The Dallas Stars took the ice on Thursday night in front of a slightly larger crowd than Monday and gave, as it turns out head coach Glen Gulutzan feels, only a slightly better effort than Monday night's as well.
"What did we say Monday? You could say the same thing today," said Gulutzan in the post game press conference. "The room is pretty quiet. I think people are recognizing in that locker room that we had a little bit better effort than we had before, but our game is still not there. We have a lot of work to do before our goalie gets too tired. We have a lot of work to do."
Parallels with story lines from last October are starting to emerge and are a little too similar for our comfort. Look at this post last October and the issues discussed: The power play was not good. The shot differential was alarming, as this season's is becoming as well. The penalty kill was lacking a big way last year but is a strength this go around. We concluded that Kari Lehtonen was holding the thing together, as one might argue he is this October.
Gulutzan was extremely complimentary of Kari Lehtonen saying he has single handedly won two games for the Stars. Steve Ott was on the Bob and Dan post game show and had this to say on the subject of Kari Lehtonen.
"We need to find a way to lessen his work load," said Steve Ott. "Let's be honest, he doesn't need to be seeing 40 every night. I know there's a lot of outside shots going on but he's made some pretty solid point blank saves as well."
This all paints the picture of a team in distress but they're still 3-1-0 on the young season, and learning how to play the way their coach wants them to while collecting points at the same time might not be a bad way to go.
A key difference between this year and the last is their early success came from playing Eastern Conference teams in 2010-2011. These first three victories, though they were all at home, have been against WCF teams that will likely battle for playoff position with the Stars throughout the season. Columbus is in the same boat and comes up next for a home and home.
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Razor likes to say that special teams and goaltending can win you games in this league and it was on those fronts that the Stars won the battles last night with short handed and power play goals.
"Our PK has been really good," said Gulutzan. "Half that is the goalie and half is our coaches and the players have worked hard on the PK. Specialty teams was the difference."
For the second time the Stars built a multi-goal lead at home and for the second time they went into a bit of a shell afterwards, appearing to be content to nurse it to the finish line. This is nothing new. A team falls significantly behind and they make a strong push. The other team usually weathers the storm. You see it in basketball all the time as well. The comeback is usually too taxing to ultimately be effective.
The Stars defied the odds by leading the league in victories when trailing after two periods last year, and that's symptomatic of the same thing that happened last night: Changing the way they play to fit the situation they're in (or have "gotten themselves into").
"It seems like we change the way we play if we get up or down, then we'll change the way we are approaching the game," added Gulutzan. "Good teams don't do that. They play the same way for 60 minutes. We're not there yet. I thought we played 25-30 pretty good minutes."
The 30 minute mark being roughly when they took a 3-0 lead and then appeared to be caught off guard on the next shift. This we call a "quick strike goal" and if you missed it over the summer, we detailed how many of those the Stars allowed and how it affected them here in this post.
The head coach's message is unapologetically clear, and it mirrors exactly what was being said about this team last October. It's great that they're winning, but their habits probably need to change if it's to continue. Fans can be assured that winning these games is not enough for this group. They're going to work to get better.
"You're going to have games you should have won, and didn't, and you're going to have games you shouldn't have won, and did. Right now we're going through maybe the games we shouldn't have won but did. The hockey gods watch these things pretty closely."
When is the last time a coach around here referenced "the hockey gods"?
How do you feel about Gulutzan's straight forward approach with the media and presumably with the players as well? Is this contrasting style (with the last coaching regime) what the players need to be held accountable, or is it too early for this and will it grate on the players too roughly over the course of an 82 game season if things do not improve?