With only four regular season games remaining -- all four of which will occur over the next six days and finishes off a stretch of six games in nine days -- the fate of the 2013-2014 Dallas Stars will be known before next week even begins. It's amazing to think about, that after such a long journey this is all we have left; that after all of these games and all of this hand wringing about whether or not they make the postseason, we could be watching the final four games of the season we actually care about.
I have more faith in this team than I have in the past, however. While the inconsistencies of this roster came to full light within one singular game against the Florida Panthers, one that could certainly be looked upon as "season-defining" by this time next week, I still firmly believe that this new version of the Dallas Stars has approached the pressures of the playoff hunt much more successfully than in years past -- and because we're all about comparisons, let's take a quick look and see what the numbers say.
I'm only going to go back three years though, not including this season, and I'm only going to look at the final 20 games of the season. So, a bit unscientifically, the final 1/4 of the regular season. So, what did I find?
2010-2011: The Stars were in the No. 9 spot behind Minnesota, tied in points with the Wild and Nashville on March 1. The Stars would go 9-9-2 in the final 20 games, to famously miss out on the final spot in the last game of the season. This was the year where 95 points should have been enough, but wasn't. This included a 2-8-1 stretch before the Stars woke up to rattle off four straight wins before that horrendous performance against the
Houston Aeros Minnesota Wild.
2011-2012: The Stars were in the No. 8 spot with a two-point lead over Colorado and Los Angeles with 20 games remaining. The Stars then went 10-9-1 to fall to 10th and miss the postseason. This run included a 7-0-1 stretch to start March, before the Stars completely fell apart to go 3-9-0 in the final 12 games to miss the playoffs.
2013: Since the season was shortened I onlylooked at the final 15 games. The Stars trailed the final playoff spot by two points, and went 6-8-1 down the stretch to miss the playoffs by seven points. A 5-1-0 run was not enough as the Stars lost the final five games of the season.
2013-2014: With 20 games remaining the Stars had control of the No. 8 spot and full control of their destiny. So far, the Stars are 9-6-1 since then, including the current 6-3-0 run the Stars are on.
So, with four games remaining and a very painful loss to the Panthers fresh in their minds, how will this team respond? This is the latest the Stars have gone on an extended run in the past four seasons, aside from those four quick wins in 2011. The Stars have shown lately they know how to respond to tough losses and bad games and even during some hard losses have appeared to be the better team. So...which team will show up?
We'll start finding out tonight.
Onto the questions:
@brandonworley ref ??s: When the Stars make the playoffs, who are the call-ups? Is Oleksiak one or does he get more from AHL playoffs?— theJoelH (@theJoelH) April 8, 2014
I doubt that Jamie Oleksiak gets the callup if/when the Stars make the postseason, even with the expanded rosters. I'm assuming Aaron Rome would be healthy and the Stars still have Kevin Connauton, and Oleksiak needs to get some much needed experience actually playing rather than being a healthy scratch every night. The expanded rosters allow for teams to not have to worry about callups during the tight schedule of a postseason series, but with Austin so close I don't expect we'll see many actual callups -- unless the Texas Stars last shorter than Dallas in the playoffs.
@brandonworley What is Dillon's ceiling for offense? Is he strictly focusing on defense right now? Will more offense come later?— Joseph Ruscitti (@josephruscitti) April 8, 2014
I think Brenden Dillon is trying to find his place with this new system and new coaching staff. He hasn't been as dynamic as he was last season, but there were also times where he would make some fairly poor decisions as well especially when he would go for the big hit along the boards. He's found a good groove lately on the second pairing with Jordie Benn, however, and while the production might not be there it seems he's finally growing a bit more comfortable in this new role in which he finds himself.
Remember, Dillon was at his best when playing with Stephane Robidas -- a safety valve that allowed Dillon to take more chances both defensively and offensively. This year, he was asked to be that safety net for various partners and it's thrust him into a bit of a different role. He's not as noticeable as he was last season, but sometimes that's for the best. I know some will disagree with me, but I think this is probably what Dillon's career will be like -- a 20 or so point producer who is strong in his own end.
@brandonworley Who do you predict the Stars will target to bolster their 2nd line via trade/FA in the offseason?— Richard Bone (@BoneWins) April 8, 2014
Like many others, I think Paul Stastny is exactly what this team needs to take that proverbial "next step" and find more balance on the top two lines. Cody Eakin is still getting better, but the Stars need a much more dynamic center to play behind Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn if they want to be true contenders. The problem is that Stastny, if he doesn't re-sign in Colorado, will become the most-coveted free agent forward on the market. That gets expensive, especially for a team still building like the Stars.
As far as other potential UFAs, Mikhail Grabovski is the only other one that really catches my eye. Perhaps Olli Jokinen, for a veteran option or Derek Roy (just kidding.)
The other option is via trade and I have to think with the house cleaning and rebuilding that's about to happen in Vancouver, Ryan Kesler will very much be available.
@brandonworley why don't the stars change their game when they have 2 goal lead from 'speed-attack' mode to 'boring-trap-protect-lead' mode?— LAslacker (@LAslacker) April 8, 2014
I think this was asking why the "do" change their game, and the answer is simple and not simple at the same time. There's a reason that "score effects" are mentioned a lot when it comes to multiple-goal leads; teams take more chances, they have less to loss with pushing offense and it's a natural tendency to let up a bit after building an early lead. The Stars have shown lately they can respond when pushed back while holding a lead; the wins over Nashville, Tampa Bay and St. Louis instantly come to mind where the Stars used big third periods to overcome slacking off a bit with a lead.
Unfortunately, blowing leads to bad teams (Calgary, Florida) sort of erases those other games a bit.
You'll have to ask Tim Peel about that, who I feel has no business stepping anywhere near an NHL rink. I know Erin disagrees with me a bit here, but Peel is entirely too emotional and reactive when it comes to how players respond to his calls -- which are usually horrible to begin with.
For further evidence of just how bad a referee Tim Peel is, check out this post on Puck Daddy which highlights several alarming occurrences, including this one where he waived off his own penalty call: