The past week of games for the Dallas Stars stayed true to the team’s form thus far into the season: dangerously inconsistent swings between triumphant overcoming of adversity and uninspired fits of lackluster play.
On Thursday the Stars were embarrassed 4-1 on home ice at the hands of the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets, but then turned it around on Saturday with a stunning, feisty win over the defending champion Boston Bruins 4-2. The Stars were unable to build any momentum off their win over Boston, however, when they dropped their next game to Detroit 5-4, a score that doesn’t accurately depict how badly the Stars were outplayed.
With 43 points in 38 games, Dallas currently sits 10th in the tight Western Conference, albeit two points out of both 8th place overall as well as two points behind Los Angeles for the Pacific Division lead. Injuries to key players like Kari Lehtonen, Stephane Robidas and Sheldon Souray have taken their toll lately, but there is still plenty of hockey left to be played and the Stars are still right in the thick of the playoff hunt, but will need to find a proper rhythm if they are to avoid the same collapse that befell them last season.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the individual stories of note throughout the Stars’s roster.
–Ryder heating up: It took him some time to adjust to his new surroundings after signing on for two years at $3.5 million per, but Michael Ryder is currently finding his groove in Dallas. He didn’t click early on playing on Line 1B with Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow, but has found strong chemistry on Line 1A with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson. Ryder is back to his old sniping ways, with a team-high 17 goals in 38 games, but most impressively with 8 goals in his last 10 games. He’s currently on pace to pass his career high of 30 goals.
–Lehtonen still feeling groin injury: At least, that’s what Stars faithful are hoping is the reason for his sub-par play as of late. Lehtonen was stealing games left and right for the Stars early on before missing a month of action with the injury, but lost twice and averaged less than .900 save % in his three games since returning. Lehtonen’s injury history is well known, and this is a major cause for concern considering that Dallas’ playoff hopes rest squarely on his shoulders. Don’t be surprised to see rookie Richard Bachman, who wrestled the backup job away from Andrew Raycroft (now in the AHL) getting a start or two in the near future to give Lehtonen more rest.
–Pardy needs to make most of current opportunity: Stars fans were left scratching their heads this past offseason when Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk signed lunchpail defender Adam Pardy to a two-year contract worth $2 million per season, triple what similar defenceman, and former fan scapegoat, Jeff Woywitka was earning for the Stars last year. Perhaps Joe saw something in Pardy that wasn’t there, as through 19 games he has a team-worst -8 and only one assist, making him the new scapegoat. Making matters worse is the fact that rookie Philip Larsen has a stellar +7 rating in the same amount of games after being called up from the AHL, and is logging more and more minutes. Larsen’s play helped demote Pardy to the 8th defenceman spot, but current injuries to Larsen, Souray and Robidas have thrown him back in the mix. If Pardy’s play doesn’t improve soon he, like Raycroft, could soon find himself relegated to the AHL, despite having one more year left on his new contract.
–Can Daley finally breakout?: A high-scoring defender in his junior years, Daley has never developed into the offensive defenceman that he was projected to be. Daley possesses top-notch speed and good offensive instincts, but still can’t seem to put those towards anything on the stat sheet, although his 27 points last year was a career high. The 27 year old is on pace to top that number with 15 points already in 35 games, but more is needed from him if the Stars are to become legitimate contenders in the West, especially considering that Daley is signed through 2015. His powerplay time has increased lately due to the aforementioned injuries to Souray, Robidas and Larsen, so now is the perfect chance.