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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dallas: This Season's Phoenix?

(Image unashamedly stolen from Puck Daddy)

Going into the 2009-2010 NHL season, the Phoenix Coyotes were picked by most prognosticators to finish dead last in the Western Conference. Off-ice issues - namely, the never-ending ownership/relocation saga - were considered insurmountable distractions for the team. The only thing the Coyotes had to look forward to was a high first-round draft pick in June of 2010...or so virtually everyone thought.

A funny thing happened on the way to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft: Phoenix defied all expectations, posting a 50-25-7 record, good for fourth in the Western Conference. Though they bowed out in the Conference Quarter-Finals, the fact that they made it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs at all was remarkable.

Are the Dallas Stars the 2010-2011 version of the Coyotes? Similarities do exist:

The Stars are currently for sale by Tom Hicks' lenders (Phoenix is currently for sale by Gary Bettman).
They've missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons (Phoenix missed the playoffs six consecutive seasons prior to last spring).
Preseason expectations for the Stars were very low (Ditto Phoenix last season).

Unlike the Coyotes, the Stars don't face the threat of relocation. These teams share one more commonality, however: Like last season's Coyotes, the Stars are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As of Game 30, the Dallas Stars are Chasing Stanley, according to the On Goal Analysis Super-Lucky No MSG Added Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC). Last season, the PQC was correct for 90% of the NHL, and the Stars show no indication of falling into the other 10%.

Why the Stars are going to make the playoffs

As a wise man said back in September, the Stars needed to cut their Goals Against dramatically this season. Dallas' GAA for the 2009-2010 season was 2.98 (23rd in the NHL). Through Game 30 this season, the Stars' GAA is 2.67 (12th). Dallas is allowing virtually the same number of Shots on Goal this season (31.0) as last (31.2), so improved goaltending has been key. Kari Lehtonen has been solid, and backup Andrew Raycroft has been a pleasant surprise.

At the other end of the rink, the Stars are scoring only slightly less than last season (2.73 Goals/Game now vs. 2.80 G/Gm then), and the top line of Loui Eriksson-Brad Richards-James Neal (combined: 90GP, 37-53-90, +28)is one of the best trios in the NHL. Having a second legitimate scoring line is essential for success, and the Stars are extremely fortunate to have Brenden Morrow-Mike Ribiero-Jamie Benn (87GP, 21-37-58, -6) coming over the boards.

The Stars also benefit from good health (Lehtonen's current back problems notwithstanding), as ten skaters have played all thirty games, while five more have missed three or fewer contests. This could change in one shift on the ice, but for now, it's very good news for Dallas.

After a two-year drought, I'm looking forward to seeing Stanley Cup Playoff hockey in Dallas again. Come April, I guess I'll have to go to the bank (backyard) and make a withdrawal (dig up the mason jar marked, "Playoff Ticket Money"). I can't wait.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.

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