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Stars remain work in progress under Ruff

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- The first month of the Lindy Ruff Era with the Dallas Stars is officially in the books, and as expected there have been some nice positives. However, there is also plenty to work on as the calendar shifts to November, a month the Stars open Friday at American Airlines Center against the 10-1-0 Colorado Avalanche.

Two early positives for the Stars coach have been his team's penalty kill at home, which ranks third in the NHL at 93.8 percent, as well as their road power play, which ranks seventh at 24 percent.

"I think we're getting closer to where we want to be. We've really cut down on some of the careless plays of late. Even [in] the last two games, our discipline, our special teams, power play looked good," Ruff said. "We're making steps. The only thing that really counts right now is learning how to win and that might be by blocking a shot. That might be by creating an extra chance but I don't think we're quite there yet."

Another plus is the Stars' 52.4 percent success rate in the faceoff circle, which ranks ninth in the NHL. Winning more draws was a major focus for Ruff and his staff heading into the start of the regular season and if the solid early returns are any indication, this is a number that should only improve as the season progresses.

At least that's how third-line center Vernon Fiddler, one of Dallas' better performers in the circle, sees it.

"I think we need to do an even better job after we win the draws of keeping it and doing something with it. I find sometimes that even when we win draws in the offensive zone we should get more out of it. Same thing in our D zone, we've got to take it to our advantage that we're winning draws right now," Fiddler said. "It's not easy to win draws in this league. It's definitely nice when each line has a couple of guys that can take faceoffs."

In October, Dallas went 5-6-1 overall and 3-1-1 on home ice. And while new Stars captain Jamie Benn realizes one month doesn't make a season, he is still pretty happy with how things have gone for his club thus far.

"I think we did a lot of good things this month. Obviously, there are some games where they were pretty close. Maybe we could have been on the other side of them and had a pretty strong record, but for the first month, not bad," Benn said. "There's definitely a lot of work to be done and a lot of room for improvement."

Another positive for the Stars has been the recent return of top goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Dallas was 1-4-0 during his absence due to a lower-body injury, but the Stars have gone 2-1-1 since the Finnish netminder's return Oct. 24 against the Calgary Flames.

"He makes a big difference," Ruff said. "Obviously, he's bigger back there. He's our No. 1. We count on him. We look for him to win games for us. I think some of his puck handling has gotten better."

But one area that begs for great improvement is the Stars' home power play, which still has yet to score this season (0-for-16). And while Ruff has yet to see any positive results from his home PP, he has a pretty good idea of what it will take to turn things around.

"I think [Stephane Robidas] has done a great job of moving the puck around, getting the puck to the net, battling for the second opportunities and part of that is retrieval," Ruff said. "We haven't been desperate enough and that leads to many pucks going down the ice."

Dallas would also like to start getting more road wins after closing out October with a 2-5-0 record away from home.

All things considered, especially considering how the Stars have a new coach, new general manager and a number of new players, there have been some encouraging signs from the first month of the Ruff era in Dallas.

One of those newcomers, center Rich Peverley, who came over from the Boston Bruins in a July 4 trade that also sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas, has been around long enough to know that teams need time to adjust to change. Especially the kind of drastic change the Stars experienced last summer. But Peverley likes what he has seen.

"I think we're still a team coming together. We're kind of learning how everybody plays the system and things like that. When we get leads, we've got to be able to hold onto them. We've got to fight harder, focus. That comes with time," Peverley said. "We've played well at home, but we need some of that confidence on the road and I think it's there. I think we're getting better. It's just going to take some time."

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