The Dallas Stars are leading the Central Division by six points as we round the corner to Christmas. This team is not without issues in both zones, but it has become safe to say that the Stars are no longer just "off to a good start".
In the spirit of the holidays, the Stars have gifts for all of their division rivals.
Record: 14-15-2, 30 Points
Playoff Position: No
A fresh face at the bottom of the Central Division dog-pile. The Jets have been dogs for the last month, and now more talk seems to be about contracts than performance on the ice.
The team is a mess. Last year's heroes are this year's tire fires. The good news is the Jets have started to score a few more goals.
Connor Hellebuyck has been a breathe of fresh air for the team in net, posting a 0.924 save percentage in his six games played. Ondrej Pavelec will be out for several more weeks, and for the Jets to keep their head above water, Hellebuyck will need to continue to play well.
But who are we kidding? If you are desperately waiting on the return of Pavelec to keep your head above water, you are unconscious and drifting down to meet Davey Jones.
Gift from the Stars: A sack of rocks to hold.
Record: 16-16-1, 33 Points
Playoff Position: No
The Avalanche are on an impressive run of late having won five of their last six games. In December, the Avs have played 13 games, and in seven of those they have allowed one goal or fewer. Wow.
The run of success could not have come at a better time for Patrick Roy.
The bad news for Colorado is also good news for Colorado. In December. Semyon Varlamov has a 0.964 save percentage. He has been eating teams alive and blowing out their souls like a candle. Why is this bad news for the Avs? Because when Varlamov cools off, so will they.
Gift from the Stars: A plate of cookies for Varlamov that have in no way been tampered with.
Record: 15-11-6, 36 Points
Playoff Position: 2nd Wildcard
The Preds have lost four of their last five games (one in overtime), and have slid to the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. In those four losses, they scored five goals. The margin for error is very small when you only score once.
Roman Josi has been the story for Nashville. He has shown himself to be an appropriate heir to Shea Weber for the Predators.
The Stars and Preds meet for the first time on New Years' Eve in Dallas. This will be a fun matchup, because if the season ended today the Preds and Stars would be slugging it out in a best-of-seven series.
Pekka Rinne has not had the success in net that the team has counted on for years. Part of me thinks this is an anomaly, and part of me thinks he is getting older and a decline was always in his near future. Nashville hopes that his play will rebound in a big way.
Gift from the Stars: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Adele tickets. The Preds need some excitement.
Record: 18-11-4, 40 Points
Playoff Position: 1st wildcard
Patrick Kane finally broke his point streak, which seems like an early Christmas present for everyone not from Chicago.
The Hawks are the Hawks, and have been grinding out wins at a steady pace all year. No long winning streaks, no long losing streaks.
Trevor Daley was traded for Rob Scuderi to the Pittsburgh Penguins. This makes me happy because (1) now I can cheer for Daley, and (2) Daley gets to play in a system that fits his skill set. He was dragged through the mud in Chicago for no apparent reason, and reports have been surfacing of his desire to be moved. Good riddance as far as I am concerned.The Hawks didn't deserve him.
Gift from the Stars: A Thank You Card for Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya.
Record: 17-7-6, 40 Points
Playoff Position: 3rd in Central
Don't look now, but this team is led in goal scoring by Thomas Vanek. His eleven goals paces the Wild, and he is flirting with becoming a point-per-game player. Aside form the resurgence of Vanek, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise have been excellent.
The Wild are third in the league in goals against, despite slightly above average goaltending from Devan Dubnyk.
Minnesota has earned at least one point in their last nine games. Playoff teams typically have a few runs during the regular season, and this is definitely one of those runs from the Wild. However, they are entering a stretch of Nashville, Dallas, and Montreal.
Gift from the Stars: Vanilla. Not vanilla ice cream, not even vanilla from Mexico that is delicious. Just Walmart brand vanilla.
Record: 19-10-4, 42 Points
Playoff Position: 2nd in Central
The Blues asphyxiated the Stars coming off of a back to back last week, shutting them out 3-0. Jake Allen has been the star of the show for the Blues, like he was against Dallas.
Every time these teams play, the temperature gets turned up just a little bit. It has been clear for a while that Jamie Benn and David Backes hate each other (sports hate, of course) but it appears that hatred has bled down throughout the lineup.
For whatever reason, the Blues have the look of the next Ducks/Stars or Sharks/Stars inter-division rival. It makes sense given their proximity in the standings, and with a home and home coming up the friction will reach a fever pitch.
Gift from the Stars: Jenga and a cheap chair.