Laughter is frequent in the Dallas Stars locker room these days. That, if you are unaware, is a good sign for a hockey team entering the stretch run of a regular season.
“We believe in what we do here,” Jamie Benn said, as a wadded up piece of athletic tape is thrown at him by a joking teammate. “We've got a great group of guys who play for each other. And when we play the right way, we're one of the best teams in the league."
As they prepare to face the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday night in the American Airlines Center, there is a casual confidence in this group that was nonexistent exactly one year ago. On March 15, 2015, the Stars were the 12-seed in the NHL’s Western Conference standings.
The same date in 2016 has Dallas tied for first in the West with the St. Louis Blues.
“I think last year we suffered a bad start to the year with our record, but I do think we were playing good hockey as the season was wrapping up,” Tyler Seguin said Monday. “I think we knew that this year we had to have a good start, we had to be better against our division, and we had to be better at home. Those three key points were the message in training camp, and we’ve tried to follow that up all season long and stay consistent with it.”
Those key points have turned into strengths. Setting the tone early, the Stars opened the season with the best start in franchise history. They also have the second-most home wins in the Western Conference (22), and the second-best record against the Central division among teams in the division (15-7-3).
Essentially, the struggles of 2015 have illuminated the path to success in 2016.
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"I think you have to go through some downs before you find out how hard it is to win,” Benn said. “Last year was a tough year. We knew we had a good team and underachieved. This year, we've upped our expectations and, so far, we've reached them."