As the off-season slowly winds down, dragging our patience away with it, the preparation for the upcoming season begins to slowly ramp up. As if last season’s success and thrilling return to the playoffs isn’t enough, there are plenty of reasons for Dallas Stars fans to be excited about the 2014-2015 season.
Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin could continue their reign as one of the most tantalizing duos in the league. Valeri Nichushkin returns with a year of on-ice and off-ice experience. Fresh faces Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky provide an upgraded second line that could wreak havoc on opponents. Kari Lehtonen has a more capable back-up this season, taking pressure and playing time off his heavily-worn shoulders. The young core and rookies will hit the ice with added post-season experience from the NHL, AHL or both, and the taste of playoff atmosphere invigorated a fan base, team and management with eyes already focused on the ultimate prize.
Training camp is less than two months away, so while there still is time before we see the Stars hit the ice, we can look ahead at some intriguing games to mark on our calendars.
1- October 9, 2014: Dallas Stars vs. Chicago Blackhawks
The season opener pins the Stars against one of the best teams in the league. Early odds-makers and various members of the media already point to the Blackhawks as Western Conference favorites. This matchup provides the Stars with a chance to set the tone for their season early, and it’s an early measuring stick with their Central Division rivals. Oh, and there was that whole Antoine Roussel incident last season that sparked a little heated play from both sides. The American Airlines Center will be packed and the house will be rocking around what should be a fast-paced and intense start to the season.
2- October 31, 2014: Dallas Stars vs. Anaheim Ducks
This is Dallas’ first game against their 2014 playoff foes. There was a lot of nastiness in the six game series between the old Pacific Division rivals, and despite a lack of a playoff experience, the Stars came within a couple of minutes of pushing last season’s Western Conference champions to a decisive seventh game. Considering both teams’ off-season additions, this should be a very fast-paced, heavy-hitting affair with pride (and redemption for the Stars) on the line.
3- January 29, 2015: Dallas Stars at Ottawa Senators
Not that there is a rivalry between the two teams, but this matchup will be Spezza’s first trip back to the only other NHL team he played for. Despite some injury struggles, the former Senators captain maintained a point-per-game production rate and provided leadership over a span that saw the team reach as far the Stanley Cup Final in 2007. Hemsky was Spezza’s linemate for a short but very productive time with the Senators last season, and they could possibly be linemates for the Stars in their return to Canada’s capital.
4- February 10, 2015: Dallas Stars at Boston Bruins
The Bruins are the pre-season favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. The class of the East will be a good measuring stick in the final third of the season as play intensifies leading up to the playoffs. Seguin playing his former team will remain a storyline for while, but this will also be the Stars’ first trip to Boston since Vernon Fiddler’s surprising penalty shot goal tied the game late and led to a shootout victory courtesy of goals from Seguin and Rich Peverley.
5- April 11, 2015: Dallas Stars vs. Nashville Predators
Dallas’ final game of the season comes at home against a Central Division rival who only finished three points behind the Stars last season. The Predators made some major changes this off-season, including replacing head coach Barry Trotz with a more offensive-minded Peter Laviolette and acquiring James Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins. If this matchup does not determine the playoff fate of at least one of these two teams, there is a good chance it will determine seeding.