Dallas Does the Pacific Division

The Dallas Stars have a history of breeding new coaching talent: Ken Hitchcock, Dave Tippett, and now…Glen Gulutzan.

Even though the Stars have slumped slightly, Dallas still retains its precarious lead in the fluid Pacific Division stakes. For a time this season it looked like Dallas would fade from competition altogether. The Stars had roared out to an 11-3-0 start when the present NHL season began but for most of November, December, and January; indeed all the way to the All-Star break the Stars were in the doldrums with a 13-18-2 record.

When play resumed the Stars have shot across the sky with a dazzling rush to regain the Pacific Division lead (although only one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings; with San Jose only two points behind).

What’s amazing is how they are getting away with it.

San Jose and the Coyotes have the better offense. The Kings and Sharks are superior on defense and power-play offense. Los Angeles and Phoenix are better on the penalty-kill and short-handed offense.

And yet Dallas remains competitive.

Dallas is a team playing above itself; with no real superstars in its line-up. Their team offense is average at best and their power-play is the second-worst in the NHL. Indeed by all standards there is nothing extraordinary in their team performance and yet they are winning games and vying for the division lead.

Their best player is goalie Kari Lehtonen. (Lehtonen ranks among the top ten in all key standards of goaltending excellence). Complementing Lehtonen’s defensive skills are the scoring tandem of wingers Michael Ryder and Loui Eriksson. Ryder and Eriksson supply the offensive punch for the Stars but other than those three the rest of the Stars don’t track on the radar.

The key lies in rookie coach Glen Gulutzan (who coached the Stars’ AHL team in Texas and earned six success points and zero failure points in two solid seasons of coaching).

Gulutzan brings youth, fire, and the ability to relate to a team that is evenly balanced between young players and established veterans. His genius is motivational. Whereas the Stars underachieved under veteran coach Marc Crawford, they have found a newer strength in Glen Gulutzan and have found the inner character to rebound from their mediocre state and challenge for the Divisional title once more.

The questions for Gulutzan and the Stars are these: do they have the resiliency to withstand their divisional opponents by winning the games they need to win? Can they continue to overcome their tactical inadequacies and defy expectations or will the Stars go nova and burn out to darkness?

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