Throughout the season I have been asking myself if the Dallas Stars are really one of the three or four best teams in hockey. There are arguments in favor and against the proposition. The team is killing people, but the schedule has been fairy soft.
All of that changes this week.
The Stars have built quite a lead on their pursuers, and with all of the three-point games in today's league it is hard to see that changing in seven days. But make no mistake, this week is huge. Let's dive in.
Monday 12/21/15 - Dallas Stars @ Minnesota Wild
The Wild are hot right now. They are playing typical Minnesota brand hockey and grinding out results. The bad news for the rest of the league is that the team is performing this way and Devan Dubnyk has not played his best hockey.
It seems like there should be a rivalry between these two teams, given the history of the two clubs. But that rivalry has only existed in the minds of a few fans. The teams have shared a few exciting contests, but nothing to really turn up the temperature of the games. Maybe all of that will change with the Stars becoming a real contender in the division.
Thomas Vanek has looked like circa 2010-2011, and Minnesota has been getting timely production from him and Mikko Koivu. If you watched the first period when the Wild hosted the Stars last month, you know what it looks like to be put in the Minnesota meat grinder. Dallas will need to push the pace and force the gang-green to chase them.
Tuesday 12/22/15 - Chicago Blackhawks @ Dallas Stars
Can it please be Tuesday right now? The showdown with the Blackhawks has been circled on my calendar, and you can bet Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya have an eye on this game.
Chicago has been humming along, neither showing complete dominance or complete regression. Patrick Kane seems to have made another leap (somehow) and looks like one of the four best players in the world. Games against the Blackhawks have been intense for a few years, and you can bet Antoine Roussel will be in rare form on Tuesday.
More than the emotions behind the game, this is an important battle for position in the Central Division. The Blackhawks have made a move over the last few weeks, and look to build on their upward trend.
I hope Roussel fights Ryan Garbutt. Just because I think it would be a hoot.
Saturday 12/26/15 - Dallas Stars @ St. Louis Blues
Sunday 12/27/15 - St. Louis Blues @ Dallas Stars
When you combine the Stars last meeting with St. Louis with this upcoming home and home, there should be some real fireworks.
Traditionally if you had asked Blues fans who their rival is, most would have answered the Chicago Blackhawks. But over the last several years, Jamie Benn and David Backes' disdain for each other has affected the tone of the games. All of this culminated in another fight between Benn and Backes the last time the teams met. The hatred is at a fever pitch, and the back to back will bring things to a boiling point.
Jake Allen completely dominated Dallas the last time these teams got together, essentially stealing a game for the Blue. Dallas will have a goaltending question to answer themselves with two back-to-backs this week.
This is going to be a great week of hockey, and an excellent chance to take the temperature of the Stars against top flight competition. It will be easy to get lost in period-by-period breakdowns of each of these games. There will be poor periods. There will be wild swings, and the Stars may lose a game or two. But seeing the team take tests like these are why we are fans. It is going to be a crazy week.
You can bet that Lindy Ruff will stay on message throughout the week (one game at a time, it's only one game, etc), but deep down he knows exactly how important the next seven days will be.
You could make an argument that the Stars are playing three of the five best teams in the league in one week. After a resounding knockout of the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, the Stars will be trying to finish 2015 in style. The stage is big, and the Stars are starting to turn some heads. The Stars have their toughest week so far this season. Four games in seven days, all division opponents. Merry Christmas.