A two-game losing streak and a 2-5-0 road record to start the year saw the Dallas Stars embark upon a trip to Boston, Ottawa and Detroit with a sense of foreboding where a weary fan-base, hungry for the immediate satisfaction of improvement it so desperately craves, was concerned.
The Stars did not disappoint, and did so in most entertaining fashion. And was that not the axiom around here as the preseason concluded? Success aside, the team will be entertaining?
Two third-period comebacks in original-six buildings that both culminated in post-regulation wins highlighted the trip and the Stars are now 5-1-2 in their last eight games, 8-6-2 overall, good for 18 points and... well, that doesn't do much for them in the standings as it turns out, but that will take care of itself with continued patience.
Patience is key. Patience during the season. Patience within games. Patience in the coming seasons as the grand schemes are executed.
The Stars showed frustration at times last night in the second period. Down 2-0 there were too many solo expeditions launched into Detroit territory, and then only barely. But there was also restraint- Antoine Roussel keeping his gloves on when challenged, for instance, as did Jamie Benn in Boston.
They were rewarded for their control and their persistence and you hope that builds belief in what they're doing moving forward. They gave as good as they got this trip- Out-possessed for stretches, sure, but they always had an answer. That won't always be the case, but you can see the improvement bit by little bit.
That patience will be tested tomorrow night in a big way when Chicago comes to play what will probably sound like a Hawks home game on American Airlines Center ice.
The Offense Returns
Before last night the Stars had generated 1, 2, 2, 1, 4, and 1 goals in their last six contests- Less than two per. Shootouts, penalty shots and Kari Lehtonen supplemented the totals nicely en route to a 3-1-2 record but it was nice to see Horcoff get in on the action last night. They need secondary scoring with regularity if the roll is to continue.
The Power Play Comes Through
Power play talk is a staple of the sport. The power play is great. The power play is lacking. It ebbs and flows and we continue to feel the need to talk about it month by month, season after season.
Heading into Detroit the slant was decidedly negative with players and coaches alike acknowledging that with the help of the power play they might not have found themselves needing to come back in recent contests or muck about with the shootout.
It was the second power play unit, as has been the case more often than the first, that found the goal they needed last night, but Ruff thinks both power plays were good.
"I thought Seguin could have scored," Ruff said of the post-rattling play in the first period. "It was a great play but it didn't go in. Eakin's probably shouldn't go in but went in."
They could use another Saturday night with the Blackhawks coming to occupy the AAC, but Ruff won't dwell on it or put too much pressure on them.
"When we talked this morning I said 'I don't want to focus on it.' I don't want to create more pressure for them. Let's keep the meeting to a minimum and try to keep it simple."
Nichushkin Up and Down
But mostly up. After trying to get around Chara all night in Boston the rookie bounced back with another strong effort at The Joe.
"They couldn't handle him," Ruff said of the game-winning play in overtime. He possesses the puck well on the outside of the rink, as well as in space, and on that play he outlasted his defender, smartly got rid of the puck and made a beeline for the net. His screen played a part and Howard couldn't find the shot.
An assist is an assist but that one was worth more than many. He finds himself now with a modest little three-game point streak and it's not just a by-product of playing with Seguin and Benn.
He was the only Stars player on the ice for more shot attempts for than against last night. The only one.
Now if he could just finish a couple of those golden opportunities he seems to get once a game all alone in tight.
Kari Kari Kari
Self evident and hardly in need of exposition is this fact: The Stars' first five road games were played, in large part, without Kari Lehtonen. In this set he stood on his head for an extended stretch in all three games, stood tall in the shootout, and was otherwise their best player. As he's paid to be. It makes all the difference in the world, and as any other season, the Stars will go as far as Kari Lehtonen allows.
Weathering the Road
13 of the Stars' first 20 games come on the road, and the Stars are through 10 of them at 5-5. If they can swing three of six points out of next week's swing through Western Canada (Edmonton, Calgary back-to-back, Vancouver) they can end a pretty grueling stretch to start the year at .500 and then start making some hay at home.
December is split more evenly with 8 home, 7 away, and then January brings the reward of 10 of 15 at the American Airlines Center.