Goalie Kari Lehtonen and the Stars have been hot, but not hot enough to catch powerhouses like the Blackhawks. (Icon SMI)
By Allan Muir
All the Stars wanted out of the NHL’s realignment this season was a chance to get away from the heavy travel and late starts that came with playing two time zones away from their competition in the old Pacific Division. It might also not have been a bad idea if Dallas had asked to tag along with the Red Wings and the Blue Jackets when they departed the Western Conference. But you can’t have everything.
Still, the revamped Stars are enjoying a renaissance this season in the new-look Central Division, playing their most entertaining and competitive hockey in years. Dallas is coming off a 7-3-2 November that was powered by a quick-strike offense — led by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn — and the brilliant play of goalie Kari Lehtonen. The Stars earned 16 out of a possible 24 points during the run, and looked impressive in victories over the Bruins, the Ducks and Detroit.
In the East, that kind of success would have them in the thick of a playoff race, battling for position with the Rangers, the Capitals and the resurgent Flyers. But for an upstart team such as Dallas — or, for that matter, for the Predators and the Jets — climbing into contention in the West isn’t as easy.
The fact is, the Stars’ surge left them treading water at a point when the conference’s playoff invites are seemingly already in stone, if recent history is any indication. Dallas entered November in 13th place in the West, five points out of the eighth and final playoff berth. The Stars’ solid November helped them jumped up to 11th … but they’re now six points out of eighth place. It doesn’t matter how hot you are if the teams in front of you don’t lose.