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Stars getting positive results with room to improve

Winners of three straight games, Dallas is showing that it can overcome challenges and find different ways to win

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- On the "Rinky Dinking" podcast this week, we explored the theory that "It's Always Everything," and Thursday's lab lesson (a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks) furthered a lot of the thinking that was discussed.

Not unlike the work of Steinhardt and Turok -- who posited in challenging the Big Bang Theory that the universe generates and regenerates in an endless cycle of creation -- the evolution of a hockey team also is both liquid and electric. Each game is a new challenge, each practice a chance to reinvent, each player a creation unto himself.

 

[READ MORE: Gurianov's confidence shows in Stars' win over Ducks]

 

And so, the ability to shape this chaotic mass is both unwieldy and predictable at the same time. Read the molecules correctly, and you can guide where they are heading. Predict the chemical interaction, and you can shape the energy to fit your plan.

Not unlike a firework that is packed in a certain way to project the stars in the right pattern, teams can be prepared to explode properly.

But it's every bit as difficult as it sounds, and it has to happen in an environment that is changing. The opponent provides a world of vacillating constants, and so the players and coaches must then either adapt to the shifting variable or assert their power onto the petri dish and force some expected results.

To do that, they really do have to worry about everything … always.

Now, you can't possibly be perfect in this little game, so there is a lot of trial and error.

Video: ANA@DAL: Montgomery says Stars have to keep building

The Stars have been witnesses to how error can be a huge part of success in the past two seasons. Roope Hintz went through it last season, getting a chance at the NHL, going back to the AHL, and then coming back a different player. Hintz became one of the team's better players in the playoffs last season and now is maybe their best overall player this year.

That's a pretty big jump for a 22-year-old who two seasons ago was battling to put up 35 points in 70 AHL games.

But if you have watched the transformation and scanned the lab notes, it makes perfect sense. Build the basics of speed, power, and skill; then add confidence and experience. And in a relatively short amount of time, the player really does change.

In the process, that changes the team.

This season, the Stars are trying to do the same thing with Denis Gurianov. The 22-year-old is a lot like Hintz. He is big (6-foot-3, 201 pounds), he is fast, and he has had some success as an AHL player (48 points in 57 AHL games last season). Also like Hintz, he has made plenty of mistakes in this game of trial and error.

He was only OK in training camp. He was only OK in his first few NHL games this season. And so he had to go back and learn and grow, and change. By mixing chemicals and adding heat, the Stars created an environment for reaction.

In Gurianov's case, the reactions have been good. They have been controlled, they have been predictable.

Video: Gurianov scores twice to lead Stars past Ducks, 2-1

"His checking skills, all over the place, have really improved," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "You can tell his confidence is growing. … I think mentally he's starting to believe that not only can he do it, but he can do it really well in this league."

By having Gurianov improve, the fourth line has been instantly better. The chemistry between Gurianov, Andrew Cogliano and Justin Dowling has been a good thing, and the line has gelled into a cohesive unit. Likewise, adding veteran Corey Perry to a line with Hintz and Jamie Benn also has helped bring out the best in each individual. By creating that group, Montgomery is now forcing the opposition to make its own adjustments in this great experiment.

The Flyers last Saturday did a great job controlling the game, but Dallas found a way to play strong defense, opportunistic offense, and come up with a 4-1 win. The Senators on Tuesday were overwhelmed by Dallas' attack, but stayed within shooting distance of a Stars team that took a 2-1 victory.

On Thursday, the Ducks came in, exchanged runs of electricity and calm, and the lads in Victory Green somehow found a way to come out on top again in a squeaker.

The result was a three-game winning streak, and a Stars record that has pushed to 4-7-1. The Stars are still 28th in the league at .375 points percentage, so let's not go too wild here, but they are now just three points behind the second wild card, and that has to be encouraging after the lab almost blew up in the first nine games.

"We are finding ways to win," Perry said. "It's not pretty, but it's been effective and it's getting the job done. Like I said, we're one step at a time, one day at a time, and take it day by day."

It also has to be encouraging that Dallas can do this. They can overcome challenges and find different ways to win. They can do enough of the little things that help them control the variables and eventually force a certain outcome.

Video: ANA@DAL: Gurianov on two-goal effort in Stars' win

Dallas won 58 percent of the draws against the second-best faceoff team in the league. It had 21 hits to 13 for the Ducks. It scored twice in the first period and used that lead to control how the game was played. It did a lot of things right -- a lot of things that it wasn't always doing right earlier in the year.

And it will aspire to do even more things right Saturday against Pittsburgh. That is the way of NHL season. The Stars have to be more consistent in imposing their will. They have to be more relentless in creating scoring opportunities. They have be much more successful in putting the puck in the net.

There is much to improve on here, and they know it.

And that's why the theory of "It's Always Everything" makes so much sense. This hockey universe really does generate and regenerate all of the time. Atoms are smashing and bouncing and reacting, and the players and coaches must react, as well.

They will never be perfect, they will always be searching, but along the way in pursuit of perfection, this team might find a way to fix enough problems so that they can be happy with the result.

That's what can happen when they accept just how constant and variable the challenge is, how it will always be there every day and it will always include them studying every angle that can be improved.

"We've got to keep building," Montgomery said. "It's easier to teach and build on positives, and to teach on areas where you need to get better, when you're winning. The players are more receptive, and I think the coaches do it in a better fashion."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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