Mid-Season Report

Once again, school has kept me off the internet and particularly away from writing hockey. This is very disappointing and I apologize to any who were hoping to read something.

On the bright (understatement, more like blindingly good) side, the Stars are having what might be their best regular season since the early 2000s. As of January 12th, the Stars were comfortably sitting in 3rd place in the Western Conference with a 7-point lead over the Ducks, who reside in 7th place.

The team's forwards have been phenomenal.

A usual top line of James Neal, Brad Richards, and Loui Eriksson have combined to score 50 goals and 129 points in the first 44 games. Richards is on pace to best his career high of 91 points while Loui should set a career high in points for the fourth straight season.

On the second, or rather the 1B line, Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro form their usual deadly tandem and have had Jamie Benn on the wing for the majority of the season. They've combined for 39 goals and 94 points so far, with Morrow on pace to best his career high of 36 goals.

The rest of the forwards have swapped lines throughout the season depending on their level of play, but the bottom 6 group was recently bolstered by the re-acquisition of Jamie Langenbrunner. A Dallas Star from the '99 Cup team, Langenbrunner started off rough in New Jersey this season but still managed 4 goals and 14 points through 34 games. His defensive play, and more significantly his leadership skills, bolster a group that has already played well this season. Steve Ott heads the group offensively, with 9 goals and 19 points through 44 games and, of course, a team-leading 108 penalty minutes. Langenbrunner and Ott now play on a 3rd line that typically includes either Adam Burish, who has 4 goals and 6 points, or Tom Wandell, who has 3 goals and 4 points. The fourth line shuffles between Brandon Segal, who has 4 goals and 9 points, Brian Sutherby (2g, 4pts), Toby Petersen (1g, 3pts), and Krys Barch (1g, 2pts). Also, the Stars have used Aaron Gagnon as an injury call-up, and he has 2 assists in 7 games.

It's not very easy by the offensive numbers to tell that the Stars' offense has improved much over last season, but take the fact that last year, the Stars' worst forward in plus/minus was Steve Ott at -14, and the team only had 6 regular players with plus ratings overall. Comparatively, this season Ott is tied with Toby Petersen for lowest +/- at -7, but only 7 regulars have a minus rating. That's a pretty significant improvement, especially when you consider that the Stars have generally been outshot all season. Major credit for this of course goes to Kari Lehtonen, who we'll talk about later.

The Stars' defense has been an interesting tale all season.

Despite a true number 1 D-man, the team has done fairly well. Stalwarts Stephane Robidas and Nicklas Grossman continue to be the top shutdown pair for the team, and Robidas is also the highest scoring defender with 3 goals and 19 points. Right behind Robidas offensively is Trevor Daley, who has 3 goals and 16 points and has shown more flashes of the Mike Green potential he has, rather than last season's aimless speedster. Defensively his game has improved too, as Daley leads the blueline with a +10 rating. Also on the chart are stay-at-home veteran Karlis Skrastins (2g, 5 pts, Even), young and still learning Matt Niskanen (0g, 6pts, Even), and the underrated duo of Jeff Woywitka (5a, +7) and Mark Fistric (2g, 3pts, -1). Rookie Philip Larsen, still developing his potential in the AHL, has managed 2 assists and a plus-1 rating in 6 games.

As far as goaltenders go, my opinion has been completely changed compared to my concerns over the summer.

Kari Lehtonen has remained healthy, and with an 18-10-5 record, 2.59 GAA and .926% SP, has kept the team afloat in many games that they should have lost based on the play of the skaters. He's had very few moments where he hasn't looked better than Marty Turco did in his last two seasons of being a Dallas Star, and if he keeps up this level of play, the Stars could go deep into the playoffs. Back-up Andrew Raycroft has been solid, posting an 8-3-0 record, a 2.05 GAA and a .934% SP, and leading the Stars to their only two shutouts this season. Richard Bachman played 9:35 in one game this year, and stopped all 4 shots he faced. After gaining some pro experience, he'll be a solid prospect. And don't forget about Jack Campbell.

Overall, the team has worked hard and largely earned their seat as the Pacific Division leader so far. With very few injuries having affected the team, and appearing to have set the distractions of ownership issues to the side, Dallas could have quite a run in the playoffs this season. And with prospects like Campbell, Bachman, Gagnon, Larsen, Travis Morin, and Severin Blindenbacher in the pipeline, expect a fairly bright future in Dallas.