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The Neutral Zone: The Fine Line that Steve Ott Walks...

The Neutral Zone is a collection of observations and thoughts on the Dallas Stars. Not exactly a formal breakdown or analysis, but somewhere between random ramblings and actual film study.

Finally had the chance to sit and watch the game this morning and I have to say I was really impressed with what I saw. I was worried that playing the tail end of such a busy schedule, with the team already showing signs of fatigue and slow feet, would make for a very rough game on the road in St. Louis. The Stars had mighty trouble with the Blues last season who along with Chicago played perhaps the perfect type of game that attacked the Stars the best. So far this season the Stars have won both games against those same teams, both on the road.

Here are my thoughts from last night:


Perspective is a funny thing.

If you ask Dallas Stars fans who their most hated player in the NHL is you'd get a variety of answers, but the most common answers might include Bryan Marchment, Jordin Tootoo and perhaps Chris Pronger. Marchment is most likely the most notorious of them all, since his blatant dirty hit on Joe Nieuwendyk in 1998 destroyed his knee and dashed the Stars' Stanley Cup chances. Jordin Tootoo is best remembered for his late hit on Mike Modano, followed by a stiff right hook (with glove still on) to the face of Stephane Robidas, who was knocked out cold and missed a good chunk of games.

Apparently, Steve Ott has become one of those players to the rest of the NHL. If you ask hockey fans from around North America what they're opinion of Ott is, the majority would have some choice words that usually include the word "hate". In fact, it seems that there is an opinion circulating that Stars fans should be ashamed he's on the team and since we're not, then we're just as bad as he is.

Last night, Steve Ott had one of his signature games. He walked a fine line between being a spark plug for his team and being a dangerous player on the ice. Perhaps he toed that line a bit too closely last night, when he failed to attempt to back from a hit on B.J. Crombeen that resulted in direct knee on knee contact. Did Ott go for that kill shot on purpose? It didn't appear so since Crombeen tried to sidestep what would have been a devastating hit, but Ott sure didn't try to pull his leg back either.

It's all about perspective, however. All opposing fans see and remember from Steve Ott is those type of borderline hits, the ones that aren't blatantly dirty (like Tuomo Ruutu's hit on Darcy Tucker on Friday night) but still threaten to cross the line from agitation to dirty. Ott has had a number of those hits in his career, and he's been punished for them as well. His reputation now proceeds him, and he's not going to get the benefit of the doubt any longer when it comes to borderline hits.

As a Stars fan, I really like what Steve Ott brings to this team. For the most part. On one hand, he can be offensively talented player with a penchant for riling up the opposition with trash talk and big hits, drawing penalties and causing general chaos all over the ice with his energy and tenacity. On the other, he can sometimes take it too far and put this team in a bad situation. His antics can sometimes put a target on the rest of the team, while he also has a tendency to take bad penalties at the worst times. That is the Steve Ott I don't like.

There's a fine line that Ott walks. When he's on the good side of it, he is a valuable asset to this team. Last week I wrote how this Stars team needed Ott to make an immediate impact when he returned from injury. He does that by putting the puck on net, creating chances from the boards and providing a level of physicality and attitude this Stars had been lacking while he was out. But when he crosses that line it hurts this team, especially if he is suspended. That is the Ott I could live without.

A lot of hockey fans say that Ott is a player you hate to play against but would love to have on your team (although the St. Louis fans don't feel that way, apparently). He's slowly becoming a player who's reputation is that of nothing but a dirty cheap shot artist, which is far from the Steve Ott we know he can be and not the player who was the MVP of this team last season.

I'm expecting some sort of punishment for his hit on Crombeen, and it's deserved. Because he's a 'repeat offender' he may get a suspension out of it. That's when he's hurting the team, and he needs to realize that these types of hits hurt the Stars more than help them. He can only be a valuable member of the team if he's actually on the ice.

More after the jump, including video of the Ott hit last night on Crombeen.


For the record, I don't think Ott was nearly as bad and as reckless as they're making him out to be over at St. Louis Game Time. I dont' want to start a flame war between sites, I really don't believe in that, but if you're going to get that riled up over what is ultimately a borderline, questionable hit (although Ott is still at fault), then you were looking for something to get up in arms about anyway. Ott's his on Carlo Colaiacovo was perfectly clean, and I don't know how you could say a textbook hip-check is dirty. Right now, all of Blues Nation is on a head-hunting party for Steve Ott.


I will say this: the officiating in this game was horrendous and THAT is something that Blues fans should be angry about. The fact that Crombeen received an instigator penalty after taking a hit like that is atrocious, and I'm still trying to figure out how the Stars ended up with so much power play time following the scrum after the Colaiacovo hit. Supposedly there were too many men on the ice (I only counted five) The Blues were hit with too many men on the ice but I don't know why Pietrangelo managed to get two roughing minors out of it, and Tkachuk and Fistric must have really said something wrong. Who knows. Perhaps the NHL is trying to cut down on these big scrums, but it didn't seem that bad to any other scrum I've seen over the years.


On to some good stuff: This was the best Marty Turco has looked all season. I know that I went a bit far a few weeks ago and said that his shutout against Nashville was his best performance since the 2008 playoffs, but it's all relative. In that game, Turco fought to maintain his concentration and get a good shutout in a blowout, when the team in front of him let up a bit. That was impressive.

Last night, Turco was confident and in the zone. He was challenging shooters, and maintaining his angles and positioning. When Turco has his mechanics working in top shape, he's nearly unbeatable; he leaves no space for the shooter and his athleticism can make up for any mistake. It's how he looked against Vancouver in 2007 and how he looked in the 2008 playoffs as well. If not for a shot going in off his own defensemen (again!!) then Turco would have easily had his second shutout of the season.

For a goaltender that some were calling for to take a seat on the bench just a few games into the season, he's now turned it on and is playing consistently good. His line for the season:

2009 - Marty Turco 8 494 3 2 3 218 18 2.19 218 200 .917 1



With ten assists and 13 points, Brad Richards is tied for third in the NHL is assists and 13th in total scoring, while playing an average of two games less than those above him. Consequently, the Stars have four players in the top 30 in the NHL in scoring. Who's not up there? Ribeiro. (Richards, Neal, Eriksson and Morrow).


Here's the video of Ott's hit on Crombeen.

While the hit above is the punishable one, apparently it's the hit on Colaiacovo that's drawing the most debate. Here's video of the hit.