With their game in Vancouver Sunday night the Dallas Stars hit the 20-game mark, which means they are one quarter of the way through the season. After losing five of their first eight games, the Stars have gone 8-2-2 over their last 12 games and are 11-7-2 (24 points). Through Sunday’s action, the Stars sat five points out of the third and final playoff spot in the Central Division and four points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference.
I talked with Stars owner Tom Gaglardi briefly Monday and got some of his impressions on the Stars through the first quarter of the season.
On the Stars first 20 games
“Disappointing start, way better lately.”
On the Stars turning it around lately on the road, where they have won six straight
“To win on the road is tough and to do it six times in a row, I think we’ve shown a lot of character. It’s tough for young guys to play on the road and some of our guys are having great games. The fact that our road record of late has got us back in the playoff race is extremely encouraging.
“I am not surprised at our record overall, but to think you can win six in a row is a challenge for the best team in the NHL. I think it’s great. We buckled down, guys have shown a lot of character, even last night (in Vancouver) when we got outplayed badly in the second period and some of the first. We weren’t skating yesterday, and then in the third period we came out and locked it down pretty well, skated with them and did what we had to do to win on the road. I am glad that we are back in the race.”
On the team’s best players – Kari Lehtonen, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin – coming up big
“They’ve been great. Let’s face it, they’ve been great. There have been a lot of good efforts. A lot of the guys that struggled early – the older guys – some of them have picked it up and played much better. Obviously to win six in a row on the road you need a great effort from your goaltender and most of your guys, and we’re getting that. We’ve got ourselves back in it, and with a bunch of games at home against some pretty tough teams, we have to find a way to keep it going.”
On the team’s defense, considered a weak area by some coming into the season
“Statistically, we are way better. If you break the season into two pieces, you can see the improvement in goals against and shots against. We’ve certainly tightened up and some of the guys that struggled early back there aren’t struggling anymore. I think our coaching staff has been a difference maker, too. I think you can see the adjustments being made and the focus on the defensive side and the results have borne themselves out.”
On the job head coach Lindy Ruff has done so far
“I think he is pretty impressive. That’s what we wanted in a coach. We wanted someone that has been around, been there before, not perplexed by any situation, and experienced. That’s what we are seeing. He doesn’t ever seem to panic. Our power play, for instance, hasn’t been very good, but he just stays at it. There are no big revelations or changes. When things weren’t going well he didn’t turn the lineup upside down, didn’t scratch guys, he just kept with it, so his patience has been quite interesting to watch. He stays pretty calm, and that’s what you get when you have a veteran guy, a guy with the kind of experience that Lindy has. I’ve been very impressed with him, and I think the team turning around has a lot to do with Lindy and the assistant coaching.”
On areas for improvement
“I think the power play is a big one. Some nights if we could have got a single power play goal, like against Chicago for instance. Last time I looked, the power play is close to 30th in the league. It’s a concern and something we need to fix if we are going to beat the better teams for sure. Things are going pretty well for us, but the power play has cost us some points thus far. I think it is the most obvious thing we need to address.”
On the tough Western Conference, and how hard it is to gain ground
“An 82-game schedule has a way of evening things out. I think some teams have over-achieved in the West, and we’ve got to catch a couple of them at least and stay ahead of the ones we’re ahead of now to have a chance. I think at the end of the day, the best eight teams will make the playoffs and hopefully we are one of those best eight teams. We’ve just got to be worried about ourselves. We’re within four points of a bunch of teams we weren’t even close to a while ago. Even the Canucks, two or three weeks ago they were out of sight and now we are one point behind them with two games in hand, and I think they are a team we are going to be battling for a playoff spot. It will be ebb and flow throughout the season, and we’ve got to be happy where we are now given our start. There are lots of good signs on our team.
“The 18-year-old Russian (Valeri Nichushkin), how exciting is he? He is a plus-6 player. He’s responsible defensively. He still makes mistakes that a guy like that is going to make, but just the character of the guy in the way he backchecks, gets back and battles on the wall, he’s an impressive guy.
“Tyler Seguin has been outstanding. He’s played the way we thought he could when we acquired him. The chemistry with Jamie has obviously been great. Looking forward to getting Ray Whitney (groin injury) back in the lineup on Thursday and hopefully our big boy in the net stays healthy. When he is healthy we can beat anyone.”
On the play of Jamie Benn
“He’s matured, you can see the leadership in the guy. Clearly, Lindy and Jim Nill made a great choice in naming him captain. He’s responded well and done everything we could have asked him to do. Obviously, he wanted it and he’s carried himself really well both on and off the ice. I think our franchise is in good shape.”
This story was not subject to the 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.