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Stars satisfied with strong start to season

by Steve Hunt

FRISCO, Texas -- It has been an interesting week for the Dallas Stars.

They returned home from a four-game sweep of their Eastern Conference road trip. Then their five-game winning streak ended in their first home game, a 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Oct. 24.

Dallas responded with consecutive 4-3 comeback wins, on Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks and Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks in overtime. The Stars end a four-game homestand Saturday against the San Jose Sharks (3 p.m. ET; FS-SW, CSN-CA).

The Stars are 8-2-0, and their 16 points were second in the NHL behind the Montreal Canadiens' 18 heading into play Friday.

"I'll use the word comfortable. I'm comfortable with our start," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Friday. "I want us to continue to get better. We've found ways to win several games and we've put a real nice road trip together, which really helped us in the start. So for me, I think the word comfortable [is fitting]."

Through 10 games last season, Dallas was 4-2-4 and had a goal differential of minus-2, scoring 32 non-shootout goals while allowing 34.

This season, the Stars have a plus-8 goal differential. Their 35 non-shootout goals were second in the NHL, and they've allowed 27 goals.

Alex Goligoski, the longest-tenured Dallas defenseman, said he has a pretty good idea why he and the rest of the defense has been better this season compared to last.

"I think everyone's dedicated," he said. "I think it's an area we can still obviously get better. But everyone wants to get better, and that's huge. It's a long season, and as long as everyone is willing to keep trying to get better, we're going to get better."

The Stars have been better defensively and have managed to keep a balanced scoring attack.

Through 10 games, last season 12 Stars had at least one goal, led by Tyler Seguin's seven, and seven players had multiple goals.

This season, 11 Stars have at least one goal, led by Jamie Benn's nine, and eight have multiple goals.

The improved defensive play and balanced scoring are two of the reasons Ruff said the Stars have started better this season.

"I can name almost everything," he said. "I can name both our goaltenders (Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen) being a big part of where we're at. I can name the goal scoring and a little bit how spread out it is now with [Patrick] Sharp and [Cody] Eakin and Seguin and [Jason] Spezza and Benn. [Mattias] Janmark is on the board with a few. So our scoring is spread out."

Dallas also has been much better on special teams than last season. Entering the weekend, their power play was third in the League at 27.3 percent and the penalty kill was ninth at 85.7 percent.

But Goligoski said he sees the Stars' strong start as a result of a simple yet effective change in mentality.

"I think just the urgency in our game [is different this season]," Goligoski said. "We knew we had to get off to a better start. We're working on playing better at home and that's something to concentrate on all year. But games go a certain way sometimes, and when they haven't gone great we've responded the right way. I think the urgency in our game's been there."

Last season, Dallas was 24-15-2 on the road but 17-16-8 at home. This season, the Stars are 4-1-0 at home and on the road.

"I want to see us get better," Ruff said "I want to see us improve our play away from the puck where we can frustrate teams a little bit more than we have the last two games."

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