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Jim Nill on Stars' slump: 'We have to figure this out together'

The general manager sits down with DallasStars.com's Mike Heika to discuss how the team is navigating its slow start

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Stars are off to a 1-5-1 start and struggling to score goals.

Dallas ranks 30th in the NHL in goals per game at 1.86 right now and is 1-for-22 on the power play. The Stars also have allowed six power-play goals against.

That said, Dallas has played one of the toughest schedules to start the season with games against St. Louis, Boston, Calgary and Washington (twice). They also have played seven games in 12 days with travel between six of the seven games.

Stars coach Jim Montgomery decided to give the Stars the day off from a scheduled practice Tuesday, so DallasStars.com's Mike Heika talked with general manager Jim Nill about where his team is at and how to get out of this slump.

 

The coaching staff decided to give players a day off Tuesday after a 4-0 loss in Buffalo Monday. What is the thinking on that decision, and how does the organization go through the process in making that decision?

We look at our schedule and there's a lot of hockey, and there's more research nowadays on the fact that sleep and rest can be more important than practice, so it's a real balancing act, especially when we have the schedule we have early this season.

We monitor everything and just with how the schedule is set up right now, the coaches felt that maybe it was best to let the guys rest, regroup and have a good morning skate, and go from there.

 

That makes sense, but on the flip side, does it also make sense that there are details that could be improved by practicing?

Definitely. Practice is important. But we've just come out of training camp where we practiced every day. We had a lot of repetition there, and we feel that we put down a good base. So that's the balancing act, will we be helped more by more repetitions or will we be helped more by having rest, both physically and mentally.

 

What do you see on the ice right now? Is there anything you see as an issue that has led to the slow start?

There are a lot of things. I think special teams is a big factor right now. You're always going to have games or times in a season where you don't really have it, and I think if your special teams are on, that gives you a chance to win.

We're not playing great hockey right now, but we've been in every game, and even if we had just one power-play goal in some of these games, it would have made a difference. Say what you want about Monday, but we had a good road start in the first period and we're right in the game. They weren't doing much, we weren't doing much, and then they get a power-play goal and that changes everything. I think our special teams need to get better, and we're just not playing fast right now. And people need to understand that playing fast isn't just having guys go 100 miles per hour. It's thinking fast, it's moving the puck fast, and we're not doing that right now.

We're not a five-man unit going up the ice. The last four months last year, we were a relentless team, and we're not that right now.

Video: Montgomery breaks down Stars' shutout loss to Sabres

 

You were 17-10-7 in one-goal games last year and are 1-3-1 this year. The way this team is built, it seems like you will play a lot of one-goal games, so how do you go about winning those games?

Our league is so close that you have to find a way to be a little bit better than the other team as often as you can. Teams that do that are teams that succeed. It's "playoff hockey" almost every night. That's why I go back to special teams and say that one goal for or one goal against makes a huge difference. You have to find a way to win those games, or you have to find a way to pull points out of those games, and we're not doing that enough right now.

 

When you get behind the eight-ball like you are now, how do you live in that environment? Do you do things differently or do you simply push that aside and focus on the task at hand?

You have to be careful that you don't overreact. You have to take one thing at a time and not get overwhelmed. In the end, you have to stay focused. It's the pressure of sports, and we have to find a way to respond.

It's a team game, and as a group, we have to figure it out.

 

You did that at times last year and found ways to respond positively, right?

There are going to be tipping points in every season. We had all of those injuries to start the year last year and we found a way to respond positively. There were other moments after that, too. We're going to get through this and then there will be more challenges later in the season.

That's professional sports. It's tough every night.

 

Last year when you acquired Andrew Cogliano for Devin Shore in January, it seemed like a move designed to shake things up. Can the front office do things like that to change the dynamic of the locker room in the middle of the season?

You can do some things. I'm talking to general managers every day, I'm talking to our scouts every day. You're always trying to get better every day. But the salary cap comes into play, assets come into play. A lot of trades are conversations that took place two months ago, so you just keep at it and keep at it, and then you see what happens. But, in the end, what we're going through right now ... players, coaches, management, we have to figure this out together.

Video: Benn says Stars have to 'keep digging in' after loss

 

It also seems like you put a lot of work into the off-season to come up with a plan that you felt would be successful.

Yes. We're disappointed with the start, but we're seven games in and you can't turn the team upside down. It doesn't work that way. I know some fans would like that, but you can't just change your whole team.

 

As the GM, can you push little buttons here or there to try to help individuals or the coaching staff?

I think my job is to do whatever I can to help. Maybe I'm seeing something the coaches aren't seeing. Maybe there's something that's going on in a player's life. I talk to the coaches and players all of the time, so I think communication is important.

I have to have the pulse of the team, that's kind of my job. In the past few days, we've talked a lot to see what we can do better as a group. That's always our focus.

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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