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Don't Sweat this Current Slump

by J. Douglas Foster / Dallas Stars

Rather than join the masses that are dangerously leaping off the bandwagon right now, I’ve chosen to try and figure out just what, exactly, we know about these Dallas Stars as the postseason approaches.

Sure, losing six of seven might seem like reason to panic for most. But just as winning 13 out of 15 coming out of the all-star break didn’t mean the Stars were getting fitted for their Stanley Cup rings, this current slide doesn’t necessarily mean they are doomed for playoff failure either.

So what is it we can deduce based on the events that have unfolded since the last week of January? What insight could we possibly have about a team that won 13 of 15 – without the services of Sergei Zubov – then proceeded to turn around and lose six out of seven?

The bottom line?

Those Stars are streaky little buggers.

OK, so it’s not exactly deep insight. But the good news is, streakiness is a disease that’s rampant in today’s NHL Nobody is truly immune, which means everybody is capable of going on the same slide, while the Stars are just as capable of going on another hot streak.

Just look across the league. Ottawa, the defending Eastern Conference champion, lost seven straight games at one point around Thanksgiving. San Jose, which won 11 straight and has now taken 13 of 14 to move atop the Pacific Division, lost five straight before going on its current run. Anaheim’s current 15-3-1 run over the last 19 games was preceeded by a six-game losing streak.

The Detroit Red Wings, who should easily win the President’s Trophy, lost six in a row as recently as February and dropped 10 out of 11 games during the same stretch. Yet, they still sit atop the heap, with the best record in all of the NHL. Would you take a No. 1 seed and home ice through the playoffs if it meant you had to have a very ugly slide in February? Of course you would.

The logic we can take from such slides by seemingly everyone in the league is this: The Stars have been, all season, among the top three or four teams in the Western Conference. They will continue to be among that group entering the playoffs, losing streak or not. They are capable of competing with anyone when playing to their capabilities and clicking on all cylinders. Sure, things look gloom and doom from the outside now, but who’s to say Dallas doesn’t have another 13-2-0 run packed away? Who’s to say they couldn’t get out of this funk in the final week of the season, then proceed to win 12 of their next 14?

If they do that – which they have proved they can – the Stars will be ordering a Western Conference champions banner for the ceiling at American Airlines Center, awaiting their opponent in the Stanley Cup Finals.

And that little 1-6-0 slide in the middle of March? Nothing more than a distant memory.

Hey, it could happen.

It’s so easy to point out the screw-ups in the current NHL scheduling system. Fortunately, those screw-ups are supposed to be addressed next season, but before they are, you can’t help but wonder why, initially, the schedules included …

A: An overabundance of divisional games, which leads to ridiculous travel for teams in the West;

B: Unbalanced cross-conference scheduling, meaning fans in the west would have only gotten to see Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin live every few years if not for the proposed changes;

C: Dallas playing in the Pacific Division. Seriously. We’re geographically closer to the Atlantic Ocean than the Pacific (by a good 300 miles). Dallas is the only team in hockey that travels two time zones away for every divisional game.

Yes, the NHL dropped the ball a few times. Or several times. But this season, they really got something right. And in being fair, we must offer praise where praise is warranted, just as we so often criticize when necessary.

As San Jose, Anaheim and Dallas all dig in and try to stake their claim to the Pacific Division title – and a No. 2 overall seed – they have the chance to earn that spot through direct competition with the other contenders. Dallas’ final eight games of the season includes two games with Anaheim and two with San Jose – one home and one on the road with each foe. The Ducks and Sharks also have a home-and-home matchup before season’s end, and with Phoenix desperately trying to make a late-season push for one of the final playoff spots, the Coyotes home-and-homes remaining with Dallas, San Jose and Anaheim to try and earn those points. Tough road for Phoenix, but isn’t divisional love all about being the one who knocks your closest foes out of playoff position?

Wow. Late-season divisional games that truly mean something – both to the division and for the entire playoff picture. Talk about things falling right into place.

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