Tag:Dallas Stars
Posted on: November 20, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Wild move to top of the NHL

By Brian Stubits

When I was trying to wrap my head around the aftermath of the weekend in hockey, you must pardon me if I'm a bit staggered. It's not exactly the college football landscape after Saturday, but it's equally as jolting.

It's still only late November, but a tour of the standings is surprisingly fun. And confusing.

Who'd a thunk the NHL's top team at this (or any) point in the season would be the Minnesota Wild? Was there anybody not busy laughing at Dale Tallon that they could have seen the Florida Panthers ahead of the Southeast Division? Did anybody believe Dave Tippett could work his magic again and have the Coyotes in first place of the Pacific? Lastly, who saw the Maple Leafs atop the Northeast Division?

This is the bizarro NHL. Or maybe it's just that this is the NHL with the 2-1-0 point system.

The difference between the best in the NHL (Wild and Chicago Blackhawks) to 25th place (Winnipeg Jets) is only eight points. Four of the six divisions have the fourth place team within four points of the division lead.

One of the divisions that doesn't fit that bill is the Northwest, and that's not because the Vancouver Canucks are running away with it again. Instead, the Wild are, building the biggest division lead in the NHL, holding a five-point lead on the Edmonton Oilers (we told you this was bizarro world).

If we want to take the last 10 games (which we do, it makes this look better) the Wild are the hottest team in hockey alongside the Boston Bruins. Each of them are 8-2-0 in that span after the Wild took the two points from the St. Louis Blues on Saturday with a shootout victory.

It must be the offseason additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, right?

They haven't hurt matters, to be clear. But I wouldn't go as far as to call them the reason the Wild have the most points in the league. Offensively speaking, the Wild have been well below average. Their 2.20 goals per game ranks 28th out of 30 teams.

Obviously that means it's the defense that's led them to a league-high 12 wins. The Wild are surrendering a very impressive 1.95 goals against average. It's funny how starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom is the "worst" goalie of the tandem of he and Josh Harding as he sports a 1.97 GAA and.935 save percentage.

The most amazing part about this is the Wild are doing it with what most would agree is a no-name group of defensemen. Brent Burns is gone to San Jose. Greg Zanon has been sidelined as have Marek Zidlicky and Marco Scandella. That leaves a cast of characters that I doubt anybody outside of Minnesota or Houston (the Wild's AHL affiliate) had heard of; guys like Justin Falk and Kris Fredheim.

This is all under first-year NHL coach Mike Yeo, by the way. He has come in from Houston and has this team as one of the biggest turnaround stories of the season. I defy anybody, including those fans in Minnesota, to say they saw the Wild starting this well.

Speaking of surprising turnarounds ...

There's another team shocking the NHL under a first-year coach after an awful season a year ago. That would be the Florida Panthers.

Kevin Dineen, certainly with a great pedigree as a player in the NHL, has put his name in the early running for the Jack Adams (next to Yeo) with what he has done in Florida. Or perhaps we should say with what Dale Tallon has done.

The top line for the Panthers is making all the difference right now. For years, the Panthers didn't have much production from the top line. If you had to rank where they stood, it was always in the bottom five of top lines in the NHL, that includes when it featured Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Nathan Horton.

The new top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg showed its prowess on Saturday night against the Penguins in South Florida. They were in on all three Florida goals, including Weiss' power play tally in the final minutes. Each member of that line is on pace for about 80 points or more. None of the three has ever had more than 61 points in a season (Weiss in 2008-09).

The team has some serious gumption. After taking the late lead on the Pens, they withstood a massive barrage, particularly the final 65 seconds when the Penguins pulled goalie Dan Johnson. That's when Jose Theodore -- another surprise -- stood tallest and denied Pittsburgh's numerous scoring chances. Theodore, by the way, has a very respectable 2.46 GAA and .923 save percentage.

We are close to a quarter of the way through the season and it's just so weird to call them the first-place Panthers. But that's exactly what they are.

Getting Bizzy

Another one of the surprising teams (boy, there are a lot of those) is the Phoenix Coyotes -- we'll have more on them this week. They have been winning in seasons past, but I think many believed that Ilya Bryzgalov was a big reason for that and when he left for Philadelphia, most predicted they would falter.

