Brace yourselves, December is coming.
The Dallas Stars’ schedule calls for more than just harsh weather to end the calendar year. Over the next month, the Stars face their toughest stretch of the season. It is still early, but their playoff hopes can be greatly elevated or dashed. The team’s true colors will be shown, their mettle will be tested and their early season lessons will be magnified.
The Importance of December
December is the second busiest month of the Stars’ season behind March. They will play 15 games in 31 days, eight of which will be at home. Four times over the first two months of the season, the Stars had at least three consecutive days off between games. They get only get three consecutive days off in December once, the week of Christmas.
Playing every other night should finally help the team develop a rhythm which they have not been able to attain yet this season. Dallas began the season with a five-day break in between their second and third game of the season and never played more than two consecutive games at home. Three times the Stars followed a three-game road trip with a single home game before heading back out on the road.
Establishing a rhythm should help the Stars start and end games stronger. Several times this season, the Stars came out of the gates flat or even worse, fell apart at the end of a game. The mentality of trying to get into a game after nearly a week off or ending a lengthy road trip sometimes wears on players. Getting into a routine of playing every other night, especially while spending a few more days at home, should help the team stay sharp and focused.
Dallas’ record in December will provide crucial tie-breakers that dictate whether or not they make the playoffs. The Stars face division opponents eight times in December, more than any other month of the season, making the month critical for the battle in the standings. As of November 26, the Stars earned the fourth fewest regulation wins in the conference and own a dismal 3-4-0 record against their division opponents. They can not afford many more 3-point games, especially against division opponents.
Rivalries have not played a major part of the first quarter of the season for the Stars, but December should spark new and old flames. They will face Chicago, Nashville and Colorado each at home and on the road, and they also face old division rivals three times. Hosting and visiting division opponents in a short time frame should help create some animosity between the teams and push the Stars to play with more tenacity and grit.
The non-division opponents will not be a piece of cake, either. In the first week of December, the Stars host the Oilers and Flyers, two teams who recently rode three-game win streaks, and they visit the Toronto Maple leafs who sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. They host the always-dangerous Canucks later in the month before travelling to California to face two old rivals, the Sharks and Kings.
Of Dallas’ 15 games in December, 12 will be against teams with winning records, more than any other month this season. However, the Stars have already played against eight of the 11 opponents they will play in December, so they have something to look back at and learn from for most their upcoming games.
The Stars recently reversed their early season trend of falling apart late in games and will need to continue to do so for any success in December. They scored nine third period compared to three first period goals over their last five games. They need to find a little more balance and not rely on battling back and coming from behind to win games.
It might feel a little early to say a game, let alone a month, is a “must win,” but with so much ground that can be made up or lost in the extremely competitive Western Conference, December is a must win for the Dallas Stars. If they hope to return to the playoffs, they have to survive the toughest month of their season.