The Dallas Stars enter play this week on a three-game winning streak. They've jumped out to a 4-1 record, and from a win-loss standpoint, the start is almost as good as it gets. But they're hardly alone. Eight different teams have at least eight points, matching the number the Stars have claimed through five games. That's more than one-quarter of the NHL. Plus, half of those teams reside in the Stars division. The Dallas start has been terrific, but it hardly puts them in rarefied air in the league standings.
The way they've achieved that record, however, does find them in exclusive company.
Through almost two weeks, Dallas leads the NHL in scoring, averaging 3.8 goals per game. That comes to the surprise of absolutely no one. At the other end of the ice, the Stars are tied for 16th in goals-against at 2.6 per game. While not exactly a world-beating number, that is more than a half-goal improvement from the defense that allowed the fourth-most goals in the NHL last season. The thing about season-long totals, though, is that they can be misleading. Especially when you're only a handful games in.
Case in point, the Florida Panthers have scored 16 goals in 5 games. Their average of 3.2 goals per game is tied for 8th in the league. Yet, almost half of those goals came in a 7-1 opening night win. In the other four games, Florida has scored nine goals, averaging 2.25 goals a night. The Panthers early-season success this year has predominantly come from shutting other teams down, not from being an offensive juggernaut. The goals-per-game stat, meanwhile, could suggest otherwise.
Along those lines, the Stars team defense - the area where they needed the most improvement - has actually been better than their overall goals-against numbers might have you believe. The Stars have allowed 13 goals in five games, but six of them came in their only loss of the season. That night, the wheels fell off in Colorado, as Dallas allowed five goals in just over 22 minutes of playing time. It was without question the worst the club has looked this season. But it was also half of one game. However, when one game makes up one-fifth of your season, it severely skews the numbers.
When looking at certain statistics, sometimes they only tell part of the story. More than the ability to erupt or lock down on any given night, teams strive for consistency. Last year the Buffalo Sabres finished dead-last in scoring with an abysmal 1.87 goals-per-game average. Still, they scored four-or-more goals ten different times. The point is that any team can look great or terrible, in any department, for 60 minutes at a time. It's the teams that perform well regularly that last the longest. Consistency, not ability, is what separates the great teams from everyone else.
That is what is most encouraging about the beginning to this Stars season.
The overall numbers are good, but if you break things down game-by-game, they get even better. The Stars have scored at least three goals in every game they've played so far. They've also held the opposition to three goals or fewer in four of the five. Last season, in 82 games, they only had two five-game stretches where they accomplished both. They went 4-0-1 in each of them. They are one of only two teams in the NHL that has done it so far this year. The other are the undefeated Montreal Canadiens. The same Canadiens who finished with the second-most points in the NHL last season, and have won their division in two of the last three seasons. Not a bad neighbor to have in a stat that measures consistency.
Their consistency has translated to special teams as well. Dallas has scored on the power play in four of their five games. They've also held the opposition without a man-advantage goal in four of the five. They are the only team in the NHL to both score a power play goal and have a perfect penalty kill in all but one of their games this season.
How about goaltending? The Dallas starting netminder has had a save percentage over .909 in four of the five games so far this season. In three of them it's been .923 or better. By contrast, last year the Stars starting netminder had a plus-.920 save percentage in just 28 of 82 games. That was only about 34% of the time. And three of those games came after the team had already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Additionally, the Stars have held the lead in every game this season. They have only trailed for a combined 38:14 of the 300 minutes played. That means they've played either tied or with the lead for 87.3% of their season so far. For a team that constantly felt like they were chasing last season - either in games or in the standings - that is a very welcome change.
Furthermore, the Stars are also proving they can consistently win in different ways against different teams. They beat the high-scoring Tampa Bay Lightning at their own game in an offensive affair. They beat the stingier Panthers at their own game in a tighter contest. They blanked the Pittsburgh Penguins while being outshot, and then outlasted the Edmonton Oilers in a game where they dominated shots and possession throughout. They have two wins at home and two wins on the road. They have four different players who have registered multi-goal games, who are currently playing on three different lines.
Keeping all of this in mind, it is also important to remember that we are just two weeks into the season. The same way one bad period can taint otherwise solid numbers, two good weeks can easily get overshadowed if a couple of subpar ones follow. Just five games in, the sample size is small, and there is a long way to go. So far, however, the Stars have shown that they can be the team they believed they would be prior to the season. And most importantly, they've shown it on a nightly basis.
Yes, the 4-1 record is great. But in terms of sustaining positive results, consistency is what you need. It's still very early, but so far the Stars have had it. Now, it's up to them to remain consistently consistent.
The Stars have three games this week, as they finish up their four-game road trip before returning to Dallas. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' as they take the ice:
Stars captain, Jamie Benn is picking up right where he left off last season. Benn co-leads the team with eight points in five games this season, and is the only Stars player to record a point in every game so far. Coupled with his final 12 games last year - which led him to the Art Ross Trophy - Benn has 31 points (17g, 14a) in his last 17 regular season games. He has registered at least one point in 15 of those 17 games.
The Stars experienced their first ever coach's challenge on Saturday in Florida, but they've still yet to partake in the biggest off-season change - the new 3-on-3 overtime format. Early returns on the OT shift have been met with widespread public approval. They've also accomplished exactly what the league was hoping for by ending more games before a shootout. So far, ten NHL games have gone to overtime and six have ended in the three-on-three session. All told 16 of the 30 teams have played in the new overtime format, including the Stars opponent on Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Flyers. The other two opponents this week - Pittsburgh and Florida - join Dallas as clubs still yet to play the three-on-three extra session.
We Meet Again
This week will mark the first time this season that the Stars are squaring off against an opponent they've already faced before, and it will happen in two of their three games. On Thursday, the Stars visit Pittsburgh in an opening night rematch, and then on Saturday they return home to host Florida in a rematch of the game a week earlier. The Stars won both of those games, and will be looking to complete a series sweep in their final game against the Eastern Conference clubs. Last year the Stars did not have a repeat opponent until their 13th game of the season.
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.