Nine days ago we were talking about the Brad Richards line possibly being the best in hockey after the Dallas Stars 4-0-0 start to the year. They were a combined +20 in four games and had 20 combined points. It wasn't even power play success: It was 5 on 5 dominance, even on the road. All we had to worry about as fans were the penalty kill and the shot differential.
Four games later and we're wondering why a five-on-five goal scoring drought of over 120 minutes going back to the second period in Sunrise last Thursday against the Panthers had to be broken by Brian Sutherby last night in the third period. That five-on-five GF/A ratio we were touting so highly last Wednesday (2.60) has dropped to 1.80. The Stars have out-shot their opponents in two straight losses. Out-shooting is a little overrated, as it turns out.
We were taking four goals a night and the hottest line in hockey for granted. 20 combined points in the first four games became only six combined in the last four games. The merry-go-round has darned near stopped and so has the fun. It's not just the Brad Richards line, however.
Mike Ribeiro's line looked so good in the pre-season we were nearly calling them "the first line" by the time the season started, but that trio has not combined for a goal since October 18th in Tampa Bay. After the Thursday game against Florida (when the Ott/Wandell/Benn combination broke out) Stars fans were wondering if they had three powerful scoring lines on their hands. Since then we've seen exactly zero potent scoring lines.
It's probably unfair to put Brad Richards in the spot light given that he has 11 points in 8 games this season, but he has not looked quite like his usual amazing self recently. Two points in his last four games is surely not up to the high standards he sets for himself. Last night he had a couple of uncharacteristic giveaways and took a minor penalty (and an assist, to be fair).
More after jump...
Brad Richards is the best player on this team and they will likely go only as far as he can carry them. Even with a spectacular Kari Lehtonen, even with a Brenden Morrow that looks like his 2008 self, it's all about Brad Richards for me, and when he looks like "just a dude" out there, it's going to be a tough night for the good guys.
And since I know you'll ask...Richards/Eriksson/Neal combined for 28 shots on goal the first four games and 27 shots on goal the last four, so this could be just another universal course correction because the Stars converted such an absurdly high percentage of their scoring chances to start the year.
It has been said here on this site and just about every other one that covers the Stars that Kari Lehtonen is the key to their season. He's been spectacular in nearly every game and was even quite good last night at times in surrendering five goals (and cleaning up an early Matt Niskanen mistake). His clean sheet in the first period included only seven saves but all seven of them were great. Kari Lehtonen has provided the Stars with the stability in their own end they couldn't find last year, but he can't score goals.
He can only hold up his end of the deal for so long. He did so for the first half of the Duck game last night. Had the Stars cashed in on any number of chances while they dominated play early, the lead grows to 2-0 or 3-0 and the complexion of the game changes.
Kari Lehtonen has been the team's MVP through eight games, and they need him at this level, but they need Brad Richards at his best just as badly. They need to be co-MVP's.
This is just the ebb and flow of the season. You can't expect a team to get four every night (as they did in the first four games of the year) but when a team like the Ducks comes into your barn and their big guns (Ryan, Selanne, Perry) produce like they did, it's only natural to wonder: "Where are the Stars' big guns?"
It's just a few games. They'll be back. Let's be patient.