At the halfway point of last season, the Dallas Stars had a five-point lead in the division and had recently held the top spot in the conference. After 41 games, with a record of 24-13-4, the Stars were the early surprise of the season and many felt were well on their way to the first postseason appearance since 2008.
Of course, as we all remember, those Stars fell to pieces soon after with demoralizing losses to Boston and Vancouver that sparked a freefall they would never recover from. The West was an ultra-tight conference last season and while the Stars held onto that the third spot, they had just a six-point lead over 8th place. With a series of crushing losses starting in late January and into February, the Stars would struggle with injury and eventually miss the postseason by just one point.
Compared to the Stars team from last year, this team has struggled the first half of the season -- although not as much as you'd expect. With a record of 23-17-1 and 47 points, the Stars have just one less loss but have failed to get some of those crucial "loser points" teams need over the course of the season. Even more telling is the minus-5 goal differential, compared to the plus-5 differential after 41 games last year.
Yet, last season, cracks were already beginning to show. A 4-6-0 division record at the time would prelude massive struggles the rest of the season and the team's penchant for extremely slow starts would haunt them when the season came down to the wire.
A further look at this season so far, and mid-season awards, after the jump.
This year, the hope is that the trend has reversed itself and that the Stars have not only weathered an early-season injury storm and slump but that the team's best hockey is ahead of them, something that is vital if they are to actually reach the postseason. The Stars shot off like a cannon to start the season and have rode on the back of that 11-3-0 start ever since.
Since December 1, the Stars are 8-7-0 and have had more than two wins in a row just once in that span. The Stars are in the midst of an up and down rollercoaster and each time they seem to be figuring things out, they crash to the earth a bit with a frustrating loss that makes each fan worry about the future of this season.
Heading into the second half of this season, the Dallas Stars must find a way to make their losses much closer -- if that makes sense. The Stars have played lost just one game in overtime or the shootout, and have only gone to overtime four times this season. When this team loses, it usually loses big -- the Stars are one of the best teams in the NHL when the games are actually close at the end.
The Stars must find a way to not let these losses get out of hand and to find some way to get that "loser point" on nights when they don't have their best stuff. Not every team can play at to their fullest potential night in and night out and when a team doesn't have it, the best thing they can do is to keep it close and hope for that one extra point. The Stars are playing a season of "go big or go home" and while it's enjoyable on most nights, those lack of extra points will hurt this team in the end.
The Stars also must find a way to be better in the second period, where they've been outscored 45-33 this season and where most of their breakdowns occur. The Stars are failing to adjust to the in-game adjustments of the opposition and in the second period, when matchups matter the most, the team is failing to take advantage of their chances.
The coaches must find a way to make better adjustments during the game but also must realize the importance of matchups, that while rolling three lines consistently is desirable there are times when you must adjust to what the other coach is throwing at you.
Overall, this team has potential but to make the postseason adjustments must be made. This is a team that will struggle if shorthanded yet if fully healthy, has the ability to give any team in the NHL a run for their money.
Onto the awards:
Hart Trophy - Jamie Benn
#14 / Left Wing / Dallas Stars
Jul 18, 1989
|2011 - Jamie Benn||41||13||29||42||10||41||2||1||4||117||11.1|
Would there be any doubt? While Kari Lehtonen put this team on his back to start the season, it's been Jamie Benn that has made the most difference this year. When Benn is playing his best and scoring, the Stars are near-unbeatable; when he struggles, the team around him struggles as well. On pace for over 80 points this season and likely headed to his first All-Star game, Benn is enjoying a breakout season for a team that desperately needs a superstar.
Honorable mention: Kari Lehtonen, Loui Eriksson
Norris Trophy - Trevor Daley
#6 / Defenseman / Dallas Stars
Oct 09, 1983
|2011 - Trevor Daley||38||4||12||16||7||16||1||0||2||63||6.3|
Surprised? The defenseman that the fans love to hate has been the most consistent blueliner for the Stars this season, putting up 16 points this season so far and is a plus-7 on the year, tied with Sheldon Souray for best on the team. Daley is enjoying an increased role with the Stars, necessitated by injuries, and while some still say he needs to go he's been one heck of a bright spot for the Stars this season on defense. On pace for a career season in points and plus/minus, Daley is finally starting to reach the potential he came to Dallas with seven years ago.
Honorable mention: Alex Goligoski, Sheldon Souray
Selke Trophy - Loui Eriksson
#21 / Left Wing / Dallas Stars
Jul 17, 1985
|2011 - Loui Eriksson||41||14||24||38||12||4||3||1||1||100||14.0|
The quiet Swede leads his team in plus/minus, plays extremely tough minutes night after night and has taken just two minor penalties in 41 games. Second on the team in scoring, Eriksson represents everything about how this team needs to learn to play team defense as he's just as good in his own zone as he is in burying the puck in the net. He's emerged this season as a playmaker and left any doubts behind that all of his success was due to Brad Richards.
Honorable mention: Jamie Benn, Vernon Fiddler
Lady Byng - Loui Eriksson
Everything stated above applies here.
Calder - Philip Larsen
#36 / Defenseman / Dallas Stars
Dec 07, 1989
|2011 - Philip Larsen||19||0||2||2||7||2||0||0||0||19||0.0|
Playing in 19 games this season when many felt he'd still be in the AHL, Larsen hasn't put up big numbers (just two assists) but has shown a maturity in his defensive game that we didn't expect. He still has a ways to go before reaching the potential we feel he has, but Larsen has been able to play significant minutes this season with the Stars and show that his future with the team is certainly very bright.
Biggest Surprise - Eric Nystrom
#24 / Left Wing / Dallas Stars
Feb 14, 1983
|2011 - Eric Nystrom||36||12||2||14||-5||9||0||0||1||62||19.4|
Picked up via trade for "future considerations", Nystrom was supposed to be a forward that helped the Stars get back over the cap floor. Instead, he's become a fan favorite who helped the Stars weather some early-season struggles with an incredible month in November. With 12 goals in just 36 games, Nystrom has already surpassed his career-best season. He's come down to earth the past ten games, with just one point since December 21. Nevertheless, Nystrom is easily the biggest surprise of the season.
Honorable mention: Sheldon Souray, Philip Larsen
Best Off-Season Acquisition - Michael Ryder
#73 / Right Wing / Dallas Stars
Mar 31, 1980
|2011 - Michael Ryder||41||17||13||30||9||22||2||0||4||97||17.5|
Ryder has always been known for his goal-scoring ways, but after two personally disappointing seasons in Boston, he was looking for a fresh start. Ryder leads the Dallas Stars with 17 goals in the first half of the season and is on pace for his first 60+ point season since his rookie season in Montreal. Ryder has showcased a devastatingly accurate shot and he's enjoying the best shot percentage of his career, hopefully not a sign that he'll slow the second half.
Honorable mention: Sheldon Souray, Vernon Fiddler
Biggest Letdown - Adam Pardy
#27 / Defenseman / Dallas Stars
May 29, 1984
|2011 - Adam Pardy||22||0||1||1||-8||8||0||0||0||15||0.0|
Signed to a two-year, $4 million contract this summer the hope was that Pardy was a young defenseman that just needed time to show that he was worth the contract the Stars handed to him. In just 22 games this season, however, Pardy has just one point and is a minus-8, worst among defensemen and a sign of just how much he's struggled. It's tough to be so hard on a player who is new to the team, but Pardy has been a steady disappointment this season and has made too many mistakes to justify the contract he was given. Unfortunately, that contract means the Stars will give him more than enough chances to improve; the hope is that it doesn't hurt the team too much in the second half.