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On the Radar: Where They Are

by Josh Bogorad / Dallas Stars

Entering this week the Dallas Stars are exactly half way through the regular season. They have played 41 games, with 41 to go. The end of the NHL regular season is exactly three months from this past Sunday. On the Postgame Show Saturday, following a 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, I asked analysts Brent Severyn and Craig Ludwig where they felt the Stars were at the midway point of the season. Ludwig responded by saying the Stars are, "right where they belong."

Let's take a look at where that is.

The Stars have an 18-16-7 record. They have 43 points in 41 games, ranking 20th among 30 NHL teams in points percentage. They have a 9-8-5 mark at home, and have gone 9-8-2 on the road. They have the fifth-highest scoring offense, averaging 3.02 goals per game. They have allowed the third-most goals per game, surrendering an average of 3.27 per contest. The Stars power play ranks 23rd at 15.3%. Their penalty kill is 20th at 79.6%.

They have the league's most productive goal scorer this season in Tyler Seguin, whose 26 goals are tied for the most in the NHL. He also has 48 points, which is second in the league, just four behind the NHL lead. Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen ranks fourth in games played and seventh in minutes played among all NHL netminders. He is tied for third in the NHL with three shutouts, and tied for tenth with 17 wins. He is 49th with a .906 save percentage and 56th with a 2.91 goals-against average. (Note: These rankings include all goaltenders who have played this season. There is no qualifier for minimum number of games or minutes played.)

These numbers reflect the entire first half of the season, and if you've been following along you know the Stars have hit a few oil slicks thus far - especially early in the year. When you narrow the scope a bit, you find some more promising results. The Stars are 8-3-2 in their last 13 games. Over that same span they have averaged 3.46 goals per game, while allowing just 2.69. Still, even during that run, there remain issues for the Stars. Their power play is just 14.3% - worse than their already-troublesome season average. Their penalty kill has been just under 81%.

Dallas is also winless in four straight games, after ripping off eight wins in their prior nine. So, narrowing the scope even further leads you back to needing to see improvement. In those four games, soft goals and porous defense have once again surfaced. The Stars have allowed 16 goals in the four contests.

Additionally, since each point is pivotal, overtime record is worth looking at, and it's not pretty. The Stars are 0-6 in games decided in OT, and 2-7 overall after regulation. Two of their four losses over the last week-and-a-half have come in OT.

However, all of these numbers simply serve as an explanation as to why the Stars are where they are in the only category that truly matters. The standings.

The Stars enter play this week six points back from a playoff spot with two games in hand. They are within seven points of six different teams ahead of them, and have multiple games in hand on all but one. Roughly one-quarter of their remaining games (11 of 41) come against those six teams. After struggling at the start of this year, and going through a very difficult month of November, Dallas was three-games under .500 as recently as one month ago. However, a December run helped pull them back into the playoff conversation. While still on the outside looking in, the Stars at least find themselves within striking distance.

With their up-and-down play throughout the first half and propensity to give up a cripplingly-high amount of goals at times, the Stars have not played a consistent brand of playoff-caliber hockey. Because of that, right now they are not in a playoff spot.

However, they did play that type of hockey for most of December. Anchored by a legitimate top-tier offense, improved defense, and solid goaltending, the Stars exhibited the type of team they have the ability to be. Because of that, a club that was once thought to be potentially left-for-dead in early December is very much alive at the midway point.

And that is the answer to the question of where they are half way through the season. They are not in the playoffs, but they are knocking on the door, with a chance to get there. Or as Ludwig put it, "right where they belong."

The Stars have been a team that has shown flashes of what they can be. They have been a team that, when at their best, can play an electrifying, entertaining, winning style of hockey. Yet, they have also been a team that has found a way to leave valuable points on the table, and one that commits fatal errors at inopportune times. They have not played up to their expectations, but they have improved lately.

Through 41 games there have been too many errors and costly games that got away from the Stars. Overall the team simply has not been as good as they need to be. However, they have shown that they can be. Most observers would likely agree that the Stars have not earned a top-eight spot through the first half of the season. However, they would also say that Dallas has fought back to set themselves up to be part of an exciting second-half race.

The Stars still think the pieces are there. They still believe they are a playoff team. They have looked more like one as of late than they did earlier in the season. Now, they've got 41 games to set a pace to get there.

In other words, they have half a season to decide where they belong.

The Stars play a busy, four-game week beginning Tuesday night. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' as the Stars kick off the second half of their season:

We Meet Again

Tuesday night promises to be an emotional night for Stars center Jason Spezza. The 31-year old Spezza, who was acquired by Dallas over the summer, will play his first ever game against his former club, the Ottawa Senators. Back in 2001 the Senators drafted Spezza second overall, and he spent the first 11 years of his career in Ottawa. Spezza played 686 games and registered 687 in a Senators uniform, and last year served as the captain of the team. Tuesday's game will be the first of two meetings between the Stars and Senators. Spezza and company will travel to Ottawa later this month on January 29. Tuesday's meeting also marks the return of Alex Chiasson to Dallas. Chiasson was one of the players departing Dallas in the trade to acquire Spezza. The 24-year old played 86 games for the Stars posting 19 goals and 42 points. This season he has 15 points (7g, 8a) in 38 games for the Senators.

Standing for Something

On Tuesday the Stars open up a three-game homestand at American Airlines Center. In their last two three-game stands, Dallas has a combined 5-1 record, including a three-game sweep in their most recent one. The Stars have been a better team this season when they've had successive home games. In segments where the Stars have played multiple games in a row at home, Dallas has a combined 9-5-4 record. Conversely, they are 0-3-1 when they play just a single home game and then head back on the road.

Restless in Chicago

After their home stand, the Stars hit the road for the final game of their busy week. Immediately after hosting the Washington Capitals on Saturday, the Stars will head to Chicago for the final time this season setting up a Sunday meeting with the Blackhawks. In a strange scheduling note, all three trips to the United Center for Dallas come as part of the second game of a back-to-back. The Stars are 0-1-1 in their first two trips, and both games have been tied at second intermission. Overall the Stars are winless in five games this year when they've played on the previous day.

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.

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