Surprise is a word that would aptly describe Paul Bissonnette's night on Saturday, too. Maybe even surprise doesn't cut it, shocking would fit better.

The Coyotes tough guy who hardly plays but is one of the most popular players in the NHL due to his Twitter fame, had the rare shot to play in Buffalo, near his hometown of Welland, Ontario. It also happened to be the first time his mother had the chance to see him play live in the NHL. And so wouldn't you know it, this happened:

As I said, shocking. That goal brings his total to five goals in the past three seasons with the Coyotes. Maybe equally shocking was Tyler Myers' play to give Bissonnette the shot on the doorstep.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes' 4-2 win moved them into a tie with the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division.

We want 10!

How crazy are things right now? The Oilers scoring nine goals on the Blackhawks and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recording five assists goes here. Oh, and Taylor Hall had a hat trick.

The Oilers had eight goals at the mid-way mark of the game, prompting the chants of "We want 10!" from the Edmonton faithful. They came close, real close, in the final minutes, but didn't get it. Instead they had to settle for a 9-2 rout. For shame.

For the Oilers, it's what you would call a rebound win. They entered the game on a four-game skid. The quick start to the season seemed long ago in the rearview mirror. But then in 60 minutes they scored more goals (nine) then they had in the entire span of that losing streak (eight).

What's more, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to live up to the billing. Labeled as a play-making center, the Nuge's five-assist night was the a record-setter. No 18-year-old had ever done that before in NHL history. His 19-year-old linemate Hall had his second career hat trick. Whatever they wanted to do, they did.

As for the Blackhawks, their four-game win streak ran into the Alberta armor and went kaput in back-to-back nights to the Flames on Friday and then the Oilers.

"Right now, it seems like every little mistake we make it's in the back of our net and we're making a lot of mistakes," defenseman Duncan Keith said on Saturday. "We all as a team need to focus on committing to playing the right way and the way we know how to play. We have to. The last two games have been embarrassing. The only thing we can do is try and learn from it and move on."

Make it eight

The Boston Bruins can't be touched right now.

With their 6-0 trouncing of the Islanders on Saturday, they have won eight games in a row. With that run, they have finally climbed back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings.

The most amazing part of the eight-game run? The Bruins have outscored their opponents 42-14 in that time. That's an average margin of victory of 3.5 goals per game. As I said, they can't be touched right now.

Caps popped

The Capitals are in a tailspin, leading to the annual chatter of Bruce Boudreau's job safety starting up again. That can happen after taking a 7-1 pounding by the similarly struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

When asked after the game about a vote of confidence for Boudreau, GM George McPhee game a "no comment."

But it's still hard to put this on Boudreau in my mind. He's trying everything he can to right the ship. The problem is partly on the shoulders of Alex Ovechkin, who has failed to score a point in any of the past four games. The last time that happened? Go back to February of 2007.

So what's the next step after a team meeting and a practice on a typical off day? It could be the benching of Alexander Semin. The other talented Russian forward on the Caps, Semin has already seen demotions this season. In Sunday's practice, he was dropped all the way to the third line and when Boudreau was asked if Semin might be a healthy scratch on Monday against the Coyotes, Boudreau didn't say one way or the other.

Matters could be coming to a head very soon in D.C. one way or another.

Coming back to Earth

Once sitting atop the NHL in points, the Dallas Stars have gone into a funk, losing five in a row, topped off by a 3-0 loss at Colorado on Friday and a 4-1 defeat in San Jose on Saturday.

That prompted first-year coach Glen Gulutzan to go off about this team, leading to ...

Quote of the weekend

From CSN Bay Area:

“We whine like little babies throughout the game,” Gulutzan said. “I don’t know if there’s been a history of that here or not, but every team that I’ve coached, we’ve always been at the other end of the scale. I think we’re the worst penalty differential in the league, and every team I’ve coached we’ve always been the opposite.

“That’s going to change. We’re going to change that culture here. We’ve got to do it by zipping our mouths one step at a time. The refs are human, and if you whine that much, they’re not going to give you calls. That’s just the bottom line. We’re not getting some calls, and it’s our fault.

