make it 2-0. But the Devils stormed back with two goals from John Madden in the final 4:13, including the tying goal with less than a second left. A scoreless five minute OT meant a shootout.

Win the shootout and the Isles would go to the playoffs. Lose, and the dream was over.

Miroslav Satan opened the scoring only to be countered by Zach Parise. Viktor Kozlov answered that goal and Wade Dubielewicz stopped Brian Gionta to give Ryan Smyth a chance to put the Islanders into the playoffs. He was stopped by Clemmensen, but Dubielewicz, the unlikely hero of this run to the playoffs, snuffed out Sergei Brylin and the rally was complete.

Right now, the Stars playoff chances, according to SportsClubStats, stand at 43.4%. The Islanders' playoff chances back then dropped to 5% after the loss to the Senators and they stayed at 5% even after the shootout win over the Rangers to start their improbable run.

It can be done. And to echo one of the mottos of this site from last year, THERE'S STILL TIME!!!

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