The Dallas Stars haven’t won a playoff series since the 2007-08 season. In fact, they’ve only made the playoffs once since then, falling to the Anaheim Ducks two years ago in six games. But they appear poised to change all of that this year.
Granted, it’s early. That’s the caveat that comes with making any big statement just 11 games into the season. But the Stars currently reside among the NHL elite as October wraps up. Their 9-2-0 record is second only to Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens, and their offense looks borderline unstoppable at times. If nothing else, they’re certainly one of the most entertaining clubs around.
Dallas probably isn’t all that interested in just being “entertaining” though. After all, the franchise hasn’t won a best-of-seven since George Bush was president. Guessing there might be a sense of urgency in the front office — not to mention some restlessness among the fanbase.
This year’s group looks to be more than simply fun to watch though. Antti Niemi has helped in goal, winning six of his first seven starts. His presence was supposed to push Kari Lehtonen to be better. Instead, he seems to be emerging as the presumptive starter in a ride-the-hot-hand goalie-by-committee scenario. Niemi hasn’t been dominant — his 2.61 goals against average and .915 save percentage are far from Vezina-worthy — but he’s been good enough. And with the way this group can fill the opposition’s net, they just need their goalie to be decent. At least during the regular season.
The defense has been serviceable so far, though it’s still the area of this roster that needs the most improvement. Then again, if they keep winning, perhaps that’s something that can be addressed at the trade deadline. The Stars’ calling card is clearly their offense though.
It’s what sets this team apart, and it makes them dangerous on any given night. Jamie Benn won the Art Ross last year in relatively quiet fashion, and he’s picking up right where he left off this time around. His 17 points (nine goals and eight assists) led the entire NHL entering play on Saturday. And while no one is immune to slumping at some point over the course of the full season, it’s a lot less likely when that someone is as talented as Benn — and skates on a line with Tyler Seguin.That duo alone would make this team worth the price of admission. And they’re the driving force behind an offensive attack that ranked second only to Tampa Bay last season. So what did they do over the summer? Went out and added Patrick Sharp to the mix, of course. Now this young roster has a vet with Stanley Cup experience in the locker room (not to mention Johnny Oduya, who came over from Chicago as well), as well as someone else who can chip in additional top-six production.
Dallas currently ranks fourth in the league with 3.50 goals per game, and might even get better if young Mattias Janmark continues to evolve. Or if 6-foot-4 Valeri Nichushkin is ever able to start contributing at the level many think he should be capable of. He had one assist through October. If he gets going at all, this group of forwards becomes that much more dangerous.
Perhaps most encouraging of all for fans in the Lone Star State has been the club’s play on special teams so far. Or the fact that they’ve won games in a variety of different ways already. The power play ranks third overall, hitting at 27.3 percent, while the penalty kill is also among the top ten, at 85.7 percent. And they’ve shown an ability to both cruise past teams with relative ease, or rally to steal a win, like they did against the Canucks on Thursday.
Of course, there are still areas to be improved. With everything on the line in a series against the likes of the Blackhawks or Kings, they’d need much better play in net. And the harsh reality of life in the Central Division is that one very good team — at the least — is going to miss out on the postseason altogether. That burned the Stars a year ago, and they’re currently 0-1 against clubs from their division this season.
So yes, there’s still plenty to learn about this group. But it’s hard to argue with what they’ve done so far. And it’s not a stretch to think they could get better in certain areas as the 2015-16 campaign unfolds. The duo of Benn and Seguin up front gives them a nice edge right out of the gate in most matchups. Now it’s just a matter of supporting them on a consistent basis.