“I’ll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don’t get out of this, but at the end of the day we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re going to be men, we’re going to have character, we’re going to shut our mouths and we’re going to play. If that’s not good enough, then so be it.”

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 19, 2011 11:18 am
Edited on: November 19, 2011 11:30 am
 

Watch: Fistric get sent through Penalty box door

By: Adam Gretz

The Colorado Avalanche played what was perhaps their best and most complete home game of the season Friday night, knocking off the suddenly struggling Dallas Stars by a 3-0 margin.

Early in the second period, Avalanche forward T.J. Galiardi delivered what had to be the hit of the night along the boards to Stars defenseman Mark Fistric, sending him flying through the penalty box door on a play that could have ended up a lot worse than it was given the way Fistric fell into the opening.



It was a rough week for Fistric, as he was not only on the receiving end of this booming hit, but he was also struck in the throat by a puck during a game in Pittsburgh last Friday. Depending on your outlook that's either a run of bad luck, or a run of good luck that neither situation was as bad as it could have been.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 18, 2011 2:47 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2011 5:02 pm
 

Gagliardi owns Stars with bankruptcy court OK

By Brian Stubits

The Dallas Stars ownership mess has finally been cleaned up.

The purchase of the team by Vancouver businessman Tom Gagliardi was approved by a bankruptcy court in Delaware on Friday, jumping the final hurdle before the ownership keys could be handed over. And just like that, the Stars are out of debt.

Considering Gagliardi was already approved by the Board of Governors, this wraps up the deal. The official announcement was made by the NHL and Dallas Stars on Friday evening.

Gagliardi takes over a franchise that has gone through some awfully tough days in the past few years after former owner Tom Hicks defaulted on his loans. Since then the NHL looked for a new owner with a plan to get the team out of its debt. They found their man in Gagliardi.

It's not going to be easy for Gagliardi from the start. The Stars have been losing money at a pretty staggering rate in the past few seasons and are projected to lose $31 million this season. But the plan for Gagliardi is to commit to winning again and upgrading the fan experience to try and turn things around. Dallas has shown it is a suitable market for a viable hockey franchise in the past.

With the core of players the Stars have, Gagliardi gets a nice head-start on one of those objectives -- the winning. The Stars have been one of the surprises of the early season, jumping out to a very fast start before finally hitting a bump in the road in the last week.

The fan equation might be a bit tougher. Despite the winning start, the Stars have really struggled to attract people to their games. Taking out the home opener and the largest crowd the Stars have had at home was 11,981 against the Avalanche on Nov. 4.

This is the greatest news to hit Dallas since the second out of the ninth inning in Game 6 of this year's World Series. Stable ownership has come back to Dallas and hopefully the fans will respond. Plus, I assume, the Stars will be able to be buyers at the trade deadline if they so desire with a new-found money source.

Is this akin to Terry Pegula buying the Sabres? Not exactly. Pegula is and has been a fervent fan of the Sabres and is one of the richest owners in hockey (fourth to be exact) who came to the table right away willing to spend to the cap and get the Sabres to the Cup. Gagliardi probably can't attack as quick as Pegula did with the few obstacles he's facing.

Plus, there should be no fears of Gagliardi looking to move the franchise; he has ties to the state of Texas. In addition to his mom being from Longview, he has family that lives in the Metroplex, so he's familiar with the lay of the land.

The first move Gagliardi made as the new owner was to hire Jim Lites as the team president, as position Lites held from 1993-2007, minus some time he spent with the Coyotes in 2002.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 17, 2011 11:16 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2011 10:59 am
 

Watch: Craig Smith's incredible empty net miss

By: Adam Gretz

Nashville's Craig Smith is an early contender, if not the early favorite, for the NHL's rookie of the year award, entering Thursday's game against Toronto tied for the team lead in scoring, as well as the league-wide in scoring among rookies with 14 points

Late in the third period of the Predator's 4-1 win over Toronto, he made a play that will probably be left off of his rookie highlight reel by missing an empty net from point-blank range, completely firing the puck over the cage ... and then celebrating what he thought was a goal, all while the goal horn went off in the background.



The "what?!" reaction of Predators coach Barry Trotz at the 10-second mark on the bench is incredible.

