The terms “Fast Start and “Dallas Stars” are rarely seen together in the same sentence. Since the 2010-11 season, the number of times that Dallas has been comfortably in playoff position at the All-Star break can be counted on exactly one finger. The Stars have managed to claw their way into the playoffs in 2014, 2019, and 2022 but it took some late-season surging before finally clinching a Wild Card postseason berth.
Before we go any further, please keep in mind the “Quarter Pole.” This refers to when there is ¼ of a race left to be run. Hence, when an NHL team gets to 20 games played, they are at the ¾ pole.
The one season Dallas sprinted out and never looked back was the 2015-16 season. Under Lindy Ruff, the Stars’ record at the ¾ pole was an otherworldly 16-4-0. Not surprisingly, the Stars finished with a Western Conference-best 109 points and won their only Division title since the 2005-06 season. (The Stars jumped out to a 13-6-1 start in 2005-06). Other than that outlier, in non-Covid seasons, Dallas has been anywhere from four games over .500 to one game below. There have been no division championships and no home-ice advantage for any playoff round.
Start strong and set the tone early has been one of the key messages from Pete DeBoer heading into training camp and the season. With a record of 8-5-1 through 14 games, Dallas has the opportunity for an above-average first 20 games despite the fact the team will have played 11 of those games on the road. This opportunity is not lost on the players who have been here for both the hot and the cold beginnings.
“I remember my first year, we were always in the top of the standings. Everyone in the locker room was happy and had a lot of confidence. When you feel good, you play good, and we did that for an entire season. Hopefully, we will do that again this year,” said Radek Faksa, who was a rookie on that 2015-16 team.
Despite a solid start with lots of optimism, Friday’s game against San Jose shows how fast things can turn in a different direction. What may be a good beginning can quickly turn in the other direction if the level of play does not meet the challenge.
“Every game matters. No one is looking at the standings right now. We’re off to a good start but we’re only three games away from being a .500 team,” said Jason Robertson. “We’re vibing right now, feeling confident and it needs to carry over into each game.”
There are some who believe that any team in playoff position at Thanksgiving will be a playoff team at the end of the season. Last season, 75% of teams in those postseason spots on the last Thursday in November went on to play in the Stanley Cup tournament. There are three road games and three contests at the AAC before the ¾ pole is hit. The table is set for Dallas to have a stronger start to the season than usual. Now the only question is whether the team pulls up a chair.
And now, some random thoughts:
- There has been some talk recently about Wyatt Johnston and his possible availability to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships next month. I hate to burst the bubble of our neighbors to the North, but it’s not going to happen. Johnston is playing well and his line with Jamie Benn and Ty Dellandrea has been a close second to the Avengers Line in terms of offensive success lately. In fact, Johnston says playing anywhere but for the Stars has not even entered his mind. “I haven’t really thought about it. I’m so happy to be here (Dallas). I love it here. Just really focused on playing well here and helping the Stars win,” said the rookie.
- After a strong start to the season, the combination of Tyler Seguin and Mason Marchment has cooled off. It’s not a coincidence the drop-off happened after Ty Dellandrea was moved from that line.
- Currently, the Stars have a top-8 group of forwards and need someone to step up and solidify the Seguin line. Denis Gurianov looked good for a little while but is now banged up. Matej Blumel showed offensive flashes but was minus-2 in his NHL debut. The opportunity is there for both players…hoping someone will seize the moment.
- The announcement that the World Cup of hockey would be postponed from 2024 due to current world events should not be a surprise. It’s a tricky situation to put together a World event while excluding Russian players who currently are superstars in the NHL. Any tournament without Alexander Ovechkin or Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem second rate, but allowing any version of Team Russia right now is unacceptable. Trying for a 2025 tournament seems unrealistic as well. Not sure anyone truly believes the “current environment” will improve enough to allow the World Cup to be played then either.
- Stars 2022 first-round pick Lian Bichsel has surprised some in the organization with how well the 18-year-old big man can skate. Bichsel leads his team in penalty minutes with 37, but the nastiness is expected (and appreciated) by the 6-foot-4, 215-pound stay-at-home defenseman.
- And finally…went down the rabbit hole of Love is Blind, Season 3, which was filmed in Dallas. For some reason, my wife was more upset at the end than she was during the “Red Wedding” on Game of Thrones. As for me, I’ll never look at a bag of cuties (oranges) the same way again.