Vacation is over. The Pacific Division leading Dallas Stars get back to work today, ready to put their 3rd place standing in the Western Conference on the line against a daunting group of opponents in the month of February.
Somewhere around 30 points still separate the Stars from their goal of making it back into the playoffs and thanks to their considerable efforts thus far they have 32 games in which to earn them. I don't have to spell out the math for you to know it's pretty favorable there. They have "put points in the bank" just like they said they wanted to, and it's a good thing too because with February comes a new intensity in the league. The fight in the West has been nasty already but it's just started.
Dallas opens the gauntlet against the Canucks, the Bruins and the Flyers: Three of the very best the NHL has to offer. Philly and Vancouver are tied with league best totals of 71 points. The Bruins sit third in the East with 63 points. After that comes Phoenix. Detroit is on the menu. Nashville. Vancouver again. It's a cornucopia of difficult.
Luckily the 2010-2011 Dallas Stars seem to thrive on difficult.
The more they're told "you can't overcome THIS challenge" the more they come through for each other. February and March represent heretofore unseen quality of competition on the schedule this season and we're betting that's just fine with the Stars. "Underdog" suits them.
Meanwhile there's hard work to do off the ice as well. Despite stockpiling 65 points before the All-Star break, the local media seems oblivious. They glanced this way a couple of weeks ago but the spectacle at Jerry World coming up distracted them. Follow that with NFL lockout talk, the Mavericks, and pitchers and catchers reporting in a couple of weeks and this great story continues under reported.
In other words, it's business as usual. Just keep winning. The public eye will return from Arlington sooner or later and if the Stars beat the Flyers and/or the Canucks in the mean time, so much the better.
It starts with practice today. Job one is learning to cope without Jamie Benn and Tom Wandell for the near future...
Until today the Stars hadn't had a practice since the 7-1 drubbing the Canucks laid on them in Vancouver. Four days off, completely off, was great for the sore bodies, the mental faculties and the families but you'd imagine that Coach Crawford would have preferred to fine tune some details in the wreckage of the 7-4 and 7-1 losses of the last two weeks.
February at a glance:
- 12 games, one more than January. The 16 game December is still paying off as the Stars have no need to be that busy again.
- Opponent points percentage: .581. Take out the Oilers and Devils and that shoots way up. This is stiff competition. January's opponents points percentage was only .521.
- Afternoon games: They play Columbus at 2:00pm on a Sunday and Nashville at 1:00pm on a Saturday. Day games have been tricky for Dallas in recent years but it's a good opportunity to put some buns in the seats.
- Marty Turco: Could he play in Chicago's first game at the AAC this season, Friday the 11th? We hope so.
- Only one Pacific Division game: Phoenix on Wednesday, the 9th. If you could guarantee me one win this month, that would be the one I would choose.
- Three out of four Saturday nights: Because the Stars need your attention more than your wife does.
- Back to Backs: Only one. How then, does Raycrof fit into the master plan?
What's your prediction for their February record?