Last season, it was obvious which one of the Conferences swung their weight around the most, with the sixth-seeded Los Angeles Kings winning their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
With the Kings’ win, the West now has four of the last five Cups in their house.
So why did the Stars struggle against comparatively lesser competition in the Eastern Conference after posting a 27-14-9 record against the west?
Pretty strange, especially the way the Stars started the season last year when they fell flat 4-2 to the second worst team in the NHL in the Florida Panthers on the way to a 13-17-2 record against the east.
Even crazier, the Stars had the least amount of points of Western teams against the East with 28. The next closest teams were Vancouver and Edmonton, who went 14-14-4 for 32 points.
Dallas did have an epic three-game road stretch in November where they beat Ottawa, Boston and Detroit—all in overtime or shootouts.
But then a six-game Eastern Conference binge resulted in the Stars’ worst stretch of the season, losing games against Montreal and Detroit at home and then losing a three-game New York road swing against the Islanders, Devils and Rangers before losing to the Islanders again at home.
The Stars were outscored 26-12 during that stretch. That’s kind of hard to believe for a team with the 10th best offense in the NHL last season with 2.82 goals per game.
Many of the Stars losses to the East were on the road and their overall road record was 17-20-4—the only Western Conference playoff team with a losing road record.
One area the Stars can look at is secondary scoring. Tyler Seguin (30) and Jamie Benn (28) led the team in Eastern Conference scoring in 32 games, but their next closest player was then rookie Valeri Nichushkin with just 18 points, who was a beneficiary of Seguin-Benn magic many times.
Benn led the team in goals against the east with 16, nearly half of his season total of 34, and behind him was Seguin with 12.
So how can the Stars play better against the East?
For starters, all players need to be more like Jamie Benn.
His game travels. Sort of like in the NFL, when you go on the road, you can win with a good defense.
Benn’s offense was his best defense, but his tenacious forechecking and heavy body-checking game was a force that every team had to deal with.
His first period against the Blackhawks on Thursday was a great example. Even when Benn isn’t scoring, he’s looking to set up his teammates and impress his 6-2, 210-pound frame on opposing defenses which created turnovers and opportunities for his linemates.
Enter Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky.
Their experience against the East, particularly Spezza, who spent his entire career in Ottawa before getting traded to Dallas in the offseason, should add a calming effect—especially on the road where the Stars struggled.
More importantly, Kari’s game is going to need to travel as well. You can bet the Stars are going to need him to be a No. 1 star a few times if they are going to improve on their record against the East.
The Stars have opportunities for redemption though. They also have opportunities to fail as miserably as they did during that six-game losing streak.
A three-game series at the beginning of December against the east at Toronto, at Detroit and at home vs. Montreal will be stiff tests.
Another three-game set in January includes a home game against Boston and two road games at Montreal and at Ottawa. The Ottawa game on Jan. 29 should be an interesting one with Spezza making his return.
Then, probably the two most crucial tests against the East are two long sets in February and March.
In February the Stars face Tampa Bay, Buffalo, the New York Rangers, Boston and Florida.
None of these games look like locks by any means.
The Stars will need a consistent stream of scoring and better road efforts if they are going to be able to make the jump in the West because all of the West teams figured out how to beat the East.
Dallas has to look at these East games as a breath of fresh air from the difficult tests the West brings on a nightly basis.