As the Dallas Stars get set to take on the San Jose Sharks tonight, much of the talk has been about whether the team can carry over the momentum built after the big 6-2 win last night in Anaheim. As we've seen so far this season, the Stars have had trouble with consistency and aside from a 14-game stretch to start the season, the Stars have struggled to put together any sort of significant winning streak. Or at least a points streak.
This game is also the first of eight games this month against teams currently holding onto a playoff spot in the Western Conference. If we want to include games against opponents actually fighting for or in a playoff spot, that number rises to 11 of the next 15 games are wholly important to the playoff implications of the Dallas Stars. These are teams the Stars are battling directly with and must succeed against, something that hasn't happened the past few years.
While we certainly want the Stars to hold off on those teams below them in the standings, the Stars are also just six points behind San Jose for the division lead. With four games remaining this season against the Sharks, there actually exists a possibility that the Stars could conceivably fight for the division championship. Sounds insane, I know. Let's just worry about the playoffs.
Even for that to happen, let alone the division crown, the Stars will have to find a way to get valuable points against the best in the Western Conference. The Stars have actually done well overall against their own division, while struggled somewhat against the rest of the conference.
I wanted to see just how the Stars have fared against the best in the West this season and I'm guessing the results aren't likely to shock you.
Against the teams currently holding a playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars are just 7-10-1 on the season. They've scored 45 goals and allowed 58 goals in those 18 games, and have just a .416 points percentage against them.
The biggest issue for the Stars has been defense in those games, with a 3.22 goals-against average against teams in a playoff spot while scoring just 2.5 goals per game against those teams. While that winning percentage actually isn't horrible when you think about how the season has gone so far, it's incredible to see how it compares to the success of the Stars against the rest of the conference.
Against teams in the bottom eight of the conference, the Stars are 12-5-0, good for a .705 point percentage against those teams. They've given away two points to the Coyotes in two shoot out wins, but overall the Stars have played particularly well against teams that could be thought of as "inferior".
The Stars are scoring 2.76 goals in those games, while allowing just 2.29. While the offense isn't particularly better against these teams, it's obvious that the Stars defense fares much better than when facing the more dynamic teams in the conference.
All of this comes across as common sense in a way, but it's striking to see that the Stars really are truly caught in the middle of the conference. They've played almost an equal number of games against the top and bottom of the conference, struggle against the better teams and overall play much better against those that are currently not in a playoff position.
For the Stars, the key will be to maintain this level of consistency against the bottom half of the conference while finding some way to improve against the better teams they'll be facing. In recent seasons the Stars have been destroyed by the best teams in the NHL around this time of the year, which would then carry over into the games the Stars would play against those fighting for the playoffs. The Stars would struggle to find some momentum while those around them were taking their games to the next level.
The Stars haven't played horribly against the top teams in the conference, but that 7-10-1 record is boosted by two routs of Nashville and two shootout or overtime wins against Los Angeles. Overall, the Stars have struggled against the teams you'd expect them to struggle against, going 0-4-1 against Detroit and San Jose while allowing 22 goals in those five games.
The Stars have yet to play Vancouver or Calgary, games which are tough to predict yet also have a very important determining factor on the outcome of this season as well.
So, these results bring us good and bad news. The good news is that the Stars have played admirably overall against the teams they should beat (for the most part) and hopefully the trend continues against these same teams in the coming months. The Stars are also not giving up many extra points as well, something that needs to continue.
The bad news is that the Stars have been frankly dominated by the best in the West, not surprising considering the circumstances around this team. The ability is there, we've seen it, now it's time to at least find a way to steal some points in these games against San Jose, Detroit, St. Louis and Colorado.
The Stars kicked off the post-break schedule with a resounding win against the Ducks. Time to start building that momentum and seeing what can happen.