It's only been a week, but as the Dallas Stars prepare to resume their schedule, it feels like a lot longer since they last played a game. Maybe it's because most around Dallas would prefer not to recall a truly forgettable month of January. Or maybe it's because the six days off, two weeks before the All-Star break, made this whole stretch feel more like the Olympic break than the conventional All-Star one. Either way, hockey is back and those longing for action are about to get it in droves.
The post All-Star break schedule is always the most fun of the season. It's also the most critical. Teams have just a few more weeks to determine a strategy for the trade deadline, and the playoff picture starts to take some form of shape.
This season fun and critical are also joined by busy. By the time the puck drops in Winnipeg on Tuesday night, the Stars will have played just six games in a span of 24 days. By contrast, they are about to double that total with 12 games in the next 24 days. The drag race that will be February is waiting for them, and there is no chance to warm back into the swing of things. That's because adding to the amount of games and general importance that every team will face in their return from Nashville is specifically what awaits the Stars.
Seven of the first eight games are against Central Division opponents. Three of those are against Chicago and St. Louis, the teams that currently sandwich Dallas in the standings. The lone non-divisional game is a highly-anticipated meeting with the NHL-leading Washington Capitals. Before the Blackhawks caught fire and the Stars...well...didn't, Dallas and Washington were #1 and #2 in the league standings for most of the season.
Additionally, seven of the first nine Stars games out of the break come on the road. If you were wondering if that matters, it sure did over the last month. The Stars are winless in eight straight on the road. Furthermore, in their last seven road games, the Stars have allowed 32 goals (4.6 per game) as opposed to allowing just 12 goals in their last nine home games (1.3).
That's not to say the Stars are necessarily in trouble outside of Texas. Before their recent struggles on the road, Dallas went their first 18 away games allowing just 43 combined goals (2.4). They had the eighth-best road GAA in the league. But the month before the All-Star break ballooned that number, and now the Stars will have to get back to their early-season roots with a road-heavy slate about to begin.
The Stars have a total of 32 games remaining this season. Over 29 days beginning Tuesday, they will play 15 - nearly half of them.
The first three months of the season were record-setting for Dallas. Last month was a cold shower that temporarily cooled the fire. Now, this month will provide the final piece of information to help the Stars make their deadline decisions and potentially find out what position they'll be racing for in the closing weeks of the season.
It's been a relatively tame last few weeks for the Stars. That's about to change. Drastically . The stakes are raised. The task is clear. The biggest days of the NHL schedule are upon us.
The Stars return from the break with a three-game week, beginning on the road. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' as the Stars open February:
The Stars first game back comes in Winnipeg, where the Jets and the rest of Canada are desperately hoping for a late-season turnaround. In what could have been declared a National State of Emergency, not a single Canadian team was in a playoff spot at the All-Star break for the first time in NHL history. The four Western Conference Canadian teams are the bottom four clubs in the conference standings, while Toronto is tied for last in the East. Montreal and Ottawa are the closest to a playoff spot, each three points back of the final Wild Card spot. This year the Stars are 9-4-2 against Canadian clubs, including 2-0 versus Winnipeg. They have five games remaining against clubs from north of the border - three vs. Winnipeg, and one each against Montreal and Ottawa.
The next goal that Dallas All-Star Tyler Seguin scores will be his 100th for the Stars. He enters this week with 99 goals in 201 career games for the franchise. Currently, there are 21 players in club history who have scored 100 goals while wearing a Stars/North Stars sweater. The only active Stars player on the list is captain Jamie Benn, who has scored 179. Only eight players in history have scored at least 100 goals for the Stars since they moved to Dallas. They are Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, Brenden Morrow, Jamie Benn, Joe Nieuwendyk, Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro, and Sergei Zubov.
Saturday marks the second meeting this season between the Stars and the Blackhawks. The Stars made a statement in the first matchup with a 4-0 shutout win. It was a big night for the Stars, especially the three former Hawks acquired over the summer. At the time the Stars victory padded their lead to ten points over Chicago. However, since that game the Stars have gone 5-7-3, while Chicago hit Ludicrous Speed going 13-4, featuring a franchise-record 12-game winning streak. The Hawks come out of the break with a three point lead over Dallas, although the Stars have played three fewer games. The game is the first of two meetings inside a week, as the Stars make their first trip to Chicago on February 11.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.