What a week it was.
The Dallas Stars stared down four games in the Central Division and took 7 of 8 possible points. The Stars came back against the Minnesota Wild, smashed the Chicago Blackhawks, and manhandled the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night. The only loss over the stretch the Stars were able to rescue a point Saturday night in St. Louis.
Saturday night the Stars got pummeled, and still took the game all the way to a shootout. That says a lot about the team's improvement in net and on the blue line.
Stars' fans also have to be encouraged by Kari Lehtonen's showing on Sunday night. He didn't have a lot of work to do, but he did it well. There is a long ways to go before the team has "accomplished" anything, but the raw materials of a Stanley Cup winner are on this team.
After a strange schedule last week, the Stars face another four-game week to welcome in 2016. Let's dive in.
Tuesday 12/29/15 - Dallas Stars @ Columbus Blue Jackets
The Stars overwhelmed the Blue Jackets on December 15th when Columbus visited the American Airlines Center. The shot totals looked like a game that should have been closer, but an overwhelming second period effort by the Stars was too much for the Jackets in a 5-1 defeat.
Ryan Johansen was benched by John Tortorella in the third period of the last meeting. The Blue Jackets looked like they were on an upward trend early in Tortorella's tenure in Columbus, but they have staggered in the last month and a half.
The Jackets looked frisky against Dallas, but they just couldn't put enough pucks past Kari Lehtonen. The Stars were probably guilty of sitting back and absorbing pressure after they got out to a huge lead, but the Jackets proved they can be feisty.
Dallas just dusted the Central Division, finishing on an extreme high Sunday night. Nashville comes to town on New Years' Eve to open their season series against the Stars. The Stars will travel to Columbus for the game. This has all of the makings of a trap game.
Thursday 12/31/15 - Nashville Predators @ Dallas Stars
On New Years Eve, the Stars will host the Nashville Predators as these teams meet for the first time this season. The Preds have had a good year, but can't seem to string together any prolonged success. Nashville has played 0.500 hockey for over a month.
The problem the Predators present to the Stars is similar to the St. Louis Blues. Nashville plays a slow game with suffocating and physical defense. You saw a case study on playing style Saturday and Sunday night against the Blues. Styles make fights, and whoever can enforce their style typically wins these kinds of games.
Pekka Rinne has been solid and this team has an incredible blue line. Roman Josi, Shea Weber, and Seth Jones make up a pretty intimidating defense. Josi and Jones in particular showed their stuff last year in the playoffs against the Blackhawks.
New Years Eve, Thursday night, and a rocking building should be appointment television.
Saturday 1/2/16 - Dallas Stars @ New Jersey Devils
The Devils have been competitive this year, contrary to popular opinion at the beginning of the season. New Jersey is three points out of a wildcard spot, but they have stumbled to 0.500 level hockey in the last month.
New Jersey have perhaps been the beneficiary of some timely scoring and handstands by Cory Schneider, but they are right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. The Devils have struggled to score; their 84 goals are only good for 26th in the league.
It seems that management finally agreed to a complete rebuild, and the players have rewarded them by performing. The truth is this team is not very deep. If you can slow down Mike Cammalleri, Kyle Palmieri, and Adam Henrique the rest of the roster seems to run out of ideas. This is a young team trying to figure it out.
The Rock in Newark has not been kind to Dallas, and in the past the Devils were able to inflict their style of play on the Stars in Jersey. Dallas will look to take the Devils' great crowd out of the game early, and step on their throat. The longer you let young team hang around, the more dangerous they become.
Sunday 1/3/16 - Dallas Stars @ New York Islanders
Look! Another back-to-back!
Tough draw for Dallas facing an Islanders team early on Sunday after playing the Devils the night before, but this is the NHL. Everyone has their beef with the schedule makers, including the Isles who face the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before.
I guess the way Dallas has played after a back-to-back this season, maybe it isn't a bad thing?
This figures to be a game with some subtle plot lines. John Tavares probably feels a bit had after Jamie Benn's heroics for the Art Ross Trophy last year, and will probably be looking to prove a point when Benn and the Stars visit on Sunday.
Of course with Tavares, who can really tell when he is playing with a "point to prove"? Tavares is always awesome. He has fallen off the scoring pace this year, but he is always a handful.
The Islanders have had some struggles at times putting the puck in the net, but the defense has been consistently strong all season. Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have been lights out in net. No one wants to see either guy wearing the mask on any given night.
My heart tells me this will be a fast paced and up and down affair, but the way the islanders have rebuilt themselves over the last couple of years they may try to grind the game to a halt.
As an aside, the atmosphere in the American Airlines Center has been going through a resurgence this year. Slowly and steadily the fans seem to be more electric culminating with games at home against Chicago and St. Louis last week. Watching on television it feels like the fans are starting to create a playoff feel to every home game. It is easy to feel the energy, and I am not even there.
It was a great Christmas week of hockey in Dallas and the Stars look as good as they have all season.
This is a point in the season where it turns into a nightly grind, and the retooled Stars will be tested in entirely new ways. Will they continue to commit to shot blocking? Will the goalies stay hot? How many goals will Jamie Benn score?
This point in the season is where questions get answered. Watching this team grind is going to be fun.