Dallas Stars' Fresh Start Featuring Too Many Old Problems

Hannah Foslien

The Stars have changed so much, yet find themselves the subjects of very familiar conversations in the early going.

As in the Dallas Stars' first weekend of play, fans are treated to another split and a couple of off days to assess the state of things, but this time things don't seem as rosy as they did after beating the Capitals.

There's a creeping feeling, early though it may be, that things feel a little too familiar in Stars land. Losing on the second night of a back-to-back, with an injured Kari Lehtonen and a backup netminder, getting out-shot nightly, and pretty badly, too- poor faceoff performances and a shaky defense.

24.5 shots per game versus 36.2 against. Their -11.7 per-game average is dead last in the league as of Sunday morning. The best? San Jose, St. Louis, Minnesota, Anaheim and Chicago. Playoff teams.

It's four games, sure, but it's hard to shake the feeling that you've seen this all before.

But it should be different. Everything was supposed to be different. New coaching staff, new players, new general manager, new division. How can it look so similar? That's where the frustration stems for Stars fans after watching the Wild dismantle every offensive rush with relative ease.

Ownership problems. Lockout. Payroll disparity. "Once all of that gets straightened out..."

Well, it has been, and yet things don't seem to be looking up as quickly as you'd hoped, and now the justifications and excuses have run out. "Someday" is here, but it's still going to be a lengthy process. In the mean time, taking a look around the league is a scary proposition.

There are only three teams in the west with a below .500 record. .500 is fine for now, but it won't be in the end as the Stars found out last year, not even close. What's more is that the points needed in the west versus the east figures to be inflated by the disparity in competition between the two.

It may be early, but the West is beating the East to the tune of 23-6-5 (.766!). That's absolutely dominating. Goal differentials in the East range from +8 to -16, and in the West, +17 (Colorado, Tuesday's opponent) to -8. If things don't even out then it will be very hard indeed to keep pace.

The Avalanche have a young team and a new coach and they're 5-0-0. The Calgary Flames were the universal pick for bottom feeder in the West and they're 3-0-2.

Combine it all with the fact that Dallas has San Jose and Colorado (combined 10-0-0, +31 goal differential) coming up this week and the reasons behind a little apprehension are evident. It's not a pretty picture.

More worrisome still is what a game like last night makes you think about coaching and style. Minnesota's positioning in their own end, like we've said of the Kings in recent seasons, was flawless. They scored five last night, sure, but most nights they won't. They're a team that can get points with two goals, and sometimes one. They allow nothing in the middle. They allow no odd-man rushes. They protect their netminder first and foremost.

That's the way teams win in this league. They take care of the back end above all else.

Contrast that with the Stars, who have an aggressive game plan - One that will produce high scoring games under the right circumstances and in certain match-ups. We've talked about how it's a good plan because it plays to their strengths. Don't sit back if you're not good at it. They've said it themselves: Play with the puck in the offensive end so you don't have to try to chase in front of Lehtonen. They're not particularly adept in that area so cut as much of it out as possible.

"We have players who need to play better. Our defense obviously didn't play well tonight,'' Ruff told media last night. "The strength we have is they have to move the puck. If we don't make plays coming out of our own end it makes it tough to get through the neutral zone.''

The Stars' strategy bets on out-working and wearing down an opponent. The Wild's supposes that offense may come and go but a strong defensive foundation can be relied upon nightly. When you watch the Wild hold the Jets to 15 shots and then the Stars to 19, most of which never had a chance, it makes you wonder, as have the Coyotes and Predators for years, if that's not a better way to go.

But it doesn't make Lindy Ruff wonder and it doesn't make Jim Nill wonder.

They will stay the course. They will make a personnel move or two along the way. They will continue to reconnoiter and adjust and teach.

So it's a good thing they're in charge and not any of us. A hot mess like last night is enough to make any fan a little gloomy. Like last weekend we'll say again - It's too early. It's just four games. We'll continue waiting.

In the mean time, however, it's hard not to get that feeling that you've seen so much of this before.

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