On the Radar: Happy New Year
If you Google the most common New Year’s resolutions for 2014, you will find goals such as eat better, quit smoking, and get organized. Surprisingly, scoring more on the power play at home does not crack the list. But as the Dallas Stars head into 2014 and the second half of their season, that’s one of the few things that the club will look to improve upon – and they are already off to a great start based on their New Year’s Eve performance. Aside from that noted struggle, you could almost across the board say that the Stars are on, or ahead of, the pace they had hoped to be at this point. When you look at transformations among sports teams, you would be hard pressed to find any club that underwent more of a change in 2013 than the Stars. Take a quick look at where the Stars were on January 1, 2013 vs. where they are one year later.
The Stars have a new Head Coach. They have a new General Manager. They have a new logo and color scheme. They have a new captain. They have a new top line. They have a new number one center. They have a new team nucleus. When the Stars play their first game of 2014 on Thursday, 12 of the 20 players dressing for Dallas will be different from their first game of 2013. The entire organization has undergone the type of face-lift normally reserved for a Hollywood doctor’s office.
A short 365 days ago the Stars didn’t even know if there would be hockey any time soon. Now, they are a season and a half removed from that, and are hardly recognizable from back then. In the annals of Stars history, 2013 will always be looked back upon as the year of the change.
With so many new and moving parts, a learning curve was to be expected. But the process has come along nicely. Even through injuries and cold streaks, the Stars never really fell off pace. As we enter a new year, there are very few resolutions for the Stars, because there is not that much of a need for change. That’s not to say the Stars are perfect. Of course there are still areas for improvement. Dallas could always upgrade at certain spots, and they will look to do exactly that in the coming months and years. There’s always a need for another top-six forward, or a top-pair defenseman. But that’s more of a wish list, and every team has one of those. Wish lists consist of acquisitions. Resolutions consist of change. On the first day of a brand new calendar, the Stars are playing their best hockey of the year. They have a season-high, seven-game point streak. They are 4-0-1 in their last five home games. They have points in 14 of their last 17 games. They beat the L.A. Kings twice in just over a week. More of the same sounds just fine going forward.
So, while people all over the world spend January replacing steaks with salads, and strapping on nicotine patches, it will be business as usual in the Stars locker room… With the notable exception of that home power play, because everyone’s got to have at least one resolution, right? Oh, and while we’re at it, the Stars could also use the common New Year’s resolution of getting healthier – especially on the blue line. There, that should cover it. Home power play and health. C’mon 2014, that’s not asking too much.
Here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year, and may all of your New Year’s Resolutions stay true... While you’re working on it, here are a few things to keep ‘On the Radar’ in the first three Stars games of 2014:
Number One Guns
It’s unrealistic to think that your top line will give you a goal every single game, but it sure has felt that way lately for the Stars. The trio of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Val Nichushkin have led by example over the last few weeks. Dating back to December 14, those three have scored 14 goals in nine games. At least one of them has found the back of the net in seven of those nine. While the Stars have received consistent secondary scoring by a variety of different players, the top line is clearly the go-to scoring threat. If they can keep up their goal-or-more a game stretch, the Stars could keep up their increase in point production.
Erik Cole has been on a tear lately, and is quickly climbing up the scoring leaderboard. The veteran forward sits alongside Jamie Benn and Seguin as the only Stars with double digit goals. Cole has points in three straight games, and four of the last six. In three of those six games, he’s registered multi-point nights. He struggled at the start of the year, scoring just twice in his 25 games. However, he now has 8 goals in his last 14 games. Specifically at home, he has been even better with five goals in the last four games at the AAC. Because of his slow start, and lack of production after he was acquired last season from Montreal, it’s easy to overlook him. But the recent scoring resurgence should remind people that he is just two years removed from a 35 goal campaign with Montreal, and he is a five-time, 20-goal scorer. If this pace – or something close to it – keeps up, he could be looking at another 20+ goal season, and the Stars could be looking at an additional bona fide scoring threat in their lineup.
This season injuries, illness, and personnel changes have consistently reshaped the Stars roster. Through just three months, the Stars have already dressed 31 different players. From night to night, there’s no telling who will be in the lineup. However, through the first half of the season, six players have played in every Stars game. They are Jamie Benn, Erik Cole, Brenden Dillon, Cody Eakin, Shawn Horcoff and Antoine Roussel. Those six players have provided some consistency in a very inconsistent roster. All six of them have been key contributors, especially with the frequent absence of their teammates. Benn is the captain, leads the team in assists, and is second in overall scoring. Cole’s contributions were detailed above. Dillon has been on the defensive top-pair and logged an average of just about 25 minutes per night over his last nine games. Eakin has been the club’s second line center, and his tied for fourth in goal scoring. Horcoff was named an alternate captain and is playing his best hockey of the season. Roussel has added energy on every line in which he’s played, leads the club in penalty minutes, and is also tied for fourth in team goal scoring. The durability of those half-dozen players will be welcomed as long as it continues.
There’s no W in Overtime
On Sunday, Dallas lost in overtime to St. Louis in what’s become a bit of a trend. After winning four of the first six overtime/shootout contests this season, the Stars have recently struggled to win games that have gone past regulation. Dallas has lost five in a row, and is just 4-7 this year in games decided after 60 minutes. It’s hard to predict success in shootouts, and four-on-four hockey normally favors quicker teams. The Stars would certainly fall into that category, but the results have not followed suit. Dallas only has one overtime win this season, while losing three. The win came versus Detroit, who they will see again this week. That game was back on November 7, and also was the last game the Stars won post-regulation. In a year where points are so valuable, getting that second point in overtime more often could play a huge role in the final standings this year.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.