Halfway through their Thursday tilt against the New York Rangers at the American Airlines Center the Dallas Stars will officially reach the quarter-mark on their 2013-2014 season. Waiting until then to post this discussion would be technically sound but Monday morning works, too.
We had many questions when the season began. How NHL ready was Valeri Nichushkin? Alex Chiasson? How would the defense play out at the low end? How would the veterans hold up? How would the second and third center spots pan out?
The first 20 games have provided answers, all subject to change as the long grind plays out and evolves.
Asking the questions of Nichushkin and Chiasson through the first 10 games, for example would have yielded different conclusions. With nine points in the first ten contests Alex Chiasson looked like a Calder candidate that would not be denied. Three weeks later and we're not so sure.
Valeri Nichuskin looked every bit the part of an 18 year-old trying to find his way in a new country to start. A man-sized boy among veterans. Now he's scored twice, on the road, has six points in his last seven games and a +9 in that stretch. So as is wont to be the case with rookies, check back with us tomorrow because things may have changed, but both are developing and both can help this team.
The defense has been rearranged and rearranged again. Jordie Benn has grabbed his opportunity by the horns and won't let go, while Aaron Rome is back with the Texas Stars for this second stint already.
The veterans have been a troubling matter, but slow starts might be giving way to positive results in some cases. A notorious slow-starter, Sergei Gonchar's play has stabilized since being separated from Alex Goligoski, but he has only three points (all on the power play) and has not been the catalyst for which Jim Nill has hoped. Shawn Horcoff, too, has been a mixed bag through 20 games and Ray Whitney has not been the same Wizard of last season, now hurt with a lower body malady.
The Stars have found ways to lose (in Anaheim) and found ways to win (in Boston, in Detroit). They've hung with some tough teams (San Jose, Chicago) and been nearly run out of the building at times (Vancouver, Minnesota). They've kicked some mutts (Calgary, Edmonton) and let some hang around too long (Buffalo, Ottawa). Shootouts, shutouts, blowouts. It's been an interesting stretch.
Here's the first quarter of the season by-the-numbers, or by a scant few anyway...
The most dramatic difference outside the record itself is the shots against number, which has fallen significantly and would have been even more demonstrative if not for the failure to possess the puck at all at Rogers Arena last night in Vancouver.
They've managed to flip flop their goals for and goals against averages in the ten game stretches, due in some part to those better possession numbers but mostly to the man who put his talents on display last night. Dan Ellis was in net for three road losses and Jack Campbell the other, leaving the biggest, but perhaps most obvious takeaway from the season's first quarter as that which we already knew to be true:
The team will go only as far as Kari Lehtonen will take it, and the seasons hangs precariously on his health, and the health of Seguin and Jamie Benn.
Quality of opponents diminished as the stretch wore one but picks back up in a big way immediately. St. Louis, Anaheim, Chicago (three times!), Colorado twice more, Vancouver, San Jose and Los Angeles pepper the Stars' schedule through December.
In 19 games through New Years Eve the Stars can only feast upon the East three times. So things are about to get much more serious.
The Stars have weathered a road-heavy stretch and have themselves in the conversation, at least. With all the turnover and a new coaching staff that's about all we could have wanted, but there are several more steps forward to take and the margin for error is, perhaps, historically small in the West.
With four of the next five at home (and 16 of the next 25 overall) it's time to see if they can carry their road momentum with them to the American Airlines Center.
More from Defending Big D:
- Dallas Stars Daily Links: Dallas Stars Playing With Confidence As Season Continues
- Video: Valeri Nichushkin Scores His Second NHL Goal as a Dallas Star
- Dallas Stars Hang On For a 2-1 Win Over Vancouver Canucks
- Dallas Stars Should Break Up Ray Whitney and Alex Chiasson
- Dallas Stars Roster Moves: Stars Claim Dustin Jeffrey From Pittsburgh, Assign Rome To AHL