Leadership. Clutch. "The will to win." There are many terms in sports that get thrown around with regularity that are intangible, nearly indefinable concepts that some argue have little meaning or place in real analysis.
Try telling it to Lindy Ruff, who praised his leadership immediately following the Dallas Stars' 3-2 shootout win over the Boston Bruins. "I give it all to Benn and Fidds," he said.
Leadership took many forms last night.
Leadership is what Kari Lehtonen did in the first 26 minutes of the game last night. He stuck all 20 fingers and toes in the dam and plugged the leaks, incredibly, while his team waited for their usual start time of about 7:30 Central to really get going.
Leadership is Shawn Horcoff, a well-paid veteran now relegated to 10 or 11 minutes a night on the fourth line, still giving it his all on the penalty kill. He gave it his all in the closing minutes as they tried to get it to overtime. He's been much maligned this season, and not without reasons, but his effort was top-notch last night.
"Even the penalty killing with Horc and all those guys," Ruff reminisced after the game on leadership. "Those guys deserve a lot of credit. You can say all you want as a coach, but I think those were the guys out there that went and changed the game.''
And in handing the Bruins eight minutes worth of power play time in the game's first 24, it was leadership they absolutely had to have.
Leadership is Tyler Seguin owning up to what his coach said after the game in Ottawa, taking it to heart and improving. Sure, nine faceoffs isn't going to matter much in the course of things or his season-long percentage, but winning 67% of them and making a point to focus on it when he, ahem, had another thing or two on his mind is what Ruff wanted to see.
"I kind of got called out a little bit by my coach last game in Ottawa," Seguin admitted to a hoard of blood-thirsty reporters (repohtaahs.) "I wanted to be better on the faceoffs and just be a better centerman out there,'' Seguin said afterward. "I thought I played pretty solid, obviously nothing really offensively, but our line was plus tonight against a pretty good hockey team and great faceoff men."
Leadership is Vern Fiddler. Last season he was told he'd be relegated to the fourth line and he took it, and he rose above it. He took up the mantle of penalty killer and made it his baby. This season, with the addition of Shawn Horcoff, he seemed to be in for a repeat, but already he's proving himself worthy of more ice time and the respect of the new coaching staff.
He was there to defend his teammate in the first period. He was on with Razor after the second. He was re-sheathing his weapon after driving it into the hearts of 17,565. You got a whole snoot-full of Vern Fiddler last night, and so did the Boston Bruins.
Leadership is little Stephane Robidas going toe-to-toe with Zdeno Chara in the first last night. He might as well have been a four year-old trying to climb a 100 year-old tree. That wasn't going to get him anywhere but he wasn't going to back down. He wasn't going to be intimidated.
My favorite leadership of the night, however, was Jamie Benn's when confronted by designated knuckle-dragger Adam McQuaid halfway through the first period and was disinclined to engage. The crowd booed. They wanted their pound of flesh. It's cowardly to turtle, right?
It's smart. It was the perfect "no thank you," emblematic of what the Stars needed to do last night. Let the Bruins play their "heavy" game. Let them bang their bodies and thrash about like a slippery carp tossed into your fishing boat. That's fine. Then hit them with speed, and that's exactly what the Stars did, and that's what they needed their captain to do there.
Stars fans know that in Boston one fight seems to beget another. Then the crowd gets going. Jamie Benn had a chance to start them down that path and chose wisely to abstain. Sometimes the fights you don't pick in hockey are the important ones.
Now, that's a lot of lipstick on what could have been one ugly pig last night. If Kari doesn't pull their feet out of the fire in the early-going that's a lopsided loss that begs analysis of slow starts, too many penalties and depth issues, but once again he gave them the chance to stay in that game and then responded nicely, out-possessing the Bruins and evening the shot totals after trailing 15-1.
If the Bruins don't execute a pretty horrible line change late in the third or if they get a second lucky bounce are we talking about leadership today? Probably not, but that's sports.
Other kinds of leadership will be needed throughout. The offense will have to pick Kari up a time or seven as it goes on. Jamie Benn will need to drop those gloves in certain spots. Everyone ropes and everyone rides, as Ruff said.
A signature win like last night builds confidence in what a new team and a new coaching staff is doing, and when the confidence is there leadership starts taking care of itself.
More from Defending Big D:
- Dallas Stars Daily Links: Vernon Fiddler, You Beautiful Man
- Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin Score in Shootout as Dallas Stars Top Boston Bruins 3-2
- NCAA Prospect Update: Week 4
- A Look at the Dallas Stars' Early Returns as Tyler Seguin Faces the Boston Bruins Tonight
- Gameday Preview: Dallas Stars @ Boston Bruins (6:00pm CST)