The hockey world was waiting for the Dallas Stars to falter and for the normal Central division paradigm to reassert itself, but Lindy Ruff's group held firm through 39 games.
Games 40, 41, and 42, however, were a bit of a disaster, and the hard-charging Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues suddenly sit within spitting distance at 54 and 53 points, respectively as Dallas tries to learn to deal with being the measuring stick night after night.
Now the team that had gone very nearly half of its season without losing twice in a row stares a four-game losing streak right in the face tonight, and the Minnesota Wild loom very large on Saturday.
The bleeding needs to stop, or it could get so much worse with a tough Western Conference schedule that stretches all the way to Valentine's Day . It starts with their best players, but they have been anything but lately, according to their head coach-
"They had a tough night, there's no getting around it," Ruff said in New York Tuesday night. "They had a lot of opportunities against, and by the end of the night, I just didn't play them anymore. They've had a tough trip, and we need those guys. They're going through a tough spell."
An odd juxtaposition the day before they're selected for the All-Star game and the media imagined the fun that could be had with those two in the new format.
Meanwhile Lindy Ruff imagined what they might do...apart? According to Mike Heika Stars lines at practice on Wednesday were these:
Kari Lehtonen left the ice earlier than did Antti Niemi so that looks like a sign you can read into for tonight's contest.
Ruff also teased that Patrik Nemeth or Jamie Oleksiak could get into the action.
While things aren't going well for the Stars the Jets are enjoying a bit of a resurgence. They've won four of their last six and have allowed just three total goals in those four wins. Stingy, stingy, stingy.
Their latest was a huge 4-1 win over Nashville Predators Tuesday night fueled by two power play goals and a huge performance in goal by Connor Hellebuyck as he stopped 43 of 44.
They'd been a little leaky on the penalty kill before that game, however, surrendering 6 power play goals in their previous four outings- So maybe there's hope a slumping Stars unit could find some success there.
Dallas took the only previous meeting this season 6-3 back in November.
Their lineup, or something close-
From Stars PR:
GROWING UP IN A PRAIRIE TOWN
The Dallas Stars take on the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night in the second of five meetings during the 2015-16 season. In the first meeting of the season on Nov. 12 at American Airlines Center, the Stars defeated the Jets, 6-3, behind a three-point night from forward Ales Hemsky (1-2=3). Goaltender Kari Lehtonen stopped 35-of-38 shots and tallied an assist (0-1=1). Five players tallied multi-point outings including John Klingberg (1-1=2), Tyler Seguin (0-2=2), Vernon Fiddler (1-1=2), Johnny Oduya (0-2=2) and Colton Sceviour (1-1=2). Dallas has collected points in five of the last seven games (4-2-1) at home against the Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise and holds an all-time home record of 8-3-1 against the club.
(ALL) STAR-STUDDED CAST
Stars captain Jamie Benn and forward Tyler Seguin were named to the 2016 All-Star Game roster today, while Stars Head Coach Lindy Ruff will serve as Head Coach of the Central Division squad. This marks the first time that two Stars players have been selected for the All-Star Game since the 2011 All-Star Game when forwards Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson earned All-Star honors. Benn currently leads the NHL with 24 goals and ranks second in the League with 52 points (24-28=52) in 42 games. He also ranks third in the NHL with 10 power play goals and is tied for third with a +18 plus/minus rating. Seguin is tied for second in the NHL with 23 goals this season and ranks third in the League with 50 points (23-27=50) in 42 games. The Brampton, Ont. native also ranks sixth in the League with 27 assists. Ruff has guided the Stars to a Western Conference-leading 60 points with a 28-10-4 record through the first 42 games this season. Dallas' 28-10-4 record marks the second-best in Stars franchise history through 42 games, trailing only the 1998-99 squad (27-8-7, 61 points). This marks Ruff's third trip to the All-Star Game as Head Coach, as he also served as bench boss at the 1999 and 2007 All-Star Games.