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Stars' Scoring, Toughness Should Improve

by Ken Sins / Dallas Stars

FRISCO – The Stars’ goaltending and defense are in capable hands. That focuses the majority of the preseason questions on the forwards, and coach Dave Tippett has seen some hopeful signs from that positional area in his team’s 1-1-1 preseason start.

Junior Lessard, the only Dallas forward to play in all three games, has two goals. Krys Barch, Brad Winchester and Todd Fedoruk have shown a physical edge the Stars lacked at times last season. Jussi Jokinen paces the team in points after collecting four assists in two games.

“Junior’s come in and scored and played well,’’ Tippett said. “There are some young guys who’ve done well and that speaks very highly of the depth we have in our organization. The emergence of Krys Barch has been a real plus. He brings some of the grit element that we like. We have a host of guys who, if the game wants to get greasy, we can get greasy.’’

Lessard, 27, admits it’s time to take the next step after showing promise as a scorer for the Iowa Stars the past three seasons. Lessard isn’t as concerned about scoring goals as he is about proving that he can be dependable on defense.

“It’s gone well,’’ Lessard said. “I want to show I’m reliable. If I take care of my defense, I think the offense will keep coming. I’ve been known for scoring in college and in the minors. But there’s a lot more than scoring goals. If you score two but give up three, that’s not good.’’

Lessard has impressed some of his veteran teammates.

“Junior’s played well,’’ forward Stu Barnes said. “He’s in shape, plays hard, plays well, scores some goals. The young guys in general have had a good showing. It’s a willing group to learn and work hard and be part of the team. They’re eager plus big, strong and physical guys.’’

The Stars were 21st in the league in scoring last season, and they need a couple of breakthrough seasons from a group that includes Lessard, Jokinen, Winchester, Antti Miettinen, Niklas Hagman, Loui Eriksson, Joel Lundqvist, and Chris Conner.

Captain Brenden Morrow, healthy again after missing half of last season with injuries, is capable of a 30-goal season. Injuries forced Mike Modano out of 23 games last season, and if he can play a full season he’s also a major scoring threat.

Jere Lehtinen, a 26-goal scorer last season, is being counted on for at least that many in 2007-2008.

But they need some help.

“We all have to be better,’’ Morrow said. “Young guys got to step up, other guys have to find a way to get it done. There’s a load on myself and Mike and Jere. We have to find ways to score. Our team is always going to be based on goaltending and checking, but we also need those timely goals.’’

Barch, Winchester and Fedoruk collected a total of 50 penalty minutes in the two games they’ve played, most likely a preview of things to come. That trio and the return of Steve Ott from an injury-plagued season give the Stars the option of displaying a more physical style than last season.

“We’re not going to be pushed around,’’ Morrow said. “Nobody is going to intimidate the Dallas Stars. Anaheim was a big, heavy team last season and look where they finished. We made the move, brought in some weight, and hopefully it will pay off for us.’’

“These guys can play the game, and they can also use their size,’’ said Ott, healthy again and eager to resume his physical role. “We’re going to be competitive and we’re also going to have some skill.’’
·         The first round of cuts was announced on Friday afternoon, trimming the roster to 38. “The first wave isn’t the hard part,’’ Tippett said. “Those last few, there are going to be some hard decisions there.’’ Players assigned to the Iowa Stars included Richard Clune, B.J. Crombeen, Alexander Naurov, Matt Nickerson, Konstantin Pushkarev, Philippe Sauve, Mario Scalzo, Marty Sertich, Steve Silverthorn, Tobias Stephan, Janos Vas and Tom Wandell. Players returned to their respective junior teams included J.C. Blanchard (Victoriaville - QMJHL) and Ivan Vishnevskiy (Rouyn-Noranda – QMJHL).
·         Center Mike Ribeiro will miss another week and a half due to an ankle injury. Center Jeff Halpern will miss Saturday’s game at Phoenix due to a groin injury. Barnes and Lehtinen will also be withheld for precautionary reasons.
·         Defenseman Trevor Daley was held out of the first three preseason games as he completes his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery. Tippett said Daley should play Saturday night.
·         After missing 62 games last season due to a fractured ankle, Ott is eager for the puck to drop for the regular season. “To say I can’t wait for Game 1 is an understatement,” Ott said.
·         Morrow knows the team has a lot to prove after falling in the first round of the playoffs again last season. “That’s what drives you,’’ Morrow said. “We’ve had great regular seasons but haven’t been rewarded. We’ve gone through that the last few years. We’ve got 82 games to set ourselves up and give ourselves a chance. But with the parity in the league, it’s not a given that we’ll be there.’’

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