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Heika: Can Stars change who they are? It won't be easy

Dallas' work continues, but its challenge to find offense entering the round-robin looks all too familiar

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

The return to professional sports in North Texas has been a slice.

The Rangers still can't hit. The Mavericks still blow leads. And your little Stars are still so very much challenged when it comes to goal scoring.

So it is that you wake up Saturday morning to the incessant whining of your Ken Hitchcock alarm clock nattering on in a nasal Canadian drone.

"You are who you are."

"You are who you are."

Video: Bowness gives update on Seguin, Cogliano after defeat

"You are who you are."

A few decades in this business and you do have some things etched on your hippocampus, it seems. Hitch would throw that saying out at least a dozen times a season about individual players, opponents or his own team. "You are who you are," simply means that at the core of everything, you should have a pretty good understanding of what a player or team does well and doesn't do well.

That's why I was a bit bemused that, when preparing for this return to play, so many have recited that what happened four months ago doesn't matter. Hmmm. So this exact same group of players playing in a very similar system against very similar opponents can't look back on the first 69 games and draw a few conclusions? That seems to go against what my alarm clock is saying.

It's early … that was four months ago … and our local lads are trying to fix what ails them. But you can't say that as you watch the Rangers, Mavericks and Stars scuffle to start play that this doesn't look familiar. That's a double negative way to look at a situation that seems sorta negative.

It is what it is.

Video: Benn, Dellandrea on performance in Stars' exhibition

But the irony of Ken Hitchcock falling back on an old hockey axiom is that he actually worked very hard to prove that statement wrong. He turned Mike Modano into a very strong two-way player. He helped Darryl Sydor step up and handle pressure. He pushed the right buttons on Ed Belfour. As a coach, Hitch never was satisfied. He always wanted more.

It's my belief that Bob Gainey stepped away from his job as head coach because he didn't want to do the nagging. He felt that if he told players what to do, they should do it. It's that simple. I'll give you the road map, so just follow it.

But a lot of humans aren't that way. They need to be molded and pushed and nagged. Everybody has habits. Some are good and some are bad. The bad part of "you are who you are" in terms of sports is when players fall back into those negative habits and have a tough time breaking out.

Clearly, teams can change. They do it every year. The Stars are a great example of a roller coaster ride where they start the season 1-7-1, go 36-13-5 in the middle and then finish in an 0-4-2 slump. So, you may ask yourself, "What are they?"

That's the beauty of sports. It's why we watch. We have no idea what might happen, because everything is so close and the other team is riding their own roller coaster right next to you. Will this be the game that Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov explode? Will this be the game where Tyler Seguin's magic hands return? Will this be the game where Jamie Benn goes beast mode and starts flinging bodies around?

Video: DAL Recap: Stars shut out by Predators, 2-0

We've all seen it before, and we want to see it again. That's also a big part of who they are.

So how do they find the good parts and leave the bad behind? Well, there's the rub, eh. That's what the training camp was for. That's what the exhibition game against Nashville was for. That's what the backyard workouts and countless video sessions and five days of practice in Edmonton are for.

That's how you get better, that's how you improve the good things and fix the bad, as players love to repeat.

But there also is that nagging voice that says they are who they are. Yes, they can change, but how much? Is a little enough?

The Stars used to be a high-flying team that led the league in scoring under Lindy Ruff. That's who they were. It changed under Hitch and Jim Montgomery and Rick Bowness. It changed, in part, because some personnel changed.

Video: Dallas Stars Highlight Reel

But the personnel within the team also changed how they played. They leaned more toward defense, they became more detailed, they lost some of the risk-taking that made them top scorers. They became something different.

And that different is actually pretty good. They are top two in goals against, they are a team that can seem to battle with anybody, they are veteran-laden and competed very well in the playoffs last season. They had the fourth best record in the Western Conference, which arguably makes them one of the top eight teams in the league.

That's who they are.

Now, they have to tweak the offense and get a little more creative and finish their scoring chances -- they know all of that. Maybe that's why they get tired of talking about it.

They're trying to change who they are, but it's not easy. All you have to do is look around at other teams in the area to get confirmation of that.

 

Up next: round robin vs. Golden Knights

Monday, 5:30 p.m. CT

TV: FOX Sports Southwest, NHL Network

Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM

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, and listen to his podcast.

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