For years, Patrick Stefan's epic miss in Edmonton, when he was a member of the Dallas Stars, was the empty net miss that all others were measured against, but this one might give it a run for its money. The only thing Smith's has going for it to keep it below Stefan's was that Smith's didn't result in the other team taking the puck the length of the ice and scoring a game-tying goal.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 12, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Injury watch: Goligoski, Visnovsky out

By: Adam Gretz

A pair of Pacific Division teams suffered a some rather large injuries on Friday night that will certainly test their depth on the blue line. The Dallas Stars will be without Alex Goligoski for a month due to a broken thumb, while Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky will be sidelined for a similar length of time due to a busted finger.

Goligoski suffered his injury on Friday night during his return trip to Pittsburgh, against the team that traded him last season in exchange for James Neal and Matt Niskanen, after playing just six minutes during a 3-1 loss. Following the game Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said he expected Goligoski to be out for an extended period of time, while the defenseman's hand was heavily taped.

In 15 games this season Goligoski has scored two goals to go with four assists, and it's a big loss for a Dallas team that allows a significant number of shots on a nightly basis. His 21 minutes per game is the fourth highest average on the team, trailing only Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley and Sheldon Souray.

Meanwhile, the Ducks announced on Saturday that Visnovsky is expected to miss four weeks after he was struck by a puck late in the third period of their 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Visnovsky had a career year for Anaheim last season, leading all NHL defensemen in scoring with 68 points. So far this season he's scored just one goal to go with three assists in 16 games.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle recently told Eric Stephens of the OC Register that he thinks Visnovsky is taking too many chances and needs to let the game come to him. Unfortunately, he's going to have to wait a few weeks before he has a chance to do that.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 12, 2011 2:01 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2011 2:10 pm
 

Can Lehtonen continue his hot start?

kl1By: Adam Gretz

The Dallas Stars have been one of the surprise teams in the NHL over the first month of the season, and as my Eye On Hockey partner Brian Stubits pointed out earlier this week, a lot of that success has been the result of some strong play by their top lines.

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen has also been a big factor and is currently playing some of the best hockey of his career. Given the volume of shots he's faced, the Stars have needed him to play at a high level.

Entering their game on Saturday in Detroit, only two teams (Nashville and Florida) are allowing more shots per game (and by a minimal margin) than the Stars. It doesn't help that Dallas has been one of the most penalized teams in the NHL and spend a great deal of time shorthanded, but in 10 of their 15 games this season the Stars have been out-shot by their opponents. Seven times they've been out-shot by at least 10 shots, which is a rather large deficit.

I asked Stars coach Glen Gulutzan following Friday's game, a 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh in which the Stars were out-shot by a 32-20 margin, if there was any concern that maybe the Stars are relying on Lehtonen a bit too much, and if he would like to see those shot totals change more in their favor.

"Well obviously you want to keep your shots down," said Gulutzan. "But it depends where those shots are coming from. If they're just slap shots from the outside we're more than comfortable that he can take those. He takes 32 a night and probably 180 in practice a day, so as long as they're not quality chances we're not going to concern ourselves too much about them."

In other words, in Gulutzan's view it's not the quantity, it's the quality.

There's been a debate taking place in the hockey analytical community as to what impact, if any, "shot quality" has on a team, and whether or not it all evens out throughout the season. While a slap shot from the outside obviously has a lesser chance of resulting in a goal than a breakaway, or a wide open one-timer from between the circles, it still has a greater chance of resulting in a goal than not allowing a shot at all. You run the risk of deflections, a puck hitting your own player and changing direction, or resulting in a second or third chance opportunity on a rebound. Since the 2005-06 season, teams that have finished in the bottom 10 in the league in shots allowed have qualified for the playoffs just 20 times (out of 60 teams).

The question isn't whether or not Lehtonen can physically handle that many shots (regarding Gulutzan's comment on facing 180 shots in practice every day), it's whether or not he can continue to stop them at this rate, and what happens to the Stars if (or when) he starts to play closer to his career norms.

