Are the red-hot Dallas Stars legitimate?


Predicting professional sports team’s future is a fool’s errand. It doesn’t matter if you’re making guesses based on a summer’s worth of transactions, guessing which team will win a playoff series when an 82-game season boils down to a maximum of seven contests or – in this case – trying to see if a small sample size indicates a bigger trend. Whatever the situation is, it usually isn’t much more than a coin toss.

What makes it fun isn’t being right or wrong (correctness is the goal and is certainly more fun, naturally), but rather determining why something will or won’t happen. The Dallas Stars were picked to finish last in majority of people’s Pacific Division predictions (mine included) based on their faulty defense and two years of substandard results. As you probably know by now, the Stars stormed out of the gate so far, going 3-0 with some convincing wins.

The question is: are the Stars for real or just lucky? Let me break down what won’t continue, what might and the variables that will make-or-break their season.

What should change

  • The Stars’ remarkable luck could run out. 82 games is a big haul. Expecting things to keep coming up roses for Dallas is a little bit much. The team has given up far more shots per game (34.3 allowed vs. 21.7 shots on goal) but is converting on startling amount of those shots (4 goals per game). If high shooting percentages indicate good luck then the Stars are eating salads full of four-leaf clovers.
  • On the bright side, their penalty kill will improve. So far, they have killed a league worst 64.3 percent of man advantages. That will obviously change, but if their PK remains weak, something else will change: they’ll stop winning despite allowing a bunch of powerplay goals.

What shouldn’t change:

  • Brad Richards should still be really good. He might not remain in the top 10 point scorers (though he could very well be within shouting distance) by the end of the 2010-11 season, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he matched or even surpassed his 91-point output from last season. Oh yeah, he’s also in a contract year. The last time he had a contact year, Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
  • The Stars forward depth will still be strong. One strength even the most negative of critics would acknowledge is the Stars’ considerable talent at forward. It’s not just Richards, either. Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribeiro, James Neal and Loui Eriksson can bring a lot of offense to the table, too. Steve Ott can score at a decent clip when given meatier minutes, too.

The variables

  • Kari Lehtonen’s health is always in question. Lehtonen has been pretty impressive so far, but it’s rarely been about talent with the former No. 2 pick (at least by what I’ve witnessed). Nope, Lehtonen’s chief issue revolves around staying healthy. If he can, the Stars could expect above average goaltending. If not, they must rely on someone like Andrew Raycroft. If that happens, they better score a lot of goals.
  • Will Ribeiro and Morrow’s magic continue? It’s highly unlikely that they will maintain their scorching hot pace, but if both players can stay healthy, they might represent one of the best “second” lines in the league. Teams would have to pick their poison: do you put your best blue line assets toward stopping Richards or that duo? Ribeiro-Morrow was one of the most underrated pairings back in the 2007-08 season.

One reason to believe that things will keep going strong for Ribeiro and Morrow: many athletes don’t truly rebound from major knee surgery until the next season, so maybe Morrow really is “back.”

Considering the high risk factors (Lehtonen’s health) and notable flaws (I’m still not sold on their defense or coach Marc Crawford), I would be surprised if they took the Pacific. However, with staggering forward depth and a little luck on the injury front, a playoff berth is perfectly reasonable.

What do you think? Are the Stars on the verge of being elite, just a playoff team or is this hot start just a blip on the radar of another disappointing season? Let us know in the comments.

Announcing USA versus Canada, outdoors in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK , NY - JANUARY 01:  Photo 210 hours into a nine day time lapse on the conversion of Ralph Willson Stadium from football to an ice rink for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic played on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images for the NHL)
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It’s official — outdoor hockey is returning to the home of the Buffalo Bills, and it’s a great matchup to boot.

From USA Hockey:

The U.S. and Canada will make history when the two rivals battle outdoors on Dec. 29, 2017, in a preliminary round game of the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

The outdoor game, one of 31 total in the 2018 World Juniors, will be staged at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Never before has an outdoor game been played at any top-level IIHF world championship.

This game has been rumored since late last year when Buffalo was awarded the 2018 World Juniors. Ticket packages for the tournament will go on sale to the general public on Nov. 28. Expect plenty of Canadians to make the quick trip over the border to attend.

The first NHL Winter Classic was played on Jan. 1, 2008, at New Era Field, then called Ralph Wilson Stadium. Attendance was 71,217 for the Sabres-Penguins affair, won 2-1 in a shootout by Pittsburgh.

