The meteoric rise and eventual fall of the Dallas Stars last year was quite a spectacle to behold. Unlike the flash in the pan shown by the Minnesota Wild this year, the Stars held the league's gaze from their rise in November all the way through the All-Star break into February. Most observers of this team would say that the loss to Vancouver at home followed by the brawl in Boston and the disappointment in Philadelphia was the watershed stretch; The start of the tumble.
Their trip to Western Canada preceding the break, however, was when the wheels really started coming off of the proverbial bus. The same trip the Stars leave for today at 12:30pm.
The high water mark on that last year was the morning of January 21st in Calgary. Jamie Benn had scored a real doozy the night before in Edmonton, and TSN produced a video on what was quickly becoming legend: The Warrior Sword. The Stars were three points out of first overall and ten points clear of 9th place Minnesota and San Jose. The team and it's fans were riding particularly high.
Two games later and on a long flight back from Vancouver, the Stars had been outscored 14-5 in their last six periods, and they had lost Jamie Benn for what would be a month. They had lost their mojo. A perfunctory win over the Oilers at home allayed fears before the break, but even in that one they were out-shot 35-21 and badly out-chanced. The bleeding had already begun well ahead of the Boston game.
Right in the middle of the 2010-2011 season, this Western Canadian road swing was the banana peel that started the fall. This year they both begin and end this most critical month of the season with it. This year they need it to be the foundation of the springboard that launches them up and out, away from the pack.
More after the jump...
For good measure, after having lost six of eight games, the Stars had to face this trip again in mid-February, 2011. That time they lost all three games by a combined score of 13-5 and came home with 68 points, tied with Calgary, Los Angeles and Anaheim in a pack that stretched from 6th to 9th. 0-5-1 in six games in Alberta and B.C..
Andrew Raycroft's surrendering of seven in Calgary in the January game played into his eventual benching down the stretch just as much as the two goals in rapid succession in Boston- Just another way this trip played into the narrative of the season.
It's with those lessons and memories that the Stars board their charter plane at Love Field as I'm writing this and head off to "the great white north". They must avoid disaster where it struck so thoroughly last season. They carry a 5-1-2 streak into this one, yes, but they carried a 7-0-1 streak into that Calgary game last year, lest we forget.
The human thing to do when looking at the Stars upcoming schedule is to see Vancouver, then San Jose at home, and say "Uh oh." Your eyes are just drawn to it. It looks like a rather sizable bear trap.
The Stars can't afford to think like that. They can't afford to look ahead.
Edmonton is no slouch, and the Calgary game is the one in this little group that they simply must have. That's the big four point game. The Stars should know a little something about four point games. If they had managed to beat the Coyotes on the 7th or 18th of last month instead of going 0-1-1 in those games, imagine how the standings might be different. The Coyotes might have 73 points, the same as Dallas in that scenario. A share of the Pacific Division lead would be a much more realistic dream.
@Edmonton - March 2nd: The tendency is to overlook the young Oilers, saying "they SHOULD beat them." Don't. Edmonton has put together some pretty impressive wins lately, taking down the Flyers, the Flames, and the Jets IN Winnipeg. If you don't believe that winning in Winnipeg is tough, just wait for the Stars visit there on the 14th. San Jose, Chicago, Vancouver and Detroit have all gone to Rexall Place this season and lost. Beware.
@Calgary - March 4th: When speaking with several people who know a lot more about hockey than I do at the Calgary game in Dallas a couple of weeks ago, they all agreed on one thing: They're not really sure why the Flames seem to pick up so many points or what they do particularly well, but they're in every game they play. The Stars know that after needing overtime to dispose of them the first go-around. The Flames are 5-2-5 since the All-Star break. You may not find five overtime loss points to be overly impressive, but there's something to be said for keeping games close. It's keeping the Flames, the Kings and Coyotes where they are in the standings, and had the Stars lost a few more close games in OT or the shootout, they wouldn't be in this mess right now.
Dallas went 5-1-0 in the three seasons before last year's goose egg at the Saddledome. They need to find some of that old magic this spot. The Flames are 16-10-4 at home this year.
@Vancouver - March 6th: A tough game to frame this early. If the Stars manage to win the first two games of their trip, they'll be playing with house money in the eyes of many by the time the puck drops in Vancouver. If they lose that game in Calgary and have the Sharks coming up at home right after this one, the mood will be markedly different. The Canucks are 6-0-2 in their last eight at home and 18-6-4 overall. The Stars are 0-3-1 in their last two seasons here.