Lehtonen's even strength save percentage currently sits at .952, which is tied for the best mark in the league among goaltenders that have started at least 10 games this season. That's not likely to last, no matter how far out the Stars are allowing shots from. (Just as an example, Tim Thomas led the league in even strength save percentage last season, a year where he was clearly the best goalie in the NHL, with a mark of .947, which was significantly higher than the rest of the league).

For his career, Lehtonen's even strength save percentage comes in at .926, and looks like this on a year-by-year basis: .928, .921, .923, .925, .926, .927. That's pretty consistent, and while it is possible for goaltenders to play a little better under certain coaches and systems, I have to think that eventually he's going to regress back closer to the level he's played at throughout his career. And that could be a problem if the Stars continue to allow over 32 shots every game.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 11, 2011 2:51 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2011 5:36 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Ducks searching for wakeup call

By Brian Stubits

Weekend schedule: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

You know it's bad when we're still early in November and the Anaheim Ducks call a closed-doors meeting. It stinks almost as much as the Avalanche calling Thursday's tilt against the Islanders a "must-win game." They did, barely (4-3 in OT).

But desperate times call for desperate measures. And right now, things are getting close to desperate in Orange County. The Ducks are the coldest team in hockey having lost six in a row. In a world without the overtime loser point, Anaheim is 5-10. That is not good.

"You have to eliminate any confusion, any doubt before you can take the next step forward," Carlyle said about the meeting.

"A lot of times coaches are talking and nobody says a word and you go to the ice and say, 'Well, I don't think that's work[ing]," Teemu Selanne offered. "It's important that the players can give their input also about the situation. It was really good. It was really honest conversations. I think it was a huge step forward."

They better get things figured out quickly. With Dallas playing as well as it is and San Jose in the division, the Ducks could dig themselves a hole too tough to get out of. They have the fewest goals scored and the most goals surrendered in the Pacific Division. In 15 games they have 29 goals, that's less than two goals per game.

How can a team with Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Selanne be struggling to score this much? Well presumably that's what the closed-door meeting was for.

I can't help but think it's the lack of power of the mustache. Since the month of Movember came around and the Ducks all began growing out their best 'staches, the team hasn't won a game. This is making me rethink my entire stance on the world. Here I was holding the mustache in such high esteem.

Or maybe it could be more rationally explained by figuring out where Lubomir Visnovsky has gone? The defenseman who had 18 goals and 50 assists last season has just four points (1-3=4) in 15 games and is a minus-9. Him finding his game would go a long way in helping the Ducks remove the ugly from their game.

So who do they get to try their presumably new tactics against first? How about the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night? Just the team for a struggling squad to face (the still-not-invented sarcasm font was on there).

But that's not all for the weekend. On Sunday the Ducks welcome the last team they beat, the Minnesota Wild. Of course since that win, these two teams have flipped their fortunes. The Ducks have become the coldest team this side of Columbus while Minnesota has been red hot.

SoCal struggles, Part II: This was supposed to be the season the Los Angeles Kings stepped forward, made a run for the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship. It obviously still could be, the season is only a short way in. But right now they could use a swift kick in the rear to get in gear.

Los Angeles has followed a 5-1-1 start with a 2-5-2 stretch, including a five-game losing streak that has people wondering if the boot isn't being polished up before delivering the kick. After all, the Kings have not scored more than three goals in 13 of their 16 games. For a team that acquired an offensive talent like Mike Richards to go with a solid group already, that's not going to cut it.

"The offense, certainly myself at the top of the list, should be scoring more, getting to the net," Justin Williams said following Thursday's loss.

So do you put the blame for the struggling stretch on coach Terry Murray? After all, head coaches are always the first scapegoat. I find it hard to blame Murray. He's trying all that he can, mixing and matching the lines to try and create a spark. But as they always say, you can't really fire the players. I mean you can, but it's a lot more difficult.

One of the issues right now is the play of Jonathan Quick. Remember that shutout streak back in October? That's a thing of the past. In his last six starts, Quick has zero wins. He is giving up nearly three goals per game in that stretch.

About the only thing going well right now for L.A. is the play of Drew Doughty. His game has been on point recently with five points in the last three games.

Like their SoCal neighbors in the O.C., the chance to get on the right track will come against the Wild, Saturday night at Staples Center. Oh, Minnesota enters the game having won five of the last six.

