181 days have passed since the Dallas Stars last graced our television screens with their presence.
We've learned a lot since then. We tried to thoroughly educate ourselves on how a hockey team gets sold (anyone have any success with that?). We learned a lot about RFA negotiations and the rarity of the "offer sheet." We've familiarized ourselves with the hockey-stylings of Adam Burish. We got to know a nice kid named Jack Campbell. We saw Blindenbacher, Gagnon and Vincour blossom in training camp. We witnessed Kari Lehtonen doing what Joe Nieuwendyk had in mind in the pre-season, stopping 75 of 77 shots faced, and all the while we've tried to move on from the Mike Modano situation like a teenage girl getting over a bad breakup.
It all goes out the window tonight at 6:00pm CDT when the puck drops in Newark. 120 minutes of hockey in 48 hours against the Devils and Islanders will reshape the conversation and the 82 game neurosis riddled journey begins anew.
Get ready to jerk your knees! Hope springs eternal!
The road heavy start to 2010 was a killer for the Stars last season, and it started at the Prudential Center on January 5th with an authoritative 4-0 Devils win and Marty Broduer shutout. Bad news: They still have Broduer. Worse news: They added Ilya Kovalchuk.
A look at the Devils with help from In Lou We Trust is after the jump.
Make sure you stop by for what is sure to be a rocking gameday thread tonight and chat with us.
Positivity abounds for the Dallas Stars in the waning hours of the off-season. The players, by all accounts, were ready to get this thing rolling a week ago and are chomping at the bit to get on the ice in a real game situation.
Brenden Morrow is reportedly healthy and will go tonight, and we'll get our first look at Tom Wandell on the wing. He missed all of pre-season after injuring his shoulder on the second day of camp in PEI.
Lines for tonight are expected to (start) looking like this:
You know all about the Stars. Let's talk about the Devils.
The New Jersey Devils have been at the center of the off-seasons (most annoying) biggest story as they managed to sign Ilya Kovalchuk not once, but twice, and bring about change to the CBA in the process. In bending over backward to accommodate his high demands, they have navigated through cap problems galore, changed their head coach, retained their very talented core and now appear ready to be a more aggressive, offensive Devils than we have seen in the past.
We asked the incomparable John Fischer at In Lou We Trust some questions about his team heading into the opener tonight and he kindly obliged:
DBD: Put the whole Kovalchuk mess in perspective now that the season is here. Was it worth it? Did the accompanying cap problems force too much in the way of sacrifice? Do Devils fans harbor any resentment toward Kovalchuk and his high demands?
I believe Ilya Kovalchuk is worth all of the trouble, just as much as Ilya Kovalchuk felt being a New Jersey Devils was worth all of the trouble on his end. As I argued last month, I doubt that any single one of the assets the Devils gave up so far has not or will be capable of what Ilya Kovalchuk is: an elite sniper and a point-machine. I don't think those players combined can accomplish what Kovalchuk can do on the ice. As such, Devils fans have been largely pleased with the signing since Ilya Kovalchuk chose NJ and NJ was able to get him for a cap hit of less than $7 million. Yes, it put the Devils over the upper limit of the salary cap, but they were able to (barely) get under the cap for now. They're not really lamenting the Kovalchuk signing, as much as they have been over past contracts that are now serious albatrosses that are nigh-impossible to move (Brian Rolston's $5 million and change salary).
DBD: Stars fans expect a patient, defensive game from the Devils when visiting New Jersey. The Devils usually seem content to wait for the Stars to make a mistake and then counter. What should we expect to see tonight under new head coach John Maclean?
It's his first regular season game as a head coach in the NHL, so it's a little early to say. Throughout the preseason, John MacLean hasn't strayed too terribly far from what Brent Sutter and Jacques Lemaire has done in the past two seasons. They didn't have NJ sit back and counter; and I doubt the Devils will do that again unless they feel the Stars can be more efficiently pounded that way. I would expect a more up-tempo game, MacLean seems to prefer a more free-flowing style. Defensemen will be given a little more freedom to jump up on offense, and based on those 6 preseason games, the power play can have anywhere from 3 forwards to 5 forwards on a unit.
I think everyone felt the Stars could be more efficiently "pounded that way" last season and that we saw it specifically in the 4-0 loss at New Jersey.
DBD: Are "John McClane" Die Hard jokes rampant in the Devils blogging community? (kidding)
Not really, as far as I can tell. It's probably for the best, though.
DBD: Unlike the Stars, who return the EXACT same blue line, the Devils have made some changes to theirs. What have been you impressions of that group in pre-season?
The Devils mixed up their defense with guys trying to make the team (Alexander Urbom, Matthew Corrente, Matt Taormina) with veterans throughout the entire preseason, so it's a bit hard to judge. Tonight's game will be the first game of the full defense, which will feature the rookie Urbom. Devils fans are excited that Anton Volchenkov is on the roster; he and Henrik Tallinder has looked fairly solid. I have no concerns about the new signings. Given the Devils' cap issues, they now have 6 defenders on the active roster and only one sure-fire two-way defenseman in Andy Greene. The lack of puck movers and offense will be this blueline's flaw on paper, even moreso now that Paul Martin is on another team. In practice, though, I don't think it's limited the Devils too much.
DBD: The Devils attendance issues have been well documented. (We're about to start having our own in Dallas finally after two seasons without playoffs) ...What have the Devils done to address that? (besides signing Kovy)
The Devils are actually, slowly but surely, marketing themselves more aggressively. They've stoked the fanbase with a series of PR stops throughout the state where the owners and a few alumni players meet and take questions from the fans. I know they've collected ideas from that since some of the concerns had to do with promotion and access (e.g. TV issues, tickets, transportation, promotions, etc.). I can speak firsthand that they've been receptive to what the fans have told them among the crowd and face-to-face. Originally, they were going to do 3 or 4, but ended up doing 12 throughout the offseason. Every event was full, and not just with hardcore fans - they were in public eateries and bars. The Devils haven't done something like this in the past, but it's clear they'll want to do this in the future.
In addition, I've noticed that more of their online ads are appearing to NJ-based viewers, they've got a presence on HD billboards overseeing some high traffic highways in the state, and they have additional plans to address the south NJ market (where the Flyers have had a stranglehold) in addition to the northern and central areas. Plus, the organization is not only aware of sites like ILWT, Tom Gulitti's Fire & Ice blog, and the message boards, but they actively read them. They can do plenty more (e.g. opening up practices is a desire for many fans), but I can personally attest to the Jeff Vanderbeek's desire to market the team more aggressively. The days of just hoping success speaks for itself are thankfully over.
Brandon Worley answered questions about the Stars for In Lou We Trust so be sure to head over there for a minute and check it out.
See you in the Gameday Thread.