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Super 16: Stars rising, but Caps remain top team

by Dave Lozo /
Raise your hand if you thought the Dallas Stars would be the first team in the NHL to reach 10 wins.

Put your hand down, you liar.

We're a month into the season, and the Stars are showing no signs of slowing. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen nearly has been perfect, Loui Eriksson is developing into one of the League's best players, and the only questions surrounding coach Glen Gulutzan and GM Joe Nieuwendyk is whether they can win the Jack Adams and GM of the Year in the same season.

Sheldon Souray
Defense - DAL
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 12
SOG: 34 | +/-: 10
When Brad Richards bolted Dallas as a free agent and the Stars entered the season so close to the cap floor they might as well have been laying on it, very few thought the Stars could contend in the loaded Western Conference. Instead, they've received inspired play from the likes of Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder, one of Nieuwendyk's free-agent acquisitions, who has caught fire after a slow start.

The other risky free-agent brought into the fold that's looking like the best gamble of the offseason is Sheldon Souray. He wasn't just on the scrap heap in Edmonton, he was the guy in charge of running the junk yard. All the 35-year-old has done after a full season out of the NHL is post 4 goals and 8 assists in 13 games while averaging 20:59 of ice time per game. His plus-10 rating is tied for the best in the League.

Even under-the-radar moves, like picking up Eric Nystrom off waivers from the Minnesota Wild, have turned into gold. Nystrom has 3 goals in eight games with Dallas.

As wonderful as all that has been, it would mean nothing without Lehtonen. He's 10-1-0 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. At 34.0 shots per game, no starting goalie has been busier than Lehtonen, another gamble from Nieuwendyk that's looking like a genius move.

The Stars haven't done it against easy competition, either. They are 5-3-0 against teams with winning records. They won both of their games last week, a 7-6 overtime thriller against the Avalanche and a 5-2 road win Sunday afternoon against the Carolina Hurricanes.

There's plenty of reason for optimism in Dallas right now.

Where do they land this week in the Super 16 rankings that carry far less weight (as in none) than the actual NHL standings? Let's take a look:

1 Washington (9-3-0) 1 For all of the controversy surrounding Alex Ovechkin, he still has 6 goals and 7 assists in 12 games. He and Bruce Boudreau will find a way to co-exist as long as the Caps are winning.
2 Pittsburgh (9-3-3) 3 The comeback win in Los Angeles was impressive. Will Sidney Crosby return this week? No, seriously, I'm asking you. I have no idea. Malkin has 10 points in 8 games.
3 Dallas (10-3-0) 6 Three monster tests on the road this week -- Washington, Pittsburgh and Detroit. They should hope for the Meatloaf result and take 2 out of 3, because that ain't bad.
4 Chicago (8-3-3) 4 The Blackhawks feel like they're on the cusp of running away with the West, then they get buried by the Canucks at home. Duncan Keith missed that game, however.
5 Philadelphia (8-4-2) 9 Since that 9-8 loss to the Jets, the Flyers are 3-0-1. This team looks like world-beaters at times. How about that Danny Briere shootout move? One could say it's unstoppable.
6 Toronto (9-4-1) 8 Here I was, fully prepared to have the Leafs even higher, then they get gutted at home by the Bruins. They are hot now, but the health of James Reimer has to be a major concern.
7 San Jose (7-4-1) 2 Todd McLellan is shaking up the lines. Impressive win against the Penguins, tough loss against the Predators. The Sharks are searching for some elusive consistency.
8 Edmonton (8-3-2) 8 Looking for positives out of negatives? The Oilers cut a two-goal deficit against the Coyotes down to one twice in the third before losing Saturday. It shows they won't just roll over.
9 Buffalo (8-5-0) 11 Two wins, one loss last week. Both wins were picked up by backup Jhonas Enroth. He's 4-0 with a 1.41/.952 and eligible for the Calder Trophy. Ryan Miller isn't going anywhere, though.
10 Minnesota (7-3-3) NR Time to give the Wild their due. They've won four in a row with the oft-injured Josh Harding leading the way. Five players are tied for the team lead in points with eight.
11 New York Rangers (7-3-3) NR They are perfect 4-0-0 going back to the game in which they played "soft" and beat the Sharks. The ridiculously young blue line is stepping up in Marc Staal's absence.
12 Los Angeles (6-4-3) 5 Facing some stiff competition, they've lost four in a row. Has anyone seen Dustin Penner? He has just 1 assist in 11 games and 2 goals in 30 games since arriving last year.
13 Phoenix (7-4-2) NR Dave Tippett should never be counted out ever again. He continues to find ways to win. Mike Smith has been fantastic replacing Iya Bryzgalov in net.
14 Nashville (7-4-2) NR Speaking of coaches who should never be counted out, Barry Trotz's team is 4-0-1 after a rough start. Pekka Rinne is locked up, but what happens with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter?
15 Tampa Bay (7-5-2) 13 They drop a bit only because so many teams right below them had big weeks. Rallying from down 3 against the Panthers behind Dwayne Roloson in relief was impressive.
16 Vancouver (7-7-1) 15 This last spot came down between the Canucks and Red Wings, but the win against Chicago put the Canucks over the top. Alex Edler has 15 points in 15 games.
If you have any problems, questions, anger or praise for this list, you can let me know on Twitter: @davelozo
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