Now that the season's in full swing, they've slowed down a bit and have resumed the usual patterns of wins and losses. They've slipped down to 10th in the Conference, but it is once again an extremely competitive West. If the Stars can bounce back from some recent tough losses, like the game last night against Los Angeles, they can definitely fight for a lower-4 playoff spot.
The differences in the negatives between this season and last will, to be redundant, make the difference in the Stars season.
Last year, the worries were centered around just about everything. Our top veterans were either getting injured or playing inconsistently, our defense was infinitely weak, and Marty Turco was having one of the worst seasons of his life. On top of that, players, staff, and management were all distracted by the risky ownership situation. Divisional rivals Los Angeles and Phoenix were having surprisingly outstanding seasons, San Jose was a typical powerhouse, and Anaheim has never been an easy team for Dallas to beat. Along with the rest of the Western Conference being neck and neck, a struggling Stars team once again missed the playoffs.
Over the summer, it was difficult to tell the direction things would go in the season. General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk decided on some interesting moves, releasing veterans Mike Modano, Marty Turco, and Jere Lehtinen, while bringing in Adam Burish and Andrew Raycroft.
However, the Stars leapt out of the gate with a 5-1 start, and even with a less exciting 8-6 record through 14 games now, the team looks solid. The offense is being led by the youthful trio of Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn, and James Neal, as well as the talents of Brad Richards, Brenden Morrow, and Mike Ribeiro. The defense is stronger behind the solid Stephane Robidas, Karlis Skrastins, and Nicklas Grossman, as well as the improvements of Matt Niskanen, Trevor Daley, and Mark Fistric. Kari Lehtonen has been the reason behind at least half of Dallas' success this year, and has played outstandingly well thanks to his improved training over the summer.
The primary player to watch is Lehtonen. If he stays healthy, he'll give Dallas a chance every night. If he gets hurt, the Stars will either have to rely on Andrew Raycroft, or more likely give up a key player for a starting goaltender.
(Did I seriously just type that? Suuuch cliche writing.)
Surprising notes: Brad Richards has been in the top 10 NHL scoring leaders for most of the season so far, and Loui Eriksson's been in the top 20 in goals for most of the season as well. Mike Ribeiro still hasn't scored a goal. Tom Wandell hasn't scored a point beyond the game against the Panthers, where he scored two goals.