When you look at your club, what's your strength right now?" asked Norm Hitzges on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket of Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff ahead of their opener against the Florida Panthers.
"The strength is our speed," he answered simply. "The speed of our club."
And the weakness?
"About how the defense will play with the new scheme we put in place," Ruff said, echoing the concerns of many.
Two frank and immediate answers from the Stars' new leader, who preaches an up-tempo game but worries about the back end.
"By the end of the camp we were playing really sound defensively, he continued. "I want our six D to really play well in front of our goaltender. We've changed some of the coverage from man-on-man to zone and we're asking our forwards to help out more now. In the defensive zone it isn't solely just the defensemen's responsibility in some situations. Some situations it will be two-on-one. It will be, I'll call it 'double coverage'. A lot of those looks should help our defense out."
After the departures of players like Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson, Jaromir Jagr, Steve Ott and Brenden Morrow in favor of Tyler Seguin, Valeri Nichushkin, Erik Cole and Antoine Roussel the increase in speed is evident, but Ruff will require his forwards to work hard at both ends of the ice to shore up his concerns.
"If our structures good enough in the offensive zone you force them into that neutral zone dump in where they give it back to us," he said, detailing his game plan, "And we come at them again. By the end of the game you kind of wear them down. That's the type of game we'd like to play."
A successful, yet sometimes uneven preseason (in terms of play and also what we could actually watch...) left fans and media alike in a little in the dark about what the team's identity will be moving forward, but it's clear from these comments that he intends to wear down the opposition.
The key, he feels, is shorter shifts.
"We want to play a real fast pace, energy type game where we can get the other team on their heels.We can keep our shifts a little bit ahead of their shifts. That's maybe having shifts that eight, nine seconds shorter than the other team to keep the pace up. At the end of the night we'll have players that will play a lot of ice time, but they'll do it in shorter periods of time with a lot more shifts."
Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Jaromir Jagr and Loui Eriksson had top-50 average shift lengths in the league last year (showing mostly what power play time does to skew that number...) at 51 seconds or longer, so it will be interesting to see what the leaders look like and if the number comes down at all.
Either way, Ruff expects a hardworking game above all else.
"I want all the players to really bring the same effort in all areas of the ice," Ruff said, when reminded of his own gritty style of play long ago. "There's no excuse for not playing well in your own end."
Just another six hours until we get to see how it starts to play out.
More from Defending Big D:
- Dallas Stars Impact Player Profile #1: Tyler Seguin
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- Gameday Preview: Florida Panthers @ Dallas Stars (7:30pm CDT)
- Previewing the Florida Panthers @ Dallas Stars with Litter Box Cats
- Dallas Stars, Despite Youthful Reinvention, Still League's Fifth Oldest Team?