The Real Test for the Dallas Stars Will Be When Things Stop Going Well
The Stars have played as well as one could hope to start this season, but we won't really know what they're made of until luck works against them for a stretch.
There's been a lot to love about the Dallas Stars season so far.
Don't like the three-goal comeback against the Minnesota Wild? Try one against the Anaheim Ducks for size. How about a couple hat-tricks - those are always fun. Or beautiful overtime game winners, stellar saves and yes, even the occasional big hit. But mostly goals on goals on goals.
There's a reason the Stars have become the team many in the hockey media are secretly rooting for, if only from a winners-set-the-tone rationale.
If you could bronze this 19-5-1 start and repeat it every season, things would be phenomenal. But there's only 30 percent of the season gone, 70 percent still in front of them, and with that the biggest test remains ahead.
Because eventually things are going to go wrong for some stretch of time, and it's how the team responds at that point that will tell us more about them than almost anything so far.
This isn't a secret to the team either. A few week ago, after one of the odd losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the great Elliotte Friedman posted this note about the Stars in 30 Thoughts (Thought 18, if you're looking for it):
Johnny Oduya compared this team to watching the 2008-09 Blackhawks, before they won anything. "The question becomes, do we believe we are special?" "What happens when we lose three or four in a row?" Patrick Sharp asked. "How does the room handle it?" He said Chicago faced a similar question last season. "We looked at the schedule with seven-to-10 games remaining and said, ‘We might not even make the playoffs.’ I don’t want to say we flipped the switch, because that’s wrong, but we found another gear. And we never lost it."
The Stars have flipped the switch, or at least pulled off a win, after every loss so far this season, from the puzzling ones to Toronto to the oddly predictable against the Avalanche. It's a big part of why they've been able to get themselves to the top of the toughest division in hockey.
But at some point, things will go wrong in succession. They'll string three or four losses together, some of which they deserve and some of which leave them cursing the hockey gods. No matter how good the team, stretches like that happen in any season because that's just how sports roll.
That all comes back to Oduya's question - do they believe they are special - and then to Sharp's implied point - are they willing to work hard and smart enough to take advantage of it?
Dallas this season is putting forward unquestionably one of the most talented teams in the NHL, particularly on offense. Very few teams can match the raw amount of skill the Stars put out there every night. And the Stars know that - you can see it in the confidence they have even playing from three goals down.
That confidence can be a double-edged sword, however, as we saw against the Flames. When a team knows how good it is, or at least how good it can be, there can be a tendency to play with one's food and overlook opponents who have been obviously struggling. You could absolutely argue that was the case for the Maple Leafs and the Flames, and maybe even the Avalanche (though that was only two games in).
It's a bit of an inescapable reality in an 82-game season. Teams simply can't reach the emotional peak every single time out even before you start considering things like travel fatigue, injuries and illness. But great teams are able push past that and do enough, whether that's building on a seemingly-comfortable three-goal lead or not get frustrated when pouring 30 shots on net isn't working.
It's in this challenge that we'll learn so much more about this hockey team than we have so far. As much as the skill that players like Sharp, Oduya, Jason Spezza and Antti Niemi matters to this group, their ability to help find the emotional even keel that will get the Stars through rough patches is probably more valuable. They have been there on good and great teams while most of the Stars young leadership, even Jamie Benn, is learning how to lead the hunted on the fly.
We've seen good signs so far as players like Tyler Seguin and Benn have made pointed comments about not getting too excited after messy wins, and Mike Heika has commented on the fact that the locker room seems to be pretty balanced. A large part of being able to bounce back from down stretches is not riding the emotional roller coaster to begin with.
So do you believe the Dallas Stars are special this season? And more importantly, do they? We may only know after they hit whatever inevitable down is in front of them.