The Dallas Stars wake up this morning in North Carolina in 3rd place in the Western Conference and 1st place in the Pacific Division. Less than a week ago they were a 12th place team. That's life in the West, but it makes for some pretty wild fluctuations in the fan base's perceptions. They've climbed the standings a bit despite some pretty horrendous trends in their play and it makes us wonder where the truth lies.
Our opinions might differ daily but after the sweep of a home and home with St. Louis this weekend, the conversation should be trending pretty positive. The Stars enjoy a "third place" conference standing, after all. They continue their strong five-on-five play with a 5-on-5 GF/GA of 1.21 (5th in the league) and their GA/G is dropping precipitously, even if it is still in the middle of the pack right now. The PK didn't surrender a goal this weekend.
The negative commentary (mine especially?) should be scarce right now and yet we find ourselves wondering how sustainable this all is. Coming from behind on consecutive nights after surrendering the first goal and trailing after two is entertaining, sure, but is this a recipe for long term success?
Stats can be manipulated and presented to fit a certain point of view. i.e. "The Stars are 5-1-1 in their last seven games!" OR: "The Stars win in St. Louis was only their first Western Conference (quality) road win of the year. Their road G/G and PP tell the tale of a terrible team!" However you see it, they're finding ways to win games as of late and the intangibles are becoming hard to ignore.
Whatever your point of view, there's plenty of material. Our job is to figure out: Just what kind of team IS this?
Dallas' 5-5 road record can fool you. Four of the wins were against New Jersey (the worst), the NYI (abysmal), the Florida Panthers ("meh") and the Ottawa Senators (OK). The East has some definite weakness. They have a clear top and a clear bottom, unlike the West, which is competitive throughout. The Stars' road record is a little bit of a mirage because they've visited those bottom of the barrel teams. Until last night they didn't have a solid Western Conference road win to hang their hat on.
Beating the Blues (8-0-1 at home before last night) changes that, but there's still so far left to go. Dallas has yet to play games in Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Columbus, Detroit or Chicago this season. Opportunity to back up their statement in St. Louis is abundant. Execution is a bit of a question mark.
Yet despite all of that, the bottom line is 5-5 on the road with consecutive victories. An 8-3-1 home record and a .500 road trend are exactly the blue print you want to make the post-season.
Event the most optimistic among as can really only say that the Stars have managed to put themselves in the "middle of the mess" at this point. They haven't stock piled points in some kind of lead. They haven't afforded themselves any extended lulls later on. They've simply kept pace and stayed alive. They're in the conversation.
"Staying alive" might not be a sexy result after 22 games, but how can anyone ask any more? Five points separate 2nd place and 13th in the conference. No one, outside of the Red Wings and their gaudy .750 points %, has distanced themselves from the pack. It's hard to be mad at the Stars and their dinky little payroll for failing to do what everyone else has as well. Treading water is the name of the game in the West this year.
That they've held it together this well 22 games into the season is even more impressive when you consider they've done it while playing a style of hockey not usually tried by the financially challenged. Good goal-tending can do that for you, and Kari Lehtonen has certainly been that.
Still we wonder: Come from behind wins in the third period? Allowing the first goal of the game? Scoring two goals (or so) per contest? These don't appear to be the best plans for long term success, yet they're collecting points. The points pace might not be all that different from last season, yet the teams third three game winning streak of the year has everyone feeling a bit different. (A feat they did not manage once last year.)
A continued busy schedule will answer all these questions in time, but until such conclusions are reached the only thing anyone can do is marvel at the weekend behind us and wonder "What does this mean?", not unlike "Double Rainbow Guy." Third place in the conference on November 28th is nice, but with the 13th place Predators only 4 points back, the answer might be "Very little."