It’s pretty crazy how quickly media opinions on a team can turn here in the NHL. Just over a month ago, the Dallas Stars were the talk of the Western Conference and looked to be running away with the division. A rough month of January combined with an epic winning streak by the Chicago Blackhawks and now many are questioning the Stars legitimacy in the race to be the best of the West.
Unless you haven’t paid attention the past six years, you know that the road to the Stanley Cup goes through Chicago, Los Angeles, or both. The Kings and the Blackhawks are the teams that the Stars have to get through to be considered true contenders.
The regular season isn’t the playoffs. We know that. While you can’t predict a playoff series entirely on what happened during the regular season series, you can at least get a feel of how the teams match up with one another.
The Stars have gone 2-2-0 to the Blackhawks and Kings so far this season. Two exciting victories over the Hawks (one in Chicago), one four-goal loss to the Hawks and a one-goal coin flip in Los Angeles. Not amazing, not terrible either. What has to be looked at is if they are being competitive in those games and standing up to the teams that are considered the class of the conference.
December 22nd – Dallas Stars 4, Chicago Blackhawks 0
We’ll start with a victory and a game that happened awhile back. The Stars had a 1-0 lead headed into the third period when an early Patrick Sharp goal seemed to deflate the Blackhawks and let the Stars take total control.
The Stars got the better of even-strength play with a +10 Corsi differential, +11 scoring-chance differential and a +4 high-danger scoring-chance differential at the end of the game. Sharp had one of his better games as a Star and his goal blew the roof off of the American Airlines Center.
This game helped set the Blackhawks off. They lost one more game after the Stars shut them out and then went on an absurd 12-game win streak that saw the Hawks take control of the Central division.
January 19th – Los Angeles Kings 3, Dallas Stars 2
These two teams played about as even of a game as you can. The game was tied at two for a good chunk of the game until Milan Lucic scored the game-winner with about 14 minutes left in the third period.
At even-strength, Dallas had a slight Corsi-for advantage, winning the possession battle 49-44. The scoring chances at even-strength were deadlocked at 25 and the Kings had two more high-danger scoring chances. The faceoffs at even-strength were dead-even, the goals were tied and the hits were close as well. This was one of those games that could have gone either way.
Dallas had the better of play in the first period but a late goal by Cody Eakin had to save them from being down one on the scoreboard. Nobody scored in the second period and it was a completely even period in terms of the play.
In the third, Los Angeles had a slight advantage in even-strength play and that cost the Stars. I’m anxious to see some more games between these two as the first match up was almost dead-even.
February 6th – Chicago Blackhawks 5, Dallas Stars 1
Although the game was probably a bit closer than the score, this one left the Stars with a sour taste in their mouths. The Stars were actually a better team at even-strength but the Blackhawks dominated on special teams. The Blackhawks scored a power play goal and two shorthanded goals while the Stars couldn’t manage a single goal on special teams. If you go -3 on special teams, you’re going to lose a lot of games.
Corey Crawford looked like a Vezina candidate in this game (and he probably should be at the end of the season). The Stars pelted him with 37 shots and he turned away all but one. He was absolutely incredible throughout the entire contest.
While the Stars got demolished on the scoreboard, they at least went away knowing they got the better of play at even strength.
February 11th – Dallas Stars 4, Chicago Blackhawks 2
Dallas got off to a fast start in this one and dominated the Blackhawks in the first period. The Stars scored four goals in the first period, including three from Patrick (Hatrick) Eaves. Dallas out-possessed Chicago in the first, had a +10 advantage in terms of scoring chances and a +3 advantage in terms of high-danger scoring chances.
Flip to the second period and Dallas controlled the play once again, albeit by a smaller margin. They managed the game well in the second and although they didn’t score, they didn’t allow a ton of opportunities either. The Blackhawks managed just 8 scoring chances to the Stars’ 12 in the second, including a 2-to-4 disadvantage in high-danger scoring chances.
The third period was an absolute clinic by the Hawks and the Stars were fortunate they built up a 4-0 lead. Chicago scored two goals and if it weren’t for Kari Lehtonen, they would have scored a lot more. They had an absurd 21-2 shot advantage, a 27-2 Corsi advantage, a 10-1 scoring chance advantage and a 6-0 high-danger scoring chance advantage. This blowout turned interesting real fast, but the Stars escaped with the win.
The Stars Are Holding Their Own
Through four games against the class of the Western conference, the Stars have looked plenty up to the task. They lack the playoff experience of a Chicago or a Los Angeles but that is why they brought in proven winners like Sharp and Oduya.
So far, they look like a team that can compete with the West’s best.