It hasn't been the start the Dallas Stars were looking for with six losses in their first nine games (3-4-2), but Stars GM Jim Nill and head coach Lindy Ruff both see steps in the right direction even though the results haven't been there.
There were some positives in the 4-0 loss to Minnesota Saturday, despite the lopsided score, and the Stars dominated play most of the game Tuesday in Columbus before the Blue Jackets scored a late power play goal in regulation to tie and then won it in three-on-three overtime. Progress but still work to be done.
"We've lost three in a row, but I think our last two games are close to where we need to be," Ruff said. "[Tuesday] night might have been the best game we've played overall. Still, systematically, we beat ourselves at the end. We didn't do that last year. We were a good team when we had the lead.
"But I thought we got our game to a pretty good place these last 120 minutes. Jamie Benn's scoring chances were up; he was in on six or seven, Tyler [Seguin] scored and we had one power play create four Grade A opportunities. There's some good stuff going that - and I'll use this word again - we have to maintain that style of play."
In other words, consistency. But that's been tough to develop through the first three weeks of the season. The injuries haven't helped. The Stars have lost 42 man-games to injury, 40 of them at the forward position.
"We are still trying to find ourselves. It's no secret what the injuries have done to us," Stars GM Jim Nill said. "It's inserted a lot of different players into different positions and different situations. The young guys are figuring things out. Usually, as a young guy you come in and play low minutes to get used to the league. We've had to thrust guys right in there, and they've done a pretty good job."
The injuries started piling up before training camp even started. Tyler Seguin, Radek Faksa, and Ales Hemsky were injured at the World Cup of Hockey. Seguin didn't get in a preseason game, and Hemsky got into one regular season game, underwent surgery earlier this week and is out 5-6 months. The Stars lost Cody Eakin, Mattias Janmark, and Devin Shore during camp. Shore missed most of the preseason and Eakin is still two to three weeks away. Janmark is out until the spring.
"That changes your whole setup and we really haven't really recovered from it," Nill said.
The season starting hasn't offered relief. Patrick Sharp has missed the past five games with concussion-like symptoms. Jiri Hudler (five games), Jason Spezza (two games) and Patrick Eaves (one game) missed time as well. Add in that Jamie Benn has been slowed by previous injuries as well and it's taken a toll on the Stars.
"Saying that, no excuses," Nill said. "The message in the dressing room is that it's an opportunity and we have to find a way to win. We're finding our way."
So, Nill is preaching patience over panic as he waits for the team to get some more bodies back and hopefully get on track.
"We've got some guys slowly coming back from injuries, so we are starting to look more like ourselves," Nill said. "It's easy to make hard judgments right now, but we have to find out who we are yet. And we need to get healthy. Until we get healthy, we don't know what we have here. That's where we've got to be careful."
Here come the Blues
The St. Louis Blues come to town Thursday. The Stars and Blues played during the preseason, but this will be the first regular-season meeting since the Blues knocked the Stars out of the playoffs with a 6-1 win in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinal.
The Stars are downplaying the rematch.
"We have so many different personnel that weren't there last year," said Stars forward Antoine Roussel. "For the guys that were here, yes, and for the guys that weren't, it's a different scenario. We are focusing on something else right now, playing better and being more effective and scoring more. Whoever we play, we will bring the same energy and similar urgency."
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he didn't bring up last season's playoff series with the team.
"Not at all. This is so far from that now," Ruff said. "With the personnel we have, it's making sure we get our game in order and play our best game to try to get a [win] up on the board."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.