Stars Defensive Game Has Looked More Complete, Confident Since Crawford Fired the 'Bullet'

I was one of a select DFW sports fans that night who weren't parked in front of a television watching the Rangers play the Giants that night in Game 3 of the World Series. Instead, I made good on a promise to my 7 year old daughter that I'd take her to a Stars game this season.

As the game started, I noticed the Stars certainly had more jump against the Sabres and it led to them earning three early power plays, including a 5-on-3 chance that James Neal buried from about 20 feet.

All well and good, I though. But what I really wanted to see is if the Stars would take Crow's words to hear in the defensive part of their game. And more specifically, on the penalty kill.

And I got my chance halfway through the period when Matt Niskanen was sent off at the 10:41 mark for slashing.

Follow the jump for more.

What I saw was a Stars penalty killing unit that looked like it was making the same mistakes it was throughout the year. They were allowing Buffalo too easy a time to get setup. And when the Sabres did, they setup down low in the corners, clearly looking for the pass across the crease on the backdoor play.

I was a little disheartened, but only for a second. See, Andrew Raycroft was in net and was reading these plays like a cheap novel written on a child's menu. Effortlessly, he blocked these silly little passes and was foiling the Sabres at every turn.

And then something happened. The Stars penalty killers and defensive game pretty much took over from there. I don't know if Raycroft's play infused some confidence in them or what happened.

 

But ever since that penalty kill early in the first period, the entire defensive game has looked, shall I say, committed. Nobody's really looked out of position in the last three games, forwards were backchecking like I'd never seen them backcheck this season, and while Raycroft and Lehtonen have been very good in net, they haven't been forced to be spectacular at any point in this winning streak.

At the beginning of the year, I predicted the Stars would miss the playoffs because I felt like the defense just wasn't going to be good enough and a mid-season sale of the club wouldn't come soon enough to bring in some defensive reinforcements.

Perhaps, to a man, everyone in the Stars lockerroom knows this. And like their baseball counterparts who just went through the same thing this past season, they've shut out all that they cannot control and have simply stepped up their game to make up for it.

And have they ever stepped it up.

Last season, it seemed the Stars were under siege on a nightly basis. And early this season, the Islanders, Blues, and Lightning continued that trend by each firing more than 40 shots on net. Since then, the Stars have outshot their opponents in the last seven games.

But as we all know, that's only part one in any plan to improve your defensive game. You've also got to reduce scoring chances, which is something the Stars didn't do a good job in losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles at the beginning of this homestand.

The back half saw the Stars shut out Buffalo, give up a quick goal to Tyler Kennedy off a faceoff and a garbage time goal to Pittsburgh, and two delfections and a garbage time goal against Phoenix.

Of course, it helps to have forwards that can light up the scoreboard on any given night like the Stars have. But the chances of this team making the playoffs clearly rests with their team defense. And if they can continue to build on their play of the last three games, I'll be forced to change my prediction.

And Crawford can save his 'bullets' for later in the season.

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