What the ....? You know who's not struggling? The first-place Florida Panthers. Yes, you read that right, first-place Panthers.

Dale Tallon threw together a team that everybody anticipated would struggle to jell, but it came together like jell-o. The Panthers have tallied a point in six consecutive games, including back-to-back wins on the road in Toronto and Winnipeg.

If they want to make it seven straight, they will have to get through the Flyers, who are in Sunrise on Sunday.

This is where I'd like to spread a little love on Kris Versteeg, the forward who is on his fourth team in a two-year span -- the one before the Panthers being the Flyers. He has apparently found the right fit and is scoring at a pace of better than a point per game, leading the Cats with 17 points in 15 games. Brian Campbell hasn't been too shabby either with 15 points in 15 games.

The surprises are all around on one of the NHL's biggest surprises this season. Jason Garrison is a sniper from the blue line? Who knew? But he's tied with Nicklas Lidstrom in the NHL lead for goals among defensemen with six. Jose Theodore can still be effective as a No. 1 goalie? Just talk to the folks in the Washington press box to see how hard that is to believe.

There's no telling how long this will last. First place in a division with the Capitals is asking a lot. But with a start like this, they can at least dream of ending that 10-year playoff drought in Florida.

Texas two-step: Want to know if the Dallas Stars are really as good as their 11-3-0 record indicates? Other than the fact that you are what your record says you are, as Bill Parcells would say, the Stars are in the midst of about as tough a three-game road stretch you can conjure up in the NHL.

They already went through the Capitals, handing them their first loss in D.C. this season. Now they have back-to-back games starting Friday in Pittsburgh. The game was viewed as a potential return date for Sidney Crosby, but that's not happening now. However it is still the top two teams in each conference and James Neal vs. the team that traded him.

If that's not enough, Dallas will take the trip to Detroit where the Red Wings await on Saturday.

I'm not sure how many more tests the Stars have to pass before this start and this team is believed to be for real by the masses. It might be already. I know I'm a believer. But just to be safe, a few more points in this weekend double-dip couldn't hurt.

The Bruins got their groove back: It only took a month, but now the Boston Bruins are showing the form the hockey world expected. After all, ask Boston fans and they will tell you last season was just a whole heaping of bonus -- this was the season when they were expected to be legitimate Cup contenders.

The team that in the early going couldn't score now can't stop scoring. Especially in bunches. Five times in the month of November the Bruins scored two goals within 49 seconds of one another. Five times!

Without a doubt, the most impressive player has been Tyler Seguin. The sophomore is showing why there was such a debate between himself and Taylor Hall before the 2010 draft. He is so quick and always seem to get his stick on the puck near the net.

The above items considered, it should come then as no surprise that the Bruins have won four games in a row and are streaking into their game against Northeast Division foe Buffalo.

The question there is which Sabres goalie will be entrusted with slowing down this now potent Bruins attack? That’s the question every day now in Buffalo where at the moment -- and I stress at the moment -- the goaltending job is a 50/50 proposition between Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth. If Miller gets the call, it could be a tough situation to find a slump-busting performance.

Defense rules

The Tampa Bay defense, specifically the 1-3-1 trap that coach Guy Boucher loves to use, is the topic of the week in the NHL. The crux of the issue: people want to see more scoring, less stalling.

If that describes you, maybe you should find something else to do on Saturday night when the Lightning and St. Louis Blues meet. Offense might not be too plentiful.

With Ken Hitchcock now on the St. Louis bench and his preference to play a defensive-minded game, it could be a pretty slow and plodding game. Nothing as bad as the scene on Wednesday night, but still not offense friendly. In the two games under Hitchcock, the Blues have given up two goals.

Of course after all this you can now expect for the teams to hit the over.

Photo: US Presswire

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 9, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 2:50 pm
 

Stars shining bright behind light of top lines

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- It's pretty hard to look at the Dallas Stars right now and not be star-struck. After all, they lead the league with 11 wins. No other team has even 10 yet.

You can't help but be impressed with the team's top line.

"I don't know which exact top line," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "I think there are some arguments about who is the No. 1 line at times."

OK, so I guess it's possible you aren't impressed with the top line, but that's only when you can't tell which it is.

