Dallas Stars Head Coach, Lindy Ruff was asked Saturday morning what he needed to see most from his team in that night's game against the Montreal Canadiens that he had not seen enough of lately. He responded with two items: increased compete-level and winning one-on-one battles. When the puck dropped a few hours later, the Stars appeared set on displaying both.
During a run of very difficult results over the last six weeks, there have been multiple requests for that type of performance. It had come in spurts for many games this season. And in a few cases, it was there for the majority of the evening. But on Saturday night, from the opening faceoff through the final horn, the Stars unquestionably took the game to their opponent, instead of the other way around. It's been a while since the Stars played a game like that. And if you're a Dallas fan, it was a welcome change.
You might be asking yourself why it took until Saturday to see such a much-needed difference in tempo and urgency. After all, it's not like the Stars hadn't previously had tons of motivation, a chip on their shoulder, or been issued a challenge from their coach (or each other) to play with that kind of pace and determination. It's a valid question. However, it's also one that cannot be answered. There is no telling where that type of performance has been, but it was definitely back against the Habs. The eyeball test told you most of what you needed to know. Yet, if you're looking for statistical reinforcement, it is there.
Saturday's game was just the second this season where the Stars recorded at least 20 hits, 18 blocked shots, and held their opponent to 25-or-fewer shots over 60 minutes - all tasks mainly associated with commitment and determination. The other game was opening night. While that game ended with a shootout loss, anyone who saw it can agree that the Stars play was outstanding. Any type of game which resembles that effort is a game that Ruff, the Stars, and their fans can all be excited about. Between October 9 and Saturday, we have seen other games that have flirted with those numbers - most of them ended favorably for the Stars - but the performance versus the Canadiens was an important reminder that there is a blueprint for success, and this team has the ability to duplicate it.
There was something else that the Stars got against the Canadiens that they didn't get on opening night (aside from the victory, of course). That is the benefit of timely saves and no soft goals against. While Kari Lehtonen only faced 17 total shots in the game, he made some big saves. Imagine how differently the game turns if the Stars concede a goal on Montreal's first shot of the game - a shorthanded breakaway with five and half minutes left in the first period. How about if the Habs would have scored on a suspect goal to tie the score early in the second period? As the Stars can all-too-well attest, those moments can adversely change a game. But they never came on Saturday. That was another nice difference for the Stars, who have experienced way too many of those this season.
Now, to be fair, there were a few circumstances that favored the Stars in the game. The Canadiens were playing their second game of a back-to-back. It was also their final game on a four-game road trip. The Habs have been slumping lately and, entering Saturday, were just 1-4-1 in their previous six games. Over that span they had really struggled to score, averaging just two goals per game. Fresh off a four-game winless skid, where the Stars allowed five goals a game and were outplayed and outworked for most of it, it is important to remember all of those factors. As much as Dallas played a complete game, they need to remind themselves that it will take an equal or even greater effort to repeat the performance.
However, if the win over the weekend can indeed serve as a blueprint for Dallas, it would be a pretty nice time for one. The Stars have a light workload this week and next, with only four games over a 14-day span. But three of those four come against Western Conference teams that missed the playoffs last season, and currently rank ahead of Dallas in the standings. Those are teams the Stars have in their sights if they have designs on getting back into the top-half of the conference.
Following the win on Saturday, Stars players and coaches alike said that the team got back to playing "Dallas Stars hockey." It was the type of hockey those supporting the Stars hoped to see all season. It was a nice reminder of what the team can be capable of. The Stars did a lot of things right in that game. However, at the root of it all, they worked and battled their way to victory. In order to be successful in the long run, they need to play with that same type of intensity and compete-level every night, because it takes a lot more than just one performance to truly turn things around.
But maybe, just maybe, that was a start.
There are only two games this week as the Stars finish their homestand. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' as Dallas hosts Winnipeg on Tuesday and New Jersey on Saturday:
Leader of the Pack
Through the first third of the season, Stars sniper Tyler Seguin is in a class of his own. Seguin leads the NHL in both goals (21) and points (35). He has scored 26.6% of the Stars goals this season. As incredible as his pace has been all season, it's even better framed over the last month. Seguin has 14 goals in his last 14 games, dating back to November 8. He has two hat tricks and six multi-goal games this season. With two goals over the weekend Seguin became just the second Dallas Stars player to ever score 20-plus goals in the first 27 games of the season, joining Mike Modano, who scored 20 in 1993-1994.
Power Play Potpourri
On Saturday the Stars went 2-6 on the power play, and they are now 3-9 in their last two games. In the ten games prior to that, Dallas was only 2-32 on the man-advantage. Furthermore, the Stars scored their first five-on-three goal of the season. It was their first regular season goal on a two-man advantage since the shortened 2013 season. Last year the Stars were one of just two teams (Buffalo) that did not score a five-on-three goal all season. They did record one, however, in their playoff series against Anaheim.
Last week Stars goaltender Anders Lindback was sent down to the AHL, and goaltender Jussi Rynnas was called up to Dallas. Over the recent four-game winless skid, both netminders started games and both suffered rough losses. With Dallas this season, Lindback is 0-5 with a 4.63 GAA and a .861 save percentage. Rynnas has only the one start with the Stars, but took the loss allowing 5 goals on 29 shots. Kari Lehtonen has a 10-6-5 record this year. Lindback and Rynnas are a combined 0-6. The back-up position has been problematic for the Stars for several years. Dating back to the start of the 2011-2012 season, Lehtonen has a record of 90-62-22 (.580 points percentage), while all other Dallas goaltenders have combined to go 24-38-3 (.392). Lehtonen is, and will, remain the go-to guy in net for the Stars, but they desperately need better results when someone else is between the pipes.
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.