For those of you who haven't looked at the Dallas Stars' schedule, the beginning of the season is approaching soon. Thing is, it's going to be a tough start for the new-look team.
The 2011-12 season begins within the confines of the American Airlines Center, but against the team that The Hockey News picked as the Western Conference finalist--the Chicago Blackhawks. Not only one game against the Hawks. Two. October 7 and 8, prepare yourself for a home-and-home with one of the strongest teams in the entire National Hockey League.
Not all is lost. Last season, the Stars romped over not just the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Central Division as a whole. The Stars beat the Hawks three out of four times, and they posted a 14-5-1 record against the Central. That division accounted for the most points that the Stars gained last year by far. Not to mention, that conference contained three bona-fide playoff teams, including the Detroit Red Wings, the Nashville Predators, and the aformentioned Blackhawks. Granted, a season-to-season dominance can be fleeting, but it's a positive sign for the Stars.
Not to mention, looking at the standings, the Dallas Stars were so close to that eight seed. The entire Pacific Division could have made the playoffs had it not been for the Stars' ill-fated collapse against the Minnesota Wild to end the season. The Stars lost their best forward, Brad Richards, as we all know. This year is the year that the Stars can assert themselves without him, and it all starts with the first two games against one of the strongest teams in the League.
Other tough tests in the first month include two games against the revamped Los Angeles Kings, a game against the Anaheim Ducks, and a game against the Phoenix Coyotes. This looks like a prime chance to assert themselves in their division, too.
Last year, the Stars lacked that killer instict to make it into the playoffs. Perhaps that bitter loss is enough motivation to get them off and running. After all, sometimes it's not about the manpower you possess, but sometimes it's about the team chemistry that you possess.
A lot of this team's core remains the same. It may all come down to the planning that coach Glen Gulutzan does. Or it may come down to a few players stepping up and being the catalysts, including Mike Ribeiro, or Jamie Benn.
The beginning of the season is all about making a statement. This stretch in October feels like the perfect time.
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