The Dallas Stars appeared to be heading in the right direction after holding a 30-minute players meeting after a 4-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on home ice two weeks ago. They beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-2, and then followed that up with a 5-2 beating of the Detroit Red Wings.
Then came the 7-2 disaster on the road against the Minnesota Wild. The Stars returned home with a couple of heavy hitter Central Division opponents on the schedule. After such a loss, it’d be easy to see how things could have snowballed out of control.
Dallas then handed the St. Louis Blues a 4-1 loss, followed by a 4-1 defensive clinic in shutting down Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. They then held firm against the Colorado Avalanche with a 3-1 win.
For me, though, the real test for whether the Stars were headed in the right direction after a middling start to the season was Saturday night’s game versus the Arizona Coyotes.
It was a game that had “trap” in neon flashing lights on it: the second half of a back-to-back, with the team traveling to Glendale. An opponent that’s in the lower portion of the league’s standings. You see, Dallas has had a tendency in recent years to play down to the competition, so to speak. They haven’t always respected opponents rocking a sub-.500 record.
For me to say Dallas is heading in the right direction, they needed to win in the desert.
Thanks to the red-hot trio of Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, and Joe Pavelski, the Stars did just that. They managed a 3-2 win to give themselves wins in six of their last seven games. They’ve actually won seven of their last ten, which is a rate that would likely place them in the upper tier of NHL teams.
As has been the case lately, Hintz got the Stars off to a scorching start with his seventh goal in the past eight games just 54 seconds into the game. Unfortunately. the lead would only last a few minutes, as old fan favorite Antoine Roussel batted the puck in at the level of the crossbar past Braden Holtby. The play was reviewed, and upheld as a good goal by the barest of margins.
Jacob Peterson restored the lead on his first shift back on the ice after going hard into the boards. He was in a race with a Coyote defender and was able to brace himself though his momentum wouldn’t allow him to stop the collision into the top of the boards. He left the game to get checked out, missing about eight minutes of playing time. His first shift back, Peterson crashed the net and was able to put home a rebound.
Arizona tied the game early into the second period thanks to Travis Boyd and an inability to clear the area around Holtby. Boyd cashed in thanks to chaos around Holtby’s net. Jason Robertson scored four minutes later when Hintz found him uncovered to the side of the net, and Dallas shut down the Coyotes in the third period.
Generally, American Thanksgiving has been the checkpoint for playoff contention. Those teams in a playoff position at that time tend to be there at the end of the season. With this year starting a week later than normal, I’m using December 1 as my evaluation point as that’s likely when the number of games played is roughly equivalent to Thanksgiving under a normal year. Dallas will have one more game before then, a home contest versus the Carolina Hurricanes which will be another big test for the Stars.
As it stands now, Dallas finds themselves just one point out of the second Wild Card in the West, behind the Nashville Predators — and with two games in hand. They’re two points out of the first Wild Card behind the Vegas Golden Knights — and with two games in hand there as well. They’re now one point behind the Colorado Avalanche for third in the Central Division and three points back of St. Louis for second.
In other words, their recent hot play has pulled the team right back into the playoff picture. The trick will be to stay there.