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On the Radar: Balancing Act

by Josh Bogorad / Dallas Stars

Throughout a hockey season, Stars Head Coach Lindy Ruff preaches the importance of an even-keel mindset. He constantly talks about not getting too high or too low after games. That trait certainly got tested last week as the Stars experienced opposite ends of the emotional extreme in back-to-back games. On Thursday night, Dallas fought back from a two-goal deficit, on the road, against the unbeaten Pittsburgh Penguins. After being severely outplayed in the opening period, the Stars clawed back into the game, and then appeared to score the game-tying goal with 3:33 remaining in regulation. The goal was disallowed on a debatable interference call, leaving the Stars still trailing by a goal. Dallas responded with a all-out assault. The Stars hit a crossbar eight seconds into the next shift. Twenty eight seconds later Jamie Benn scored from the top of the crease to (officially, this time) tie the game. With 9.6 seconds left, Benn drew a penalty. He then won a clean, ensuing face-off to Alex Goligoski, who moved the puck to Jason Spezza on the right wing. Spezza delivered a perfect, rink-wide, no-look pass to Tyler Seguin who buried the game-winning goal with three seconds left in the game. After Seguin's shot hit the back of the net, the Stars bench erupted, and the five guys on the ice leapt into each others' arms in a celebration-style normally reserved for April through June.

The win was about as exhilarating as they get, and completed a 2-1 road trip. The Stars were flying high and had every reason to be. It was the type of early-season event that had the potential to build into something much bigger for a team.

But, as tough as it was, remember Ruff's philosophy. Don't get too high.

Then came Saturday. The Stars welcomed the winless Philadelphia Flyers in their return home. Dallas took control of a pretty even game late in the second period. The Stars got goals from Trevor Daley and Benn in the final two minutes of the frame, and took a 4-2 lead into the intermission. At home, versus a winless team, with a two-goal advantage, and having all the momentum, the Stars seemed sure to be 20 minutes away from their third straight victory.

Enter the third period.

The Stars were outshot, outchanced, and on their heels throughout. The Flyers scored a power play goal about midway through the period to cut the Stars lead in half. Then with just under six minutes to play, Philadelphia scored the equalizer. Spezza responded for Dallas 40 seconds later to reclaim the lead, and disaster appeared to be averted. However, just 1:13 after that, the Flyers once again tied the score. Two late penalties for Dallas gave Philadelphia back-to-back power plays in overtime, and Claude Giroux converted on the second one to end the game.

Final score: Flyers 6, Stars 5.

The loss was about as deflating as they get, and was Dallas' second blown third-period lead at home in as many games this season.

But, as tough as it was, remember Ruff's philosophy. Don't get too low.

The fact is that there was a lot of good for the Stars last week. It also came sprinkled with its share of bad. But when the dust settled, Dallas went 2-0-1 in their three games. They have points in four of their five games this season. Through four periods, the newly-formed line of Benn-Spezza-Seguin is every bit as deadly as one might have predicted they could be. The Stars defense - thought to be the question mark entering this season - has held the opposition to two goals in three of five games. (In the two others, things were good for two periods, and the wheels came off in the third.) The power play has come alive, converting on three of their last four chances, and the #1 unit looks absolutely lethal every time they step on the ice.

Do all of those positives get erased because of a late-game implosion over the weekend? Absolutely not.

However, there are certainly some issues that need correcting. In every game except for the one against Pittsburgh, the Stars have given up at least one "soft" goal. In most games, there have been multiple. The Stars penalty kill has been leaky, allowing goals in four of the five games so far, and two goals in each of the last two games. Ales Hemsky has not gotten off to the start he had hoped for, with just one assist in his first five games. Dallas received a horrible blow on Monday, when it was announced that Patrik Nemeth was lost for the year after taking a skate blade to his arm early in Saturday's game. With Sergei Gonchar and Valeri Nichushkin already shelved on IR, the Stars have been greeted early by a string of unfortunate injuries. The Stars have looked great for at least part of all five games they've played this season. But there continues to be a period each game where they seem to get stuck in neutral. They have yet to put together a complete, 60-minute effort this season.

