The start of the Dallas Stars’ Central Division winning, Western Conference leading season last year could not have been any different from the start to their season this year.
While the Stars enjoyed relative health last season, this season has not been so kind. The chick’s come home to roost on that front, so to speak, and the Stars find themselves capable of putting together a near-full complement of forwards from their injured reserve list that could match up against plenty of NHL teams most nights.
How many NHL teams would lose to that group? pic.twitter.com/Rl8rkocOfG— Josh Lile (@JoshL1220) October 26, 2016
And there’s an underlying aspect of this season that could contribute to the starkness in contrast between the two season starts that hasn’t really been touched on yet.
Last season, Dallas played 13 Eastern Conference teams in their first 24 games (almost half their schedule). In that same stretch, they played 4 games versus their Central Division mates. This season, the Stars will play 4 Eastern Conference teams in their first 24 games and 12 games versus the Central (50% (!!!) of their first 24 games).
That schedule is brutal to a team this decimated by injuries. Not to mention, a team that could possibly not see something resembling their full roster until after several weeks of the season has passed.
It’s not an excuse for what the team has done so far this season. Every team has a stretch of the schedule that is particularly brutal. Every team has a stretch where key pieces seem to be fighting through injury or out for a bit to recover.
The Stars happen to have the perfect storm of the two coinciding at the same time.
But the schedule doesn’t get easier. The games keep coming, and the divisional matchups that mean so much down the stretch of the season have just as big of an impact at the beginning of the season.
This is when the Stars need to rely on their system to generate success. They can’t wait for guys to get healthy to start putting points in the bank. While it would be nice to have a pause button on the season, it doesn’t exist and the team needs to play the hand they’ve been dealt.
Last night, the coaching staff was able to simplify the transition game a little bit and the early results were positive, if not overwhelming. While this team continues to bleed shot attempts against and is on the wrong side of the Corsi possession scale, they’ve still managed to collect 58% of available points so far this season. They’re not digging a hole they can’t get out of.
So they’ve got time to work on the fancy stats side of their game. It is early in the season, after all. Less than 10% of the season has gone by. They’ll get better as forwards like Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, and Jiri Hudler get healthy.
Until then, the expectations for this iteration of the Stars roster is simple:
· Incremental improvement in defensive play and possession (not expecting it to turn around overnight)
· Continue picking up points at a decent clip (at least play .500 hockey through this stretch of the schedule with all these divisional matchups on the horizon)
· Learn – and rely on – the system
They don’t have to be worldbeaters just yet. After all, that expectation is lofty considering the current state of the Stars roster.