The Dallas Stars went through a good, hard practice in Frisco on Wednesday. There were some issues to address after Tuesday’s 6-5 win over Carolina, a game that saw the Stars squander a 5-1 third-period lead before winning it on a late power-play goal.
“We haven’t had very many good [practices]. We had a decent one in Vancouver and today was the first real good one again. We went back to working on defending,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “Just get back to square one and work our way back again.”
There was work before practice as well with a video session.
“I showed them five clips of how hard [the Hurricanes] worked to get above us to create the turnovers, which I give them a lot of credit for. I gave them credit after the game,” Ruff said. “They looked like us when we are on top of our forecheck game.
“This first game back (after a long road trip), for whatever reason, is a tough one for a lot of teams. It was probably a game we’d lose last year. I liked our last five minutes and the fact that our power play went out and got it done.”
Despite the five goals against last night, Ruff still likes where the Stars stand as far as their defensive game this season. Ruff said there is no doubt it is ahead of where the Stars were last year. The numbers say so. The Stars’ goals against numbers are down compared to last season. And Ruff sees other things as well.
“Even a night like last night, it wasn’t like we gave up 25 chances and it wasn’t that we were giving up breakaways and two-on-ones. Those chances have gone to a minimum,” Ruff said. “We might have played our best defensive game in Edmonton (on Friday), and some of our worst games have been puck movement, not system related and not decision-related. Our decisions now are light-years ahead of last year.”
Although the Stars have had a couple of rough third periods recently, giving up a four-goal lead last night and surrendering a three-goal lead in Calgary during the recent road trip, Ruff said he is pleased with how his team has handled pressure situations late in games this season.
“I want to see what players do under the utmost pressure. That’s where we will have to pass the test,” Ruff said. “We’ll be under the utmost pressure whether we are down a goal, up a goal and, for the most part, I give our team a passing grade. We’ve been under a lot of duress, a lot of stress in third periods from ties to one-goal games to teams tying us, and we have shown a lot of poise and a lot of moxie to either win the game or keep the game where it is at. We didn’t do that last year. That’s a huge step for this club. Are we going to have a step back? Yeah. Some of our game last night was mental. Wash it out. We got two points. Let’s move on. Let’s get back to the game we play.”
Jason Demers skated with Johnny Oduya, his usual defense partner, during Wednesday’s practice. That’s a sign that Demers could be ready return for Friday’s game against Philadelphia after missing the past three games with an upper-body injury.
“He should be [ready for Friday],” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’ll get a good practice tomorrow and see where he is. I think he should be an option by Friday.”
Demers, who was injured in last Tuesday’s game at Calgary, skated after practice on Monday, took part in yesterday’s pre-game skate at the American Airlines Center and went through a full practice today.
“Feel good,” Demers said. “Don’t like missing time, so this has been a tough couple of days. But I am ready to go. Another good practice tomorrow, a good morning skate (Friday) and then ready to get back into it.”
Stars forward Valeri Nichushkin is on a nice roll offensively. He’s registered points in four of the past five games, recording two goals and five assists during that stretch.
“I feel good,” Nichushkin said. “I’ve been working hard, practicing hard, and I am ready to play in the games.”
Nichushkin had just one assist in his first ten games but started to turn things around one month into the season. Now, the points are starting to come, especially after being moved to the top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
“He is in a really good spot right now mentally and physically,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “The way he is skating and physically dominating the games, it looks like a period of time in his first year when he was showing signs of that, but right now he is ahead of that.”
The Stars announced Wednesday that they signed forward prospect Brett Pollock to a three-year entry-level contract. The Stars drafted Pollock in the second round (45th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.
Pollock currently plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. He is tied for the team lead in scoring with 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 30 games. Pollock has registered 153 points (70 goals, 83 assists) in 211 career games with Edmonton.
Here’s how the Stars lined up in Wednesday’s practice.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Valeri Nichushkin
Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Patrick Sharp
Colton Sceviour/Travis Moen – Vernon Fiddler – Ales Hemsky
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Jason Demers
Jyrki Jokipakka – Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth – Jamie Oleksiak
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.