Do all of these negatives get erased simply because of the aforementioned positives? Of course not.

But that is where the mindset preached by Ruff comes into play. The Stars head coach had intended to go over the film of the Flyers game with his team on Monday morning. He had all the video cut, but when he arrived at the rink for practice, he re-watched it and decided they didn't need to harp on the collapse. The Stars had a day off on Sunday, and the team already knew where they had faltered over the weekend. He didn't need to show them for the sake of showing them.

Instead, he met privately with certain players, discussed what had to be better in the upcoming games, geared his practice towards preparation for Vancouver on Tuesday, and left the third period vs. Philadelphia right next to the third period vs. Pittsburgh.

In the past.

The even-keel way of thinking isn't exclusive to Ruff and the Stars. It's preached league-wide, in all sports. There are too many twists and turns that a season throws at you to live any other way. The goal is to try to capture positive momentum and use it to your advantage, while not letting negative momentum snowball. All the while, understanding that results are not made off the heels of your past successes or failures. The Stars learned as clearly as anyone can last week that momentum - be it in your favor or against - is a fickle commodity.

And so, on goes this team and on goes this season. We've just gotten started. With 77 games to go, there are sure to be plenty more ups and downs for us all to digest and ponder. But, either way, the Stars won't allow themselves to get hung up on whatever they are. They'll be focused on the next challenge ahead. This week, that starts on Tuesday night against the Canucks. Ruff issued a challenge on Monday, calling it a game in which his players must respond. In just over a season in Dallas, Ruff's Stars have performed well most time they have been challenged. Fresh off the roller coaster swing of emotions last week, it's time to see how they respond here.

The Stars open a three-game week on Tuesday. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' as the Stars look to break into the win column for the first time this season.

Decisive Thirds

We touched on this last week, but it merits mentioning once again because of the magnitude it carries. The story of the Stars season, so far, has been told in the final frame. In Dallas' two wins, they have outscored the opposition 4-0 in the third period and overtime. In their three losses, the Stars have been outscored 8-1. That is, without question, the most telling stat that exists through the early season. All five Stars games this year have been tied, at one point, in the third period. Simply put, when the Stars have been the better team in the third, they have won. When they haven't been, they have lost. They have to find a way to be a consistently good third-period team.

Same Guys, Different Look

When the Vancouver Canucks come to American Airlines Center on Tuesday, it will look like a Stars coaching alumni gathering behind the bench. Former Dallas Associate and Texas Head Coach, Willie Desjardins is in his first season as the Canucks Head Coach after leading the Texas Stars to an AHL Championship last year. One of his two assistants is Glen Gulutzan, who was the Head Coach in Dallas for two seasons from 2011-2013, and spent the two prior years as the Head Coach in Texas. The other assistant is Doug Lidster, who was Desjardins' assistant the last two seasons in the AHL. Lidster also finished his 15-year, NHL playing career as a member of the Stars. Needless to say, the Canucks should have a very good scouting report on the Stars for the matchup. In total, 17 of the 23 players on the Stars active roster have played for either Desjardins or Gulutzan in the Stars organization.

Daley Double

The season is less than two weeks old, but Stars defensemen Trevor Daley has already left a huge mark. Last year Daley set a career-high, scoring 9 goals in 67 games. This season he already has 3 goals through the first 5 games. He is tied for the NHL lead in goals by a defenseman. Furthermore, all three of Daley's goals have come on the power play, which ties him with Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, and Wayne Simmonds for the most by any player in the league. His three power play goals are also a new career high for a single season. Daley's two-goal game on Saturday night was his first in the regular season since January 15, 2011. He also scored twice in Game 6 of last year's playoff series vs. Anaheim. Daley is in his 11th NHL season, and has spent his entire career in Dallas. He is on an early-season pace to post another career-year offensively.

Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.

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