As we get further into this season for the Dallas Stars, it's tough sometimes to remember that coach Glen Gulutzan yet to participate in his tenth NHL game, ever. Not once did he make it to this level as a player and he had never coached above the AHL level -- even as an assistant -- before taking over the bench duties for the Stars this summer.
Gulutzan has showed the ability to get his team to adjust from game to game and more importantly he has them ready for each game; the slow and lethargic starts of the past seem to be long gone, replaced by an energetic team that focuses on putting the pressure on the opposition early in games.
In two games against the Coyotes, Gulutzan has had to face former Stars coach Dave Tippett and each time has come away with an improbable win in the shootout. Tippett was known for his ability to make subtle changes and adjustments during the game to get the upper hand on his opponent and since going to Phoenix he's continued that trend. Tippett's teams have always been tough for the Stars but they have to feel good about once again walking away with two big points.
"They're a really good hockey team, you can see how well-coached they are," said Gulutzan. "It was nice to come in and play, I felt, two solid games back-to-back on this road trip. Maybe in that LA game, we could have got a point, and today, we got that point, so things swung in our favor."
The reason the game swung back in their favor was in large part to Gulutzan's first big game-changing decision as an NHL head coach.
With the Stars struggling with getting the puck in the net once again, having scored just two goals in the previous seven periods on the road, Gulutzan saw an opportunity to shake things up a bit and try to get the Stars back on the scoreboard.
With Dallas trailing 2-1 late in the third period, Gulutzan put Adam Burish back on a line with Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow -- a spot he enjoyed at times last season as well. The result was near-instantaneous. Just as Stars fans realized that Burish was out there with Morrow and Ribeiro, Burish was able to drive hard to the net and put his stick on a brilliant pass by the center.
With just over a minute remaining, the Stars had once again tied the game. Burish acknowledged after the game that his familiarity with that line helped a lot.
"It’s exciting, it gives us some energy. I’ve played with those two before and I think I understand how to play with them, I understand what Ribby needs and where to go," Burish said. "You’ve just got to go to the net, work to get him pucks and just get open, keep your stick down and he’s a magician with it. So I just went there and the puck got through."
The change wasn't due to the Stars playing poorly. In fact, the Stars were once again playing a very strong game against a tough defensive team on the road. Unfortunately, as it seems to happen at times to this team, the pucks just weren't finding the back of the net and it was obvious that something needed to be done. The Stars top line had actually had a great night but sometimes change is needed in order to act as a sort of catalyst, to knock things off balance a bit in an effort to get some goals on the scoreboard.
The move also had nothing to do with Michael Ryder, who was once again have a James Neal type of night as his shots on net were hitting everything but the twine.
"They're such a shut-down team, and the time was ticking down, I thought it was maybe time to put Rydes with Fiddler and see if there was something there and put Bur up with those other two and see if we can cause a little chemistry," Gulutzan said.
What's amazing is that, once again, the Stars were able to penetrate the shut-down defense of a Dave Tippett team. While the Stars have had trouble with consistent scoring this season they've found a way to score the big goal at just the right time. The Dallas Stars have become known for that the past few seasons but this year it feels a bit different, as if there's a bit more control in the way the Stars are approaching these deficits.
The close games, the way the Stars are going to be involved in low-scoring games most nights -- this is who this team is and this is how they'll be successful this season.
"We have to get used to playing tight games, it's a tight league, there's a lot of good teams," said Sheldon Souray. "We're going to be down by one a lot of times, we're going to be up by one a lot and we have to learn how to be comfortable and play the right way in those games. Tonight we did, and we got amazing goaltending again from Kari, and we stuck with it. It took until the last minute again, but they're valuable points tonight."
What's encouraging more than anything else was how this win was due in large part to subtle coaching decision and not so much to do with the fierce and animalistic determination we saw from these Stars last season. Gulutzan is showing this year that he is much more in control of this hockey team that what we've become used to seeing and more importantly his players are completely buying into this system.
The Stars never seem discouraged or frustrated and their control late in games has been the difference between 5-4-0 and a 7-2-0 to start the season. The fact that they've come against Tippet's teams is even more impressive, even if the talent isn't what it's been in the past.
"A lot of us know Tip and the way he likes to play, you know the type of game his team's going to play every night, so it was a great win to end a great road trip for this team," said Daley. "It shows the resilience of our club that we could hold on. It's still early, but we know what happened last year, so every point counts."