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The Neutral Zone: More Thoughts on the Dallas Stars

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After an extremely satisfying win last night in Calgary, there's still some random thoughts about the Stars tumbling around in my head as we get ready for tomorrow's game against Vancouver. Here they are after the jump, in no particular order.

  • We've focused on James Neal, Jamie Benn and the return of Brenden Morrow. We've discussed Marty Turco and Alex Auld (more on them below, coincidentally), but let's give some love to Stephane Robidas and Nicklas Grossman. The suddenly dominant top defensive pair for the Dallas Stars have been extraordinarily impressive in the first three games of the season. The two are a combined +11 so far this season and I've yet to see any big errors by either. What's incredible is that the duo have faced the opponent's best players each game (both are tops on the team in quality of competition) and both have the best overall +/-. While this is what we've come to expect of Robidas, the team's top blueliner and the ink still fresh on his big contract extension, it's Grossman who I've been most impressed with. Slowly starting to use his size to his advantage and has maintained perfect positioning as Robidas gets in on the offensive action.
  • Matt Niskanen has been up and down, but he's been much better than at this point last season. He didn't have a bad game last night playing with Mark Fistric, but there were several times when the pair failed to make a clean clear of the zone that led to the Flames cycling the puck for a lengthy amount of time. Niskanen has started to step it up offensively and has seven shots on net, and has looked comfortable on the point on the power play. He looked better next to Jeff Woywitka than Fistric, but the Stars are still trying to determine their rotation on that final defensive pairing. It will be interesting to see if Crawford sticks with this rotation on the final pairing, or shakes things up a bit to find the best fit for Niskanen.
  • At some point, Jamie Benn will get his first NHL goal and it's going to be highlight reel worthy. Each game I'm amazed at the total skill set this kid possesses.
  • Each game, we've seen a different group of players really step up and lead this team. It was good to see that on a night when James Neal didn't dominate like he had in the first two games, others made the difference. Mike Ribeiro set the tone early with a goal on the first shot of the game, and then Tom Wandell and his line took over the Stars. During the game I was a bit discouraged to see Brad Richards and his line disappear a bit, but then they put the game away with some great individual plays late in third. This is any hockey team wants: balance throughout the roster, where any line on any given night can step it up make the difference.
  • Speaking of Wandell, it will be interesting to see what the Stars do with him once Mike Modano is healthy. Jere Lehtinen is ready to return to the ice and it looks like Fabian Brunnstrom is going to be a healthy scratch. But Crawford has said that he would rather have just one healthy scratch, rather than two, and Wandell would be the only choice (well, Benn could be too) to send down the AHL. But the way he's playing, when Modano returns we'll most likely see others getting sitting while Wandell makes his bid for more playing time.
  • Speaking of Alex Auld and Marty Turco, let's not make too much of what happened last night. It was just one game, but Marty Turco has to feel the pressure to fix whatever it was that was going wrong in the first two games and be dominant in Vancouver. If Turco struggles again, I can only imagine the roar of Stars fans that will be calling for Auld to step into the starting role. But before we put Turco on the bench for good, let's remember the things he does that Auld does not. The Stars players mentioned this after the game, but it's a much different approach for the defensemen when Turco is back in net moving the puck up ice. No matter what struggles he may be having in net, Turco is still one of the best goaltenders in the NHL at handling the puck. His brilliant pass up the ice against Edmonton directly led to a go-ahead goal. And while Auld will be consistent and solid in goal for the Stars, rarely will he be flashy. Turco has the ability to take over a game with his athleticism, and really put the team on his back when he's on top of his game.

    Auld is here to put pressure on Turco to perform and to play some small stretches of games when called upon. The Stars are fortunate to have a backup of his caliber on the team, and it's allowing Turco and the coaches some time to get things straightened out before his game is completely derailed. Before I completely give up on Turco, I'm going to have to see him really struggle for several games in a row.
  • During his intermission interview on FSN, Trevor Daley said this of how he feels about Crawford's system: "I love it."

    Good to see that smile on his face, and it's obvious that he's finally starting to feel comfortable on the ice after several years of being forced to ignore his offensive instincts.
  • Finally.......we think we have it tough with Turco being mediocre to start the season? At least the Stars aren't dealing with the on ice issues Roberto Luongo has had.