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Stars begin process of digging out

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

After a difficult weekend on the road in which they were defeated in Chicago and Boston by a combined score of 10-3, the Dallas Stars strapped on the skates again for practice Monday, ready to get back to work.

With all the negativity surrounding this team, which has stumbled out of the gate with a 4-6-2 record this season, the goal is just to renew their commitment to the team and get back to playing a solid, more defensive game. 

For the team that is somewhat shockingly last in the entire NHL in goals-against (50), and with top netminder Marty Turco uncharacteristically ranking dead last individually in both goals-against average (4.34) and in save percentage (.837), although a hefty share of that can be pinned on the team’s defensive performance in front of him. Better, more cohesive defensive zone play has been necessary. Turnovers and untimely penalties have been devastating.

“Everybody is frustrated with losing, but I’ve always been a person that, you look at a situation and you find solutions,” said Stars coach Dave Tippett. “You’re trying to improve, you’re trying to do whatever it takes to give your team the best chance to win, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We have a lot of areas that we can be better at, and that’s what we’ll strive to do.”

“It is all about commitment and working hard, doing the right things and making the right plays and we’re not doing that,” added captain Brenden Morrow.  “We talked about being down a goal in Chicago (after two periods) and just going out, playing simple, playing solid and we go out and it’s odd- numbered rush after odd-numbered rush and we’re not going to win many hockey games playing that way. We’ve got pretty good skill here, but that’s not what we’re about, never have been. We all know what we need to do to have success.”

As the captain, Morrow, who is tied with linemate Mike Ribeiro for the team lead with 12 points, assumes some of the responsibility himself.    

“It starts with me, it starts with Marty,” Morrow said. “We’re the guys that are supposed to lead the way and I’ve been guilty all season long of yelling at refs, getting frustrated, doing the wrong things and sending the wrong messages. The past few days, I’ve been doing some soul-searching. Not that I didn’t want to do the right things before, I just wasn’t and I’m going to make a point of staying positive with myself, with the rest of the guys and pulling the right way.”

Morrow is being perhaps a bit too hard on himself, but it’s commendable that he’s willing to stand up and be held accountable for his recent actions, which include one assist, a -2 plus/minus rating and eight penalty minutes in the last two games. 

“I’ve been guilty of letting my emotions get the better of me and channeling them the wrong way,” Morrow continued. “I’ve been saying how I’m going to fix it and I haven’t yet, but I’m going to now. I’m embarrassed by what I’ve been doing. That’s two nights of bad sleep, and it wasn’t the twins keeping me up, it was the mouse running the track in my head. I think, just when I get frustrated on the ice, I’ve got to let it out on the ice, not with my mouth, but with my feet.”

Tippett indicated that resolving some of the lingering issues, whether it be inconsistent efforts, defensive breakdowns or bad penalties, would be the focus of this week before the Stars’ next contest Friday night in Anaheim (9 pm, my27).

“We’ll find a way to pound away at those things, whether it’s discipline, whether it’s finding ways to help each other out with support,” Tippett said. “All those things are factors that we look at every day. I would say that there’s certain plays in games that become very big in the overall scheme of things. If you try to do as many right things as possible and when those things go against you, it feels like you’re going uphill.”

“We just need to get ourselves together, get some positive thinking,” added Ribeiro, who, along with Morrow, is tied for 21st in the NHL with 12 points. “There’s a lot of negative around. It’s hard to take positives out of the games we just played and the start to the season we’ve had, but it’s a matter of re-group ourselves and re-focus as a team how we’re going to get out of it, and take it one game at a time. Don’t look too far ahead, take Anaheim and go from there.”

But there have been some recent positives. They played a very solid, complete game last Wednesday in beating Minnesota 4-2 at the American Airlines Center. They had really good stretches, including excellent second periods, in both the Chicago and Boston contests, and Turco, who had sat out two games, returned and played very well for most of the Bruins game.

“You have to take the positives out of it,” defenseman Trevor Dale noted. “We’d like to get back to the basics here. There’s the saying ‘when it rains, it pours’ and it’s pouring for us right now. We need to stick together and be as one in the room. If we’re going to get out of it, we’re going to get out of it together.”

“You have to take the positives out of those games and bring it all together,” echoed Ribeiro. “I guess preparation has to be better. 10 games into it, you say, ‘Okay, it’s going to get better,’ but you don’t want to look 20 games into it and say the same thing, so we have to re-group ourselves as a team, bring some smiles to the rink and go from there. I think if we bring positive thinking, we’ll have better results.”

One thing that should put smiles on all the Stars is the increasing possibility that veteran defenseman Sergei Zubov will return to the lineup shortly. After having surgery on his hip in training camp, Zubov has yet to suit up this season, but all indications are that he is just about ready to get back out there.

“He’s a common factor, with his body language and just having him around,” Morrow said of Zubov’s impact. “He kind of settles things down, the pace - just everything he does is patient and calming and that’s probably something with a young group, when things go bad, you start to get excited and antsy, and it will probably be good to have that experience, especially defensively, and poise, when things go bad, just to settle things down.”

Tippett, like the rest of the squad, would love to have Zubov back, but points out that he has to prepare with the players he knows will be on the ice.

“That would be ideal, whether that will actually be the case or not, time will tell,” Tippett said of the possible return of both Zubov and Jere Lehtinen, who has also missed the entire season so far due to a lower body injury. “They’re important pieces of the puzzle. Zubie and Lehts are both continuing their progress. We’ll see what happens the next few days.” 

Daley also welcomed Zubov’s imminent return, but noted that the players cannot expect him to come into the lineup and bail them out.

“It’s definitely going to help us, be a big difference, but there’s still a lot more we could do as a group in here,” Daley said. “We can’t expect Zubie - if he does come back and be the Savior, then great, I’ll take that, too, but we can’t expect that as a group of guys in there right now.”
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