Help on the way? Rask practices, could return during Bruins road trip

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 20:  Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in goal against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on February 20, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) The Boston Bruins have been outscored 14-4 during their current three-game losing streak. Help might be on the way just in time for the Bruins to start a difficult road trip against three Atlantic Division rivals.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask practiced with the Bruins on Friday and should be available to at least serve as the backup against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Rask hadn’t been on the ice with his teammates because of an undisclosed injury since he made 28 saves in a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 20.

Rask isn’t completely healed so he and the Bruins are trying to strike a balance between being able to play and not risking further damage.

“That’s the thing we’re kind of talking about, we talked about last week, risk/reward, what it is and how should be proceed,” Rask said. “It feels good enough now that I can comfortably practice.”

Coach Claude Julien saw enough Friday to have confidence Rask could dress against the Red Wings and be in consideration to start. The Bruins were expected to send one of their other goaltenders, Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban, to Providence of the American Hockey League before departing for Detroit.

“If he’s great, and he practiced well today, and if he’s good (Saturday) and there’s no issues there (he can play),” Julien said. “He looked good to me today. So we’ll make that decision but I think we’ve gone this far, we’re going to make sure we make the right decision, not the reckless one.”

Rask started the season 3-0-0 for the first time in his career and had a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. But he was hardly healthy. The injury began to bother him on opening night in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 13. Two nights later he didn’t start against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rask said he felt fine when made 34 saves in a 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 17. But he had to battle through the injury against the Devils three nights later.

“The Jersey game was the toughest one. It wasn’t too tough. It’s just nagging, painful sometimes, but I didn’t feel like I hurt anything,” he said.

With forward David Backes still out after elbow surgery and forward David Pastrnak suspended two games for an illegal check to the head in the 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, the Bruins needed some positive news before leaving for their road trip, which continues against the Florida Panthers (Tuesday) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Thursday) after Detroit.

“I’m excited to get back out on the road with this team,” Julien said. “You control what you can and we can control our enthusiasm, our commitment and everything else. And then go about our business that way and I think that’s all we can do right now.”

Blues to retire Bob Plager’s No. 5

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 9:  Former St. Louis Blues defenseman Al MacInnis #2 and his family watch his banner being raised during his jersey retirement ceremony prior to the game between the Blues and Edmonton Oilers at the Savvis Center on April 9, 2006 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Blues will commemorate their 50th anniversary with a special ceremony on Feb. 2, retiring the No. 5 jersey worn by longtime defenseman Bob Plager.

More, from the club:

Plager, who was acquired by the Blues on June 6, 1967 and has been with the organization for all 50 years, will become the seventh player in Blues history to have his number retired, joining No. 2 Al MacInnis, No. 3 Bob Gassoff, No. 11 Brian Sutter, No. 16 Brett Hull, No. 24 Bernie Federko and his brother, No. 8 Barclay Plager.

Bob and Barclay Plager join Maurice and Henri Richard (Montreal Canadiens) as the only brothers to have their numbers retired by the same team in NHL history.

Plager played 10 seasons with the Blues, then transitioned to a number of front office and coaching roles within the organization.

In a unique twist, his No. 5 was never taken out of circulation and subsequently worn by another staple of the Blues organization — Barret Jackman, who recently retired after spending 16 years in St. Louis, appearing in over 800 games.

Prior to the February retirement ceremony, Blues fans will be able to recognize Plager this Saturday when St. Louis hosts Los Angeles at Scottrade.

Flames can get back to .500 with win over Sens

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Calgary Flames have won two in a row, but they’re still a losing hockey club heading into tonight’s home game against Ottawa.

That’s the message head coach Glen Gulutzan has been preaching after encouraging back-to-back victories in Chicago and St. Louis.

“We’re still below .500,” Gulutzan said. “We can’t rest at all. We haven’t accomplished anything yet. We’ve played two good games. That’s what we’ve accomplished. You need to get on a roll and you need to keep pushing. Keep the focus and keep pushing.”

The Flames (3-4-1) did not just get lucky in their last two games. They were especially good Tuesday in St. Louis, outshooting the Blues, 30-24, in a 4-1 win. Meanwhile, goalie Brian Elliott has bounced back after a tough debut for his new team; he’ll get a third straight start tonight.

Suffice to say, the mood around the team has improved considerably.

“My lips were getting sore from sucking on the exhaust pipe,” GM Brad Treliving jokingly told the Calgary Sun. “It was never as bad as it seemed, but it’s a stark change to how we played. … It’s a relief to stop the bleeding. We were disciplined, the power play worked, we limited chances, we didn’t turn the puck over and the goalie found his groove.”

Related: The Flames are still learning their new system, and it shows