This was not quite the successful, energetic beginning to the NHL season that GM Jim Nill and Coach Lindy Ruff envisioned for their hockey club. The 4-3-4 Stars have performed in fits and starts, a paradoxysm characterized by spasms of activity or success, followed by inactivity. That explanation fits this team to a “T” – it can look very fast and fluid one night, then lapse into several outings of lackluster performances.
Dallas dropped a 4-1 verdict at Minnesota on Saturday night, their fourth straight winless outing (0-2-2) that left them grasping for explanations and in 6th place in the Central Division of the NHL’s Western Conference. Fortunately, they won’t have to stew in their juices too long with home games on tap for Tuesday (Los Angeles), Thursday (Nashville) and Saturday (San Jose) nights.
“There is energy missing in our game, it’s as simple as that,” Ruff said following the loss in Minnesota, which came on the heels of an equally uninspired effort in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Ducks At American Airlines Center just 24 hours before. “We are getting beat to pucks (and are not) winning enough of the small battles.”
The Stars did manage to play well in the first period against their Central Division foes in Minnesota, and defenseman Alex Goligosky’s shot beat Wild goalie Darcy Kuember but clanked off a post. By the middle period, Minnesota had converted a pair of chances into goals and grabbed control of the contest. “We take pride in being able to keep the energy in the game up and keep the speed of the game way up,” Ruff added. “Against the Ducks and Wild we didn’t do that.”
The Stars entered the season envisioning a more potent power play after acquiring Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky in the off-season. But Dallas was 0-6 with the man advantage against Anaheim and 0-4 Saturday, getting even strength goals from Antoine Roussel on Friday and Vernon Fiddler on Saturday. The Wild, which entered the game 0-27 on the power play, scored twice while a man up.
Some key Stars’ names have been scarce or missing completely from the score sheet during the four-game slide, which began Saturday, Oct. 25 with a 7-5 loss at Long Island and continued with a 4-3 overtime loss to St. Louis at home three nights later.
Because second-year forward Valeri Nichushkin is injured and playing with the AHL Texas Stars on a rehab assignment, Ruff has been forced to play his three best forwards on the top unit.
As a result, opposing coaches do not have to spread their best checkers among two lines, concentrating the best defenders against the Stars’ top trio. That was evident during the four-game slump. Spezza (2 goals, 12 points for the season) had a goal and an assist, both against the Islanders, while captain Jamie Benn (five goals, 11 points for the year) had one assist. Hemsky, who did not register a point during the four-game slide and has just one assist in 11 games, left Saturday’s game with an upper body injury and did not return.
On the positive side, leading scorer Tyler Seguin (7 goals, 15 points and a +1 rating) scored twice and added an assist, defenseman Trevor Daley (4 goals and 9 points) had a goal and two assists, and both Roussel (4 goals, 6 points) and Fiddler each lit the lamp twice.
The team’s second line, which was expected to provide depth in the goal-scoring department, boasts Roussel’s output but only two markers from Cody Eakin and one from Ryan Garbutt. When Nichushkin returns within the next few weeks, it’s possible that he will rejoin the first unit so Spezza can lend his considerable scoring and playmaking talents to the second unit.
“There are a bunch of things we have to correct to be a successful team, (including) penalties and turnovers),” Fiddler said. “Things were coming easily to us at the beginning of the year and now we are starting to find a little bit of an uphill stretch here. Good teams find a way to work through it. That’s what we are going to have to do.”