The picture of what Glen Gulutzan's Dallas Stars truly are and how they're going to play this year is still coming into focus five games into the 2011-2012 regular season. Just ask the coach.
"24 hours ago we were wondering what kind of game we were going to have," said Gulutzan after the team's 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets on Saturday night. "I think today just shows our players that we have the ability to play a certain way, and if we play that way we're going to put ourselves in a position to have success every night."
Before that complete performance this weekend the Stars were a bounce or two away from being in the same boat as those same Columbus Blue Jackets who now find themselves 0-4-1 on the young season. By the coaching staff's and player's own admissions they had been outworked and out-chanced on the whole through the first three games. Their game was "not in order," they said. Gulutzan's thoughts on the subject were well publicized.
Two games later the Stars are taking visible, measurable strides in the right direction. They're learning to integrate seven new players and a new coaching staff, they're getting healthy, and they're collecting points while doing it.
"After tonight, you can finally see that playing the way our coach is telling us to play works,'' Burish said to the DMN. "It's a good feeling."
For fans who are finally starting to get a clear idea of what this team is all about about how they'll go about their business this season, it's a good feeling as well.
Continued after the jump...
Just five goals through three games had many concerned after a miraculous tally with 27 seconds remaining against Phoenix helped salvage what was otherwise a 59 minute exercise in fruitless frustration. Six periods later the offense has generated seven additional tallies and the top two lines have been more of a force in the opponents end.
Both the Ribeiro and Benn line's generated even strength offense on the same night for the first time this year Saturday, and the power play has clicked in consecutive contests. It was the first signs of real life and chemistry since the preseason for the Stars' "first line."
"I don't know what first line you're talking about. We've got some discrepancy there," Gulutzan quipped slyly after the game on Saturday. "We've got some internal battling going on."
No one's going to stop calling the Ribeiro trio the Stars "number one" offensive line any time soon, but his point rings true if we watch what's unfolding on the ice. The power play units are getting equal time between Benn's group and Ribeiro's. Both teams generated even strength offense Saturday night. The Benn line out-chanced the Ribeiro line.
While Morrow and Ryder may have figured in the scoring more against Columbus after finally haven "woken up", as they say, it was Jamie Benn's line who was tasked with keeping the Rick Nash/Jeff Carter group at bay. Not the Fiddler checking line as expected. So who can say what the number one line truly is at the moment. In order for this team to compete, every line needs to have some measure of success.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign from Saturday's win was that of Kari Lehtonen's work load, or lack thereof. Dallas outshot the Blue Jackets 33-15 and out-chanced them (unofficially, by our count) 17-6, showing fans (and their coach) what a victory looks like without the big Finn standing on his head back there.
They know things won't be that ideal nightly and that this is very much a work in progress, but early success builds belief and that is key for a coaching staff looking for commitment to a new system and culture.
Another area they're still learning about as they go is their defense. They've played five games and just one featured their desired defensive group as designed by Joe Nieuwendyk in the off-season. Grossman showed some rust in his first game back (St. Louis) and was better on Saturday. Pardy came in for his first action and played a serviceable 16:42.
One gets the feeling that the pairings on defense are a work in progress as well, and a four game road trip this week will no doubt feature further rearrangement as chemistry and success/failure dictate.
They've been careful to characterize their early success as "little steps" in the right direction. There are still a thousand steps to take and a thousand little things to watch. 4th line minute distribution, matchup problems on the road, faceoffs, the power play entries, taking the second MOST minor penalties in the league with 28 already... there's an endless supply of details to get right.
If they keep collecting points while sorting out all these warts, they're going to be alright, and if they stumble they'll have Kari Lehtonen behind them. He seems to have already learned what he needs to know, new coaching staff, teammates and all.