Trouble on the Eastern Front

With Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Dallas Stars ended their season-long stumble against Eastern Conference opponents.

Dallas’ 13-17-2 record versus the East is the worst in the Western Conference. Conversely, the Stars have one of the best records in the league against the West. The Stars boast a stellar 14-2-4 record versus the Pacific Division, which is full of old rivals and arguably the second-best division in the league against which they struggled in the past.

Eastern Conference Matchups Provide Mixed Results

It’s tough to determine exactly why the Stars struggled against the East this season. They were not generally over-matched as they were only outscored 92-86 in 32 games. It was not a matter of playing to the level of their opposition or beating only the weaker teams. Under the new schedule guidelines, the Stars played each Eastern Conference team twice, and the results were mixed. They won both games against two of the weaker teams in the East, the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators. On the other hand, they lost both matchups against a mixed bag of teams. They fell twice to the New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets, but they were also swept by the New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and the lowly Florida Panthers.

A lack of familiarity wasn’t the reason either, as the Stars went 1-3-0 against two former Western Conference opponents. The Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings outscored the Stars 15-8 in those four games. Dallas’ lone win came with 19 seconds left in overtime at Joe Louis Arena. The lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season forced teams to play within their conferences only due to the compact schedule, but the Stars did well against the Eastern Conference the two prior seasons. An 8-7-3 record in 2011-2012 and a healthy 11-5-2 record in 2010-2011 shows the Stars didn’t have such rigorous struggles against the East before this season.

YouTube player

The Varying Circumstances

The difference does not come down to style either. While the West is full of big, physical two-way teams, the Stars did alright against teams with varying identities in the East. They split the season series with the rough and tough conference-leading Boston Bruins and were similar in total goals, shots, faceoffs and special teams statistics. The Stars also split the season series against the offensive juggernaut Pittsburgh Penguins, the physical Philadelphia Flyers and the balanced Tampa Bay Lightning.

Travis Hamonic is by far the best defenseman on the team, but is he good enough to save the season for the Islanders? (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Valeri Nichushkin and the Dallas Stars struggled against the Eastern Conference this season. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

Dallas’ longest losing streak and most troubling stretch of the season came at the hands of the Eastern Conference. A six-game losing streak opened the 2014 calendar year, and all the opponents were from the East. The 1-8-1 stretch in January was the worst stretch of the Stars’ season, and the only win in that time came against the Edmonton Oilers. The Stars ended the season with a 6-9-1 record on the road against the East.

A Positive Outlook

The silver lining for the Stars would be making the post-season despite their struggles against the Eastern Conference, especially now that there are no more games remaining against the East. They can forget about giving away a 2-0 lead in a loss to the Panthers earlier this week and focus on making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons by giving their best against two opponents they have been successful against this season.

The East may have gotten the best of the Stars this season, but a trip to the playoffs will erase all memories of the season-long struggle.