COMMENTARY | The Dallas Stars currently sit near the bottom of the Western Conference standings with a record of 6-6-2. The fact that a .500 record places a team 12th out of 14 speaks volumes about how dominant the West has been thus far in intra-conference play, allowing all the Western teams bar Edmonton to pad out their records. But regardless, if that's the way this season is going to play out, then the Stars are simply going to have to keep pace. And at home, they're doing just that. A mark of 3-1-2 is nothing to sneer at. But on the road things have been a little more difficult, with Dallas posting a 3-5-0 record.
Granted, there are caveats. Four of those five losses came during Kari Lehtonen's injury, when Dan Ellis took over starting netminder duties and Jack Campbell got his first NHL start. And three of them were the second nights of back-to-backs. But there can't be excuses. The Stars have got to start finding results on the road.
And now would be a good time to start doing it.
Sunday's afternoon game against the Ottawa Senators kicked off a stretch in which the Stars play 7 of 9 away from the comforts of home. To make it worse, those two home games are isolated. The Stars are in the midst of a tough three-game road trip, playing the Bruins and Red Wings in the upcoming days, and then return home to face the Blackhawks. A single home game, which ultimately makes it seem as though the road trip is ongoing, and then the Stars will depart again, this time for the Northwest, facing Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, then home for a single game against the Rangers, then back on the plane for a one-game road trip to St Louis.
The good news is that there are liberal off days sprinkled throughout that stretch. And the only back-to-back will be against the weakest two teams the Stars face, the Oilers and Flames. The schedule though does reveal a quirk in the Stars season so far. Some teams have already undertaken lengthy roadtrips this season, like the Rangers opening the season with a nine game jaunt, and other teams have enjoyed home-ice advantage for lengthy stretches. But the schedule for Dallas has been anything but consistent. The longest roadtrip the Stars have undertaken so far is three games, while at home the Stars have yet to play more than two games consecutively. In fact, it's been hard to use the terms 'roadtrip' and 'homestand' for the Stars, as both of those imply some sort of duration.
It'll balance out, but for now it certainly seems that the Stars have been on the road a lot. Even when they've been at home.
It's still early in the season. And the new system of the Stars, the personnel overhaul, and patience preached by the coaching staff has resulted in an even win-loss record. But even 14 games into the season, we still don't quite know what to expect. The players are all known quantities, but there remains room for improvement both at the individual and team levels. In two weeks time however, at the conclusion of that game against the St Louis Blues, Dallas fans should have a much clearer picture of the expectations for their team this season. Dallas will have played 14 of their first 22 games on the road, and over the next two weeks will face some of the top competition in the league, both the Eastern Conference with games in Boston and Detroit, and the Western powerhouses of Chicago, Vancouver, and St Louis.
It may sound like low expectations, but if at the end of this run, on the evening of November 23rd, we can look at the standings and see a club whose record remains at .500, then Stars fans can have confidence that this team really is on the rise. The club is certainly showing signs of it recently. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are playing like the franchise players they're meant to be, Kari Lehtonen continues to be one of the league's best goaltenders, whether he's recognized for it or not, and rookies like Valeri Nichushkin and Alex Chiasson are repaying the confidence placed in them.
The next two weeks then are the test. A month into the season and the Stars have at times shown themselves to be what we dreamed of, and at times shown themselves to be what we feared the most. But as for what they really are? Nothing like a little adversity to truly answer that question.
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