December is an interesting month in the hockey season. This time of year, there is a transition from "who you can be" to "who you are".
The Anaheim Ducks have now played 24 games and they have a record of 8-11-5 for 21 points. The Ducks have been outscored by 18 goals. Early in the year, it was easy to say, "the Ducks will be fine". But now the season is 30 percent over for them; are we sure the Ducks aren't just a bad hockey team?
The flip side of that coin is what Dallas Stars' fans have to be asking themselves. I got a text from a friend on Sunday that said, "So are we past the point of saying the Stars are off to a good start?"
It is a valid question. Part of me thinks that if I was looking at Team ABC that had a record of 19-5-0 and a goal differential of plus-23, I wold instantly proclaim that team good. Maybe I am too afraid of getting hurt. Who knows? But man, this has been a fun season.
This week the Stars kick off December on the road at Calgary, Vancouver, and Edmonton. Let's dive in.
Tuesday 12/1/15 - Dallas Stars @ Calgary Flames
Calgary has struggled this year, and as of this writing they are on a three-game losing streak. The 8-14-2 "start" (see above) has been an interesting case of disappointment and 'I told you so'.
Advanced stats said that last years run to the second round was ticking time bomb of possession. Optimists said that Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau , and TJ Brodie were going to be a year older and Dougie Hamilton would be a nice piece on the back end. Pessimists said that they would believe it when they saw it.
Last year, average goal tending and timely scoring was enough for the Flames. But this year they have received neither. The team save percentage is 0.884 and their 56 goals are good for the 22nd best in the league.
The staggering number is the total goals surrendered by the Flames this season. That number is 87. The Stars have scored 85 goals this year. Eighty-seven goals against is a truly remarkable number. Nearly every statistical measurement says the Flames are one of the worst teams in the league.
Crush their spirits early, or risk being the team that gives the Flames some confidence.
Player to Watch: Sean Monahan, No. 23.
Thursday 12/3/15 - Dallas Stars @ Vancouver Canucks
I am certainly not complaining about seeing the Canucks again. Both games against Vancouver (both at the American Airlines Center) went to overtime, with the first ending in 3-on-3 and last week's contest going the distance to the shootout.
As fun as this game should be to watch, it will be an important one for the Canucks at home. Vancouver is beginning to lose ground on the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks at the top of the Pacific, and the Coyotes are still frisky.
The Canucks have found a way to manufacture points, claiming seven shootout and overtime losses. Eventually, the loser point won't be enough to keep them afloat in the Pacific.
This is such a fun team to watch. This figures to be a great game.
Player to Watch: Radim Vrbata, No. 17. Vrbata is minus-11 on the season. Plus/minus is an ancient stat, but where there's smoke?
Friday 12/4/15 - Dallas Stars @ Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid scored his first NHL goal against Dallas way back in October. Unfortunately, McDavid will not figure into the outcome of this one, as he had been sidelined with a Tony Romo. Sorry, broken collarbone. In other injury news, Nail Yakupov is out for least four weeks with a sprained ankle.
The Oilers are not a good team, with eight points in their last 10 games as of this writing. The defense has allowed 74 goals, good for 27th in the league.
The good news for Edmonton is that Taylor Hall plays on their team. Chosen first overall in 2010, Hall has 9 goals and 16 assists pacing the Oilers on offense.
This should be a wide open contest because defending has been optional in Edmonton at times this season.
Can the Stars continue their hot start? Or are we ready to say that this team is just good? December is here!