Less than three weeks ago, the Dallas Stars were hanging around the NHL basement, sitting at an abysmal 1-7-1 record. The offense was broken, the team’s top players were struggling, the coaching looked bad, you name it.
Since then, the Stars have essentially done a 180 turnaround, winning seven of their last eight games. All of a sudden, the Stars look like a dominant team, while taking care of playoff teams such as the Colorado Avalanche and the Montreal Canadiens.
But despite the recent hot streak, the Stars are still “only” 8-8-1, or .500 for the season. That’s an outstanding place to be in in early November considering their awful start, but it’s still not good enough for a playoff spot:
All together, we can look at the Stars as three different teams: the team that started as one of the league’s worst, the one that currently looks like one of the best, and the one that’s simply average. But which of those is the “real” Dallas Stars (i.e. what can we expect moving forward)?
For starters, we can fairly eliminate the 1-7-1 squad. Heading into the season, there were valid reasons to doubt the Stars as a potential Stanley Cup contender or even as a playoff contender. It’s easy to argue Dallas only made the playoffs last year because of otherworldly play by Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin in net, and that they were likely to regress (and they did). The Stars also desperately needed a boost in their offensive output, and didn’t do much outside of replacing Mats Zuccarello with Joe Pavelski.
But no one, not even the most negative of fans, saw that start coming. The Stars looked like one of the worst teams in the NHL, and the standings proved it. Yet there was still too much talent on the roster for the team to be that bad. Even if they didn’t improve to a playoff team, it was highly unlikely that they’d finish with top-five lottery odds.
So don’t expect the Stars to go back to being a basement dweller. But you also can’t expect them to keep playing like a 7-1-0 pace team. For starters, they still looked bad the majority of those eight games. To name a few worries — they had no business beating the Philadelphia Flyers given the shot totals, they should have beaten the Ottawa Senators by more than one goal, and did you see the first two periods against the Minnesota Wild?
Of course, the Stars have looked dynamite since Alexander Radulov’s goal in the late second against the Wild. The Stars have clearly played differently, better than they have all season. But three-and-a-third games are not nearly a big enough sample size to say they’re now suddenly a Cup contender.
It should be big enough, however, to indicate that yes, this is a good hockey team. One that had a terrible start to the season and seems to be finally figuring things out. That means even the “simply average” modifier isn’t really a fair way to characterize this team — at the worst, they should still be viewed as above average.
So what should we expect moving forward? How the Stars look on their Canada road trip starting this Sunday will be a big indicator. The four day break might serve as a momentum breaker for the Stars’ hot streak, or maybe it’ll give them time to refine their recent style of play and improve upon it.
At 8-8-1, the Stars are essentially starting with a clean slate for the rest of the season. Now it’s time to prove they’re a force to be reckoned with.