Last week the Dallas Stars went 1-3-0, taking two points from a possible eight. It was a rough part of the schedule for the Stars, having played five games in eight days since the turn of the calendar. Fatigue was clearly a factor throughout the last two weeks, but that isn't an excuse in the NHL. The schedule is unforgiving. Deal with it, or get left behind.
Fortunately for Dallas, they still have a four point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the Central Division. Chicago is charging hard, having won their last seven games and have now matched the Stars in games played.
This point in the NHL season is when good teams become great teams, and average teams show their true colors. Playing 82 hockey games at the level these players are required to play at is nothing short of a grind. Every night someone is trying to hit you in the mouth and take what belongs to you.
Last season the Nashville Predators started out the season tearing teams apart. But, it was about this part of the season where they started to fall back to earth. Maintaining a consistently high level of play for 82 games is impossible.
Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp are becoming more valuable to the Stars by the game. Sharp and Oduya understand that there are times of the year where you have to manufacture wins when it gets uncomfortable. Most of the players on this roster have never been here. Sharp and Oduya have, and for that reason, they are being called upon to show Jim Nill why he brought them to Big D.
The five-day hiatus could not have come at a better time for the Stars. The team will now be afforded some practice and much needed rest. Not to mention a mental reset.
The Stars' reward for their rest will be a three-game trip to Cali, starting with a back to back Friday and Saturday in Anaheim and San Jose. Let's dive in.
Friday 1/15/16 - Dallas Stars @ Anaheim Ducks
Let's go back to October. The Anaheim Ducks were off to a "slow start" and couldn't seem to score a goal. Naturally they waltzed into the American Airlines Center and scored three first period goals. All was right in Anaheim. The Ducks were back.
The Stars stormed back, tying the game in the second period and Antoine Roussel notched the game winner in the third.
The Ducks are far from righting their ship, but they have improved. The Pacific division has been forgiving enough to allow Anaheim to climb back into fourth place in the division, one point out of a playoff spot. Their 41 points would leave them tied for last place in the Central, but in the Pacific, welcome to the playoffs!
Shockingly, the Ducks have managed only 78 goals this season; 13 behind the 29th ranked Philadelphia Flyers. The offense in Anaheim has been unbelievably poor, and no one has been able to show me a good reason why. The Stars have scored nearly twice as many goals as the Ducks. Wow.
When your team can't score, the only way to win games is to play defense, and Anaheim has certainly been doing that. The Duck's have the fourth best defense in the league in terms of total goals allowed. I guess that's why backup goalie John Gibson, with his 18 games played, made the All-Star game?
All kidding aside, this is still the same Western Conference Finals roster as last season (more or less). And unfortunately, Corey Perry is a Stars' killer. Expect a slow start to this game. The Stars will be coming off of a break, and the Ducks don't play any other way.
Saturday 1/16/16 - Dallas Stars @ San Jose Sharks
At one time this year, the Sharks were the team to beat in the Pacific. They were scoring and Martin Jones was stopping (most) everything. But after 39 games, the Sharks have cooled off.
The Ducks have not been playing good hockey, and they surpassed the Sharks in the Pacific standings. San Jose has two games in hand on Anaheim, but good grief. The wheels have come off.
The team is basically league average in every statistical measure, and have been unable to string together any kind of sustained success since their great start to the season. The Sharks downfall began in December, when they lost six games in a row, only claiming one point in the process.
The six-game losing streak punched the Sharks in the mouth, and they have been wobbly ever since.
The last time the teams met, the Stars were able to win 5-3 (with Antoine Roussel scoring another game-winner), but the game was tied entering the third period. The Sharks actually out shot Dallas 29-25. Some might argue that the Sharks are different team now than they were in October, but the last two weeks say that maybe the Stars are too?
The SAP Center in San Jose has been a tough place to play for most opponents for years, but has proven to be a house of horrors for the hosts this year. The Sharks have gone 6-12-0 at home. Oof.
January is a big month for Dallas. February is chock full of Central opponents, and the Blackhawks have already made up considerable ground in the last few weeks. Only time will tell what kind of mettle this team is made of. We will soon find out.