"The [Jamie] Benn line there with Ryder on it has just played I think two or three games together after the injury to Steve Ott. Benn and Loui [Eriksson] have had some good chemistry from the get go," Gulutzan said. "Then you've got Ribs [Mike Ribeiro] and [Brendan] Morrow who have had great chemistry as well for years.

"It's good to have some internal competition and that's kind of the battle in that room right there. The young guys vs. the old guard. They're having fun with it. But every night we're getting one of those lines to step up."

Let me be more specific then: I admit openly here to professing my love for the newly formed line of Benn, Eriksson and Michael Ryder. They are each fast. Heck, the whole team is fast. They are very skilled. And they look like they have been playing together for three seasons, not three games.

Just look at the numbers -- they never lie, just sometimes deceive. Since this line came together, Ryder has three goals and four assists. Eriksson has two goals, five assists and a star of the week honor. Not to be outdone, Benn has three goals and five assists. Again, those numbers have been compiled in three games! These three have averaged more than seven points per game combined since they were put together.

They go together like peanut butter, jelly and bread. (Seriously, why is bread never mentioned in this cliché? Do people actually just scoop PB&J in their mouth at the same time?)

"Those two guys have been playing together for a little bit and this is my third game with them and they've been flying," Ryder said after Dallas' impressive 5-2 win over the Capitals on Tuesday, in which he scored twice. "I just jump in there and I'm feeding off them. Guess we’re just going good right now."

Maybe the biggest breakout has been Benn. The 22-year-old is opening eyes everywhere with his play. Combined with Eriksson specifically, they are capable of some beautiful hockey. What has impressed me so much is the unselfishness of the two players. Somehow, they keep finding themselves in 2-on-1 situations and each time they are looking to pass. More often than not it leads to a goal, it seems.

Add Ryder to the mix, and, well let the fun times roll.

"Things are going pretty good right now," Benn said. "Ryder got put on our line right before this road trip and it seems like we're just clicking and we're having fun out there."

Five consecutive wins will help in that department too.

And what of this No. 44 on the blue line? My roster sheet told me that's Sheldon Souray. I could hardly believe it. This is the same guy they were so desperate to get rid of in Edmonton? It is, and he's playing as well as ever. He is averaging nearly a point per game. He seems to have found a home and the Stars are happy to have him.

His four goals are the third most for a defenseman in hockey, trailing only the great Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit and Florida's Jason Garrison. With his production, the Stars defensemen have picked up the scoring slack they had been leaving behind. Last season it took them until Dec. 29 to score nine goals, a total they have already reached.

For the most part, it's a somewhat no-name group. But it has been solid. As is the case with most every goalie, the defensemen deserve some of the credit for Kari Lehtonen's start.

Lehtonen remains probably the biggest reason why people are still hesitating to jump on the bandwagon. He is coming off a career year and has battled injuries throughout his still young career. He is just 27.

"He keeps us in every game and gives us confidence," Benn said.

Really, GM Joe Nieuwendyk has pieced together a quality team. And the good news? Once the ownership situation gets straightened out and Tom Gagliardi starts paying the bills, there could definitely be a green light to add some salary onto the league's lowest payroll in the form of trades or just finding some quality fits for his team the way he did with Souray and Eric Nystrom.

Nystrom was waived by the Minnesota Wild before the season and eventually made his way to Dallas. In 82 games last season he had four goals. In 14 games this season, he has four goals. Including one spectacularly awesome one on Tuesday night.

Heck, he's even a humanitarian by day. Nystrom took the time to try and make the day for a pair of presumably homeless gentlemen before the game.

"We always have so much food," Nystrom said. "I asked for a to-go box and I took it across the street to the park and gave it to two homeless guys. Gave them the best meal they've had in a long time."

And wouldn't you know it, this might be the best team they've had in Dallas in a long time. Well OK, it hasn't been that long, but you get the point.

"We're trying to gauge ourselves against the league," Gulutzan said. "Coming into Washington and then heading to Pittsburgh and Detroit, we thought this would be a real good measuring stick."

So far, so good. Especially if the Stars keep that, err, those top lines together.

Photo